Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is an illness characterised by profound and pervasive fatigue in addition to a heterogeneous constellation of symptoms. The aetiology of this condition remains unknown; however, it has been previously suggested that enteric dysbiosis is implicated in the pathogenesis of CFS/ME. This review examines the evidence currently available for the presence of abnormal microbial ecology in CFS/ME in comparison to healthy controls, with one exception being probiotic-supplemented CFS/ME patients, and whether the composition of the microbiome plays a role in symptom causation.
Methods: EMBASE, Medline (via EBSCOhost), Pubmed and Scopus were systematically searched from 1994 to March 2018. All studies that investigated the gut microbiome composition of CFS/ME patients were initially included prior to the application of specific exclusion criteria. The association between these findings and patient-centred outcomes (fatigue, quality of life, gastrointestinal symptoms, psychological wellbeing) are also reported.
Results: Seven studies that met the inclusion criteria were included in the review. The microbiome composition of CFS/ME patients was compared with healthy controls, with the exception of one study that compared to probiotic-supplemented CFS/ME patients. Differences were reported in each study; however, only three were considered statistically significant, and the findings across all studies were inconsistent. The quality of the studies included in this review scored between poor (< 54%), fair (54-72%) and good (94-100%) using the Downs and Black checklist.
Conclusions: There is currently insufficient evidence for enteric dysbiosis playing a significant role in the pathomechanism of CFS/ME. Recommendations for future research in this field include the use of consistent criteria for the diagnosis of CFS/ME, reduction of confounding variables by controlling factors that influence microbiome composition prior to sample collection and including more severe cases of CFS/ME.
Keywords: Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME); Dysbiosis; Microbiome; Systematic review.