A huge new study into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has found that thinking positively and a programme of exercise can help sufferers beat its symptoms.
Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), CFS has long been considered a chronic illness that cannot be relieved but this new research suggests that may not be quite accurate.
Researchers tracked 481 sufferers over the course of two years. They found that gradually increasing their physical exercise coupled with therapy to improve their outlook helped patients get over the illness.
CFS affects around 250,000 people in the UK. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, joint pain, headaches and memory problems; doctors have been left baffled by both the cause and the cure, and exercise has been considered an aggravator rather than a possible help.
However, there has been some criticism of the study, with academics questioning the methodology.
Participants were required to make regular visits to the medical offices for therapy, so the most severe sufferers (who were unable to travel) were unable to participate.
There is also the suggestion that the research was structured in such a way that some participants who followed the exercise and positive thinking therapy were actually healthy enough to be considered a positive outcome before the study began.
Professor Michael Sharpe of Oxford University ran the study and said it was likely to prove controversial.
“They seem to think this research casts some doubt on the nature of the illness and implies that it is a mental illness and not a real illness,” he said. “The science is not giving us any strong new answers.
“It’s wrong to say people don’t want to get better, but they get locked into a pattern and their life constricts around what they can do. If you live within your limits that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”
However, the exercise and therapy approach is unlikely to help all CFS sufferers.
Professor Peter White of Queen Mary University, who was also involved in the study, added: “It is also a reminder that these treatments do not help everybody and more research is needed.”
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