Norway Combats the "Stress Theory" for ME/CFS

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This article by Ola Didrik Saugstad was originally published 14 July 2015, at. 8:00 in leading Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.no. Excerpts from the online English translation below.

Undocumented treatments have led to some of the worst disasters in the history of medicine.

Many ME patients feel today that the public health system is exacerbating their condition.

Dr Ola Didrik Saugstad, professor of pediatrics as the University of Oslo asks, “Should we not learn from the mistakes made by researchers with home knitted hypotheses?”
Saugstad opens by describing two historically invalidated hypothesis that had far-reaching implications and damaging effect.
Bettelhiem “believed that the mothers of autistic children were cold, so-called «refrigerator mothers» who hated their children and thus induced autism on them. Today we know that autism is a complex biological disease. Bettelheim, who also believed allergy is psychologically triggered, did irreparable damage with his undocumented hypotheses.”
Dr Spock’s recommendation that babies sleep on their stomachs and “contributed greatly to the thousands of infants who died in the SIDS epidemic culminating in the late 1980’s when they realized that laying the babies on their stomach increases the risk of SIDS.”

Bettelheim and Spock are examples of authorities who did not base their recommendations on scientific evidence, but on their own thoughts and beliefs. We should learn from this not to make similar mistakes. But do we?
An example on how we don’t, is the stress theory that has become popular as an explanation for ME. Many believe that one can be cured of the disease by mastering ones’ own stress. «It’s all in your head, you just need to convince yourself to get well», many patients have been told. But this explanation has never been scientifically proven. On the contrary, those behind the stress theory have selectively used some findings that fit with their own hypothesis. This is what is called an inductive fallacy.
It was such a catastrophic failure Bettelheim and Spock did, and now it seems that the same mistake has been made by those who believe that ME is a stress response.

Saugstad goes on to detail some of the new research studies and reports that have come out saying that ME is truly a physiological disease, not a stress response or psychological condition:

  • “a new report from the Institute of Medicine in the US states that ME/CFS is a physical condition, not a mental illness.”
  • “Columbia University Press could report from a study that showed that ME/CFS patients sometimes have very high levels of inflammatory markers, cytokines, but only early in the disease. Later, patients often have lower levels than in healthy controls. This may explain why studies on inflammation markers in ME have given contradictory results.”
  • Another recent study has shown that muscle cells from ME patients respond differently than healthy muscle cells to electrical stimulation. ME muscles do not take up glucose as one would normally expect.

Despite the inconclusive scientific basis, the stress theory has received considerable support in the Norwegian health care system and in the public. Now we understand why many ME patients feel that the public health system is exacerbating their condition. Many feel they are being bullied by NAV [the National social welfare system], and parents are threatened by child protective services because they protect their child from the harmful stress theory. Conditions have developed so that ME-patients’ situation in Norway has become a human rights’ problem.

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