This post will probably rub some tired people the wrong way, but…well, I’ve been waiting a long time to write it. I guess it’s time. It has to do with chronic fatigue, and the attempts to turn it into a disease, with it’s own microorganistic causation, and probably a slew of drugs and support groups. Evidence to the affirmative has been lacking, however, and the latest happenings has a prestigious medical journal retracting a controversial 2009 report that linked chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) to a virus. Sorry folks.

In an unusual move, the journal Science is taking the retraction step on its own. Normally, authors retract their own research papers when serious problems arise after publication, but according to the scientific publication, the authors are having trouble agreeing on the wording of their statement. A retraction signed by all the authors “is unlikely to be forthcoming,” said the journal.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by severe fatigue for at least six months, impaired memory and other symptoms.
The 2009 paper, from scientists at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nev., the Cleveland Clinic and the National Cancer Institute, reported finding a virus called XMRV in blood cells of some patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. That raised hope that a cause of the mysterious illness had been found, although other viral suspects, like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) over the years had proven to be false leads.

Follow up studies, however, failed to show a link, leading Science magazine to publish two reports last May suggesting the original finding was due to lab contamination. Doh! In September, the authors retracted some of the data, citing contamination. Science said the authors had also acknowledged omitting important information about the study’s procedures in an illustration of some lab results.
Sigh…as much as I sympathize with people feeling really, really tired (I know, I know…), I think the problem in chronic fatigue is psychosomatic. Now there’s often a misunderstanding with this term–psychosomatic does not mean that something is simply a figment of the imagination, that it doesn’t exist.  On the contrary, the physical condition exists, but it is the manifestation of many components including social, psychological and behavioral factors. And I am confident that this is the case with CFS.

I believe that CFS is rooted in a generalized lack of purpose in those exhibiting signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue. Whoa! I know, many reading this are going to flip. How dare I blame the victim? No blame here, just an observation. I have had numerous clients in my West Hollywood chiropractic clinic demonstrate signs and symptoms of CFS, and my observation is that most of these people were not working, they had nothing inspiring them, and their drives were stuck in survival mode–I know I’d be fatigued with life under those circumstances too.

Well…perhaps these people had no drive or inspiration, and lacked work because they were suffering from unusual fatigue. I doubt it. Anecdotally speaking, I had lived a purposeless life for a short period during my youth. I slept for long hours, was tired all the time, my body ached, and I was certain there was something wrong with me physically. But it wasn’t until I made decisions from my heart as to what I wanted my life to be about that I developed a renewed vigor. Today, I rarely sleep longer than six hours, and my energy levels are booming.

I realize that my experiences do not a scientific study make. But they shape my beliefs, and that along with the failure to find any infectious agent or other solitary cause for that matter, make it easy for me to hold my convictions. Further, if the illness is in fact a medical condition, in the sense that it requires physical or chemical treatment, then exercise and psychotherapy seem to be the most effective treatments available so far. Not rocket science. And all this goes for fibromyalgia too.

Listen, I know when people are in a rut–when they aren’t in touch with their heart’s drive, their life’s purpose–it can be very fatiguing. I’ve lived it. But the answer will never be in medicalizing the condition. Finding purpose in one’s life will do much more for this condition than searching for viruses that aren’t there. Surely, a virus can be found…we have many to choose from, as they permeate our world, but is that really it–doubtful. Sorry to shatter the illusion.

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