Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and irritable bowel (IB) symptoms have been associated with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic review of these symptoms in CFS/ME, along with any evidence for probiotics as treatment. Pubmed, Scopus, Medline (EBSCOHost) and EMBASE databases were searched to source relevant studies for CFS/ME. The review included any studies examining GI symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or probiotic use. Studies were required to report criteria for CFS/ME and study design, intervention and outcome measures. Quality assessment was also completed to summarise the level of evidence available. A total of 3381 publications were returned using our search terms. Twenty-five studies were included in the review. Randomised control trials were the predominant study type (n = 24). Most of the studies identified examined the effect of probiotic supplementation on the improvement of IB symptoms in IBS patients, or IB symptoms in CFS/ME patients, as well as some other significant secondary outcomes (e.g. quality of life, other gastrointestinal symptoms, psychological symptoms). The level of evidence identified for the use of probiotics in IBS was excellent in quality; however, the evidence available for the use of probiotic interventions in CFS/ME was poor and limited. There is currently insufficient evidence for the use of probiotics in CFS/ME patients, despite probiotic interventions being useful in IBS. The studies pertaining to probiotic interventions in CFS/ME patients were limited and of poor quality overall. Standardisation of protocols and methodology in these studies is required.
Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome; Gastrointestinal symptoms; Irritable bowel symptoms; Myalgic encephalomyelitis; Probiotics.