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Are low stress hormone levels an indicator for ME

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or CFS, causes long-term and in some cases debilitating tiredness which is not relieved by rest or sleep.

Low levels of the stress hormone cortisol marks out children at higher risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome as adults, experts believe. These children if exposed to trauma, particularly emotional maltreatment and sexual abuse, had a six-fold increased risk for CFS, evidence shows.

Cortisol regulates the body's response to stress and a lack may hinder this coping mechanism, say the US authors at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Low cortisol levels may actually reflect a marker for the risk of developing CFS rather than being a sign of the syndrome itself.

The authors of the 2008 study recruited 113 people with CFS and 124 other people without CFS as a control from a cross population of 20,000 adults living in Georgia, USA.

The study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on five different types of childhood trauma including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect.

They also gave saliva samples to record levels of cortisol over one hour after awakening, typically an individual's highest cortisol level for the day.

Abuse in childhood was a strongly linked to CFS, although not all of those with a traumatic childhood went on to develop CFS and not all of those with CFS as adults had been abused as children.

Experts know that certain experiences children have while the brain is developing and vulnerable can make a difference in the way the body reacts to stress later in life. Although it must be stressed that a diagnosis of ME does not mean that a patient has been mistreated or had a bad childhood. ME may be triggered by a wide range of factors including glandular fever, chickenpox, shingles, viral meningitis, gastroenteritis, salmonella and Lyme disease. There is the urgent need for much more biomedical research into the causes, risk factors and development of this very distressing illness. It is estimated that 250,000 people in the UK have the condition.

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