Jan. 20, 1999 DENVER-Allergies to foods, plants or animals could cause chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in some people, according to a National Jewish Medical and Research Center physician who treats people with the disorder.
“A number of the CFS patients said they feel worse when they have allergies,” said James Jones, M.D., who recently completed a CFS study looking at four groups of people--one with CFS, one with allergies, one with depression and a control group. The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Dr. Jones recently began studying 120 people in a three-year, $900,000 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
CFS is defined as six months of fatigue that interferes with daily functioning with no other disease being identified. (Depending on the way CFS is defined, between 13 and 300 people in every 100,000 have the disease.) Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, muscle and joint aches, cognitive problems, headaches and sleep difficulties followed by an increase of symptoms 24 hours after exercise.
Researchers have looked at a number of chemical changes in the body as a signal of CFS, but Dr. Jones found that “the only consistent finding is allergy.” Seventy-five percent of people with CFS have allergies; 10 to 20 percent of the general population have allergies.
A chemical change that occurs during virus infections and allergy attacks is the production of several types of cytokines, including interferon alpha and tumor necrosis factor. These chemicals trigger and coordinate the immune response, allowing killing of virus-infected cells and protection of uninfected cells. Their role in allergies is less clear. The process causes inflammation of tissue, tiredness and body aches.
“CFS and allergy patients produced the same mediators of inflammation, such as interferon and tumor necrosis factor,” he said. “Allergens, therefore, may contribute to production of CFS symptoms.”
The three-year NIH-funded study explores the extent that exercise and allergies impact people with CFS. In the CFS group, half have allergies and half don’t. In the control group, half have allergies and half don’t.
The study will “challenge” people with CFS in several ways, Dr. Jones said. People enrolled in the study will use an exercise bike, inhale an allergen they are known to be sensitive to and receive histamine, which causes allergy-like feelings of a stuffy head and runny nose. Following exercise, many people with CFS complain of symptoms.
These symptoms are similar to those people experience with a cold or the flu, but “what’s peculiar in these people is that it lasts for a long period of time,” Dr. Jones said.
National Jewish Medical and Research Center is ranked as the best hospital in the United States for respiratory diseases by U.S. News & World Report, 1998.
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