Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a complex disorder where the patient is plagued with extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months. Often, the symptoms cannot be fully explained by an underlying medical condition. CFS currently affects up to 2.5 million people in the US. There are currently many theories of the cause of CFS, which have ranged from viral infections to psychological stress. We wanted to investigate whether there could be a link between light therapy and treating CFS sufferers around the world.
More often than not, sufferers of CFS receive normal results on standard laboratory testing when they approach medical professionals for answers to their persistent exhaustion. This results in physicians blaming the symptoms on a possible underlying psychological disorder rather than acknowledging that it is CFS, as there is no specific test that exists to confirm it.
Two hypotheses exist for the cause of CFS:
- The most commonly believe hypothesis is that the symptoms are due to psychological factors and that the metabolism of CFS sufferers is normal. Physical fatigue is due to a lack of energy, but mental fatigue is characterized by a lack of motivation and alertness – even though the brain uses a large portion of resting cellular energy to function. If the metabolism of sufferers is normal, the fatigue and other symptoms must be as a result of energy being wasted by mental and physical stress, anxiety and depression.
2. The other hypothesis states that sufferers of CSF have irregularly functioning metabolisms, where insufficient energy is being produced for normal body functioning. If there is insufficient energy available, cause by problematic gut fermentation or pancreatic issues, energy production will be impaired, and fatigue may result. The conditions can be tested for and can be linked to explain the CFS symptoms.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Poor memory retention
- Dizziness that worsens when lying down or sitting to standing
- Sleep that doesn’t improve fatigue
- Joint or muscle pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes in neck or armpits
There are currently no cures for CFS, and sufferers must focus rather on relieving the symptoms.
Interestingly, a high correlation between CFS and low ATP production in mitochondria has been noted. This was confirmed in a study performed by Myhill et al. (2009). Mitochondria are essential producers of energy in the body through a complex and intricate process called the Kreb’s citric acid cycle. If there is an issue with some part of the pathway of ATP production, sufferers may experience disease symptoms which include the symptoms of CFS. So, mitochondrial dysfunction which essentially results in impaired ATP production is a far more plausible hypothesis for the cause of CFS, where there is considerable supporting evidence.
Now, we know that red light therapy has been proven to stimulate energy production through encouraging cells to produce more ATP. More available energy means healthier and stronger cells, as well as a faster metabolic rate – which is necessary to helping the symptoms of CFS sufferers.
Red light therapy has been proven to work against this by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. In another interesting study – CFS has been linked to increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. It was really interesting to note from this study that "In addition, infection outside the brain can activate the innate immune system of the brain, both via a blood–brain barrier made porous by inflammation and via chemoreceptors that send retrograde signals up the vagus nerve to the brain.". This essentially means that if you are producing high inflammation levels outside of the brain, the immune system of the brain gets triggered that there is a low-grade immune attack in the body. The body then goes into overdrive to reduce this ‘immune system attacker’ and wastes energy that is available for normal bodily functioning.
Red light therapy has been proven to boost immune system in the following ways:
- Activating stem cell production – which can be utilized to fight danger cells
- Improving thyroid health – thyroid disorders massively impact white blood cell functioning
- Decreasing inflammation – which can result in autoimmune diseases
- Increasing melatonin production when used during the evening – promotes a better sleep
- Stimulating the lymphatic system – crucial for the removal of toxins from the body
Current studies have indicated that using a treatment with a relatively low dosage (4 J/cm2) works well to treat symptoms and increase energy levels in sufferers. We know that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be a debilitating and frustrating disease that robs sufferers of their health and dignity. If you are a CFS sufferer or are someone that experiences any level of low energy levels, including red light therapy in your daily routine could be just what you need to improve your symptoms without relying on Western medical intervention. You’ve got nothing to lose, and a happier and healthier life to gain.
Written By: Caroline Bursey