Role of mitochondria, oxidative stress and the response to antioxidants in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: A possible approach to SARS-CoV-2 'long-haulers'?

Chronic diseases and translational medicine. 2021;7(1):14-26
Full text from:

Plain language summary

Cases of chronic fatigue have been reported following recovery from Covid-19, in what is termed ‘Long Covid’, with symptoms likened to that of sufferers from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). How CFS/ME develop and treatments may help to further understand Covid-19. This review study of 111 studies aimed to identify where urgent research is required to help understand the potential of chronic fatigue therapies in Covid-19. The study first reviewed disrupted cellular energy production in ME/CFS and increased presence of damaging oxidants. Current therapies for improving cellular energy production in CFS/ME were then reviewed and Ritalin, ubiquinone and mitoquinol mesylate were heavily featured. Antioxidant therapies in CFS/ME were reviewed and observations would suggest that trials in patients with long covid are needed. It was concluded that research in cellular energy production in CFS/ME has been increasing, however remains contradictory due to a lack of a definitive diagnosis, differing disease severity and the huge differences between patients who suffer from CFS/ME. Further research is required in ME/CFS and Covid-19. This study could be used by health care professionals to understand the importance of monitoring symptoms of fatigue post Covid-19 infection and the possible use of ME/CFS treatments.


A significant number of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic patients have developed chronic symptoms lasting weeks or months which are very similar to those described for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. This study reviews the current literature and understanding of the role that mitochondria, oxidative stress and antioxidants may play in the understanding of the pathophysiology and treatment of chronic fatigue. It describes what is known about the dysfunctional pathways which can develop in mitochondria and their relationship to chronic fatigue. It also reviews what is known about oxidative stress and how this can be related to the pathophysiology of fatigue, as well as examining the potential for specific therapy directed at mitochondria for the treatment of chronic fatigue in the form of antioxidants. This study identifies areas which require urgent, further research in order to fully elucidate the clinical and therapeutic potential of these approaches.

Lifestyle medicine

Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Covid-19 fatigue
Environmental Inputs : Trauma
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Not applicable
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article ; Review