Despite an enormous amount of research (some would say not enough…) over recent years into Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS), there’s currently no consensus of opinion about the exact or specific cause of this complex and often debilitating condition. However, there is increasing evidence that low oxygen levels in the body and brain may be a significant feature of ME / CFS and that ‘oxygen deprivation’ at a cellular level, caused by accelerated oxidative injury (damage to cells by free radicals), acidic conditions and other factors, may be a consistent key phenomenon which offers a great start for ME / CFS management and movement towards recovery.

Free radicals are ‘uncharged molecules’, produced within the body as well as taken in from outside, which can react with parts of the cell and cause damage and limit important cell reactions. Usually the body neutralises free radicals, but sometimes they can get rather out of control… another article coming soon about the effects of free radicals in the body.

Below are summaries of just a few of the medical research studies which demonstrate abnormalities in patients with ME / CFS which relate to oxygen metabolism:

  • Costa et al, in 1995, found that patients with ME / CFS have reduced blood flow within the brain, especially to the brainstem. Reduced bloodflow implies reduced delivery of oxygen to vital tissues and could well explain, at least in part, some of the cognitive and neurological symptoms experienced in the condition. Ichise et al, in 1992 also found areas of hypoperfusion (reduced blood flow, resulting in reduced delivery of oxygen) within brains of ME / CFS individuals (using SPECT scans).
  • Alvarez et al, in 1996, examined arterial oxygen saturation levels. They found that patients with ME / CFS showed overnight falls in levels of oxygen in the blood (SaO2%) and spent more time during the night with SaO2% below 92% than did the control group. Conventional thinking suggests that minor changes in blood oxygen levels are unlikely to cause symptoms. However, if individuals with ME / CFS are particularly sensitive to these changes, again, this is probably a highly significant finding.
  • Van Ness et al, 2000, described significantly impaired oxygen delivery and consumption levels in muscle in patients with ME/CFS. They concluded that “what may be an aerobic exercise regimen (using oxygen) for healthy individuals could actually be an anaerobic (not enough oxygen) activity for CFS patients” The idea that individuals with ME / CFS are often functioning in an ‘anaerobic’ rather than ‘aerobic’ state is more widely accepted now – and some people find personal measurements of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and other parameters can be useful to assess this. Have a look at this blog on HRV tracking for more information on this:
  • An abnormally low circulating red blood cell volume and / or plasma volume has been identified in ME / CFS patientsCFS oxygen red blood cells research - Airnergy, Activated Oxygen Therapu by a number of investigators, including Streeten & Bell, in 1998. They found that red blood cell (RBC) mass was found to be significantly reduced. Plasma volume was subnormal in 52.6% of patients and total blood volume was below normal in 63.2%. “The high prevalence and frequent severity of the low RBC mass suggest that this abnormality might contribute to the symptoms of CFS by reducing the oxygen-carrying power of the blood reaching the brain in many of these patients.” Simpson, (1989), describes how, compared to healthy controls and patients with Multiple Sclerosis, ME / CFS patients showed the lowest percentage of normal red blood cells and the highest incidence of cup forms (abnormal red blood cells). These changes in the shape of the RBC may plausibly make them less flexible, thereby impairing their ability to enter the capillaries. This may reduce blood flow and delivery rate of oxygen and metabolic nutrients into the tissues, and inhibit waste from being carried away.
  • Reuter & Evans, in 2011, established that a key amino acid, L-carnitine, which is highly important in oxygen metabolism, is deficient in ME / CFS patients. They analysed blood samples of 44 ME / CFS patients and 49 healthy controls for L-Carnitine and concentrations of 35 individual essential acylcarnitine compounds in plasma. They found that the patients with ME / CFS exhibited significantly altered levels in eight of the concentrations, with some of the concentrations averaging 30% to 40% lower than controls.

With all this research, and more ongoing, is it surprising that many patients are turning to oxygen therapies in the hope of finding some symptom relief and health improvements?

Instead of just treating the symptoms of ME / CFS, oxygen therapy can begin to address the underlying cause of the symptoms, by increasing oxygenation of cells, and thereby improving their function and starting to break the cycle of ongoing oxidative damage.

There’s increasing scientific evidence to support using oxygen therapies in the management of ME / CFS too:

  • Scholey et al, in 1998, found cognitive symptoms improved when oxygen was administered to patients with ME / CFS.
  • Hyperbaric chamberIn 2013, Akarsu et al, conducted a small study of 16 participants with ME / CFS to examine the effects of oxygen therapy in the form of Hyperbaric (high pressure) Oxygen therapy. After 3 weeks of regular treatment sessions, fatigue symptoms in all the participants had improved. In 2015, in a larger study, Efrati et al (2015) found that hyperbaric oxygen can also improve symptoms and life quality of patients with Fibromyalgia – commonly associated with ME / CFS. Also that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can induce neuroplasticity and significantly rectify abnormal brain activity in patients.
  • A small study carried out by SOE Health Ltd, in 2015, utilised Activated Oxygen Therapy (i.e. Singlet Oxygen Energy rather than Hyperbaric Therapy) on 12 participants with ME / CFS, found that after just 8 weeks of regular treatment, individuals observed improvements in pain, Autonomic Nervous System symptoms, better recovery times after exertion and general subtle improvements in energy levels.

Activated oxygen therapy – Also known as Activated Air Therapy or Singlet Oxygen Energy Therapy (with the brand names Vital Air, Airnergy, SoeMac and Valkion), is able to produce the positive effects described above without increasing the actual concentration of oxygen inhaled. This is important, because other oxygen therapies may initially produce a good effect, but then the ‘extra’ oxygen around can start to cause further problems by forming more free radicals. This means the negative cycle of oxidative damage, oxygen deprivation and ME symptoms is likely to be perpetuated or restarted. Activated oxygen therapy on the other hand provides its positive effects through improved delivery of oxygen to cells and improved metabolism of oxygen within cells, without increasing production of the harmful free radicals. I.e. efficiency and quality is improved rather than just quantity of oxygen. You can now rent or buy Activated Oxygen Therapy machines in the UK and internationally. Click the buttons below to find out more.

Given the increasing body of research implicating oxygen’s key role (or the lack of oxygen) in ME / CFS, perhaps addressing this issue should be a part of any treatment protocol for patients looking to regain their health!

(full references available upon request) The Importance of Oxygen in ME/CFS - Article by Dr Claire Bowen of Unique Perceptions