Backlash as study claims exercise can combat ME
Published 29/10/2015 | 02:30
A new study suggests that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or ME, is not actually a chronic illness and can be overcome by increasing exercise and thinking positively.
The study, from Oxford University, claimed that graded exercise therapy, in which sufferers gradually increase activity levels, as well as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which encourages positive thinking and behaviour, had a dramatic impact on the condition.
But Tom Kindlon, vice-chairman of the Irish ME and Chronic Fatigue Association, said it was too simplistic and potentially harmful.
Ireland's 12,000 sufferers are desperate for some breakthrough cure, but the condition attracts little research investment.
For the Oxford study, 481 people were followed for two years to see how they benefited from four different treatments.
It was found that standard medical treatment including medication, or "adaptive pacing therapy", which helps patients adapt to their disabilities, had little long-term impact.
But gradually increasing exercise and therapy to remove patients' negative thoughts that they would never get better seemed to work, said the study, which was published in the 'Lancet' medical journal.
However, Mr Kindlon, who is himself a sufferer of chronic fatigue, said that while any research is welcome, there was a risk that people could take it literally and end up even more ill.
"People have to be very careful about exercising," he said. "There can be an abnormal response to exercising and they should be aware they could make themselves worse by pushing themselves.
"There are a few dozen studies that measure compounds after exercise. Something abnormal happens. Some who push themselves can bounce back but others can be stuck at a lower level.
"It has been said before and in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was a view that people got themselves de-conditioned and avoided activity. The view was that they just needed to exercise."
A deeper look at the study showed that sufferers were "quite ill at the end" and in a questionnaire had scores of around 60 compared to a healthy person's score of 90.
While CBT may have helped people feel better, it could be that some were simply trying to please their therapist, said Mr Kindlon.
The study's author, Prof Michael Sharpe, admitted that it was likely to prove controversial because a "minority" believe chronic fatigue is either caused by a virus or is chronic and cannot be alleviated.
The ME Association in the UK also challenged the claims.