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Study Shows No Association Between Early Cognitive Ability and ME/CFS

  [ 2 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • September 15, 2013

Editor's Comment: This is one of the few recent psychosocial studies to find no connection between cognitive development and ME/CFS, which is considered a "functional disorder" in the psychiatric community. Functional disorders are widely believed to be psychosomatic, the product of childhood trauma, or other developmental psychological ailments. The enormous size of the cohort, over 14,000 people, lays that argument to rest. It should be noted that schizophrenia, migraines, and epilepsy were all once thought to be functional disorders.

The prospective association between childhood cognitive ability and somatic symptoms and syndromes in adulthood: the 1958 British birth cohort.

By E. M. Kingma et al.


BACKGROUND: Cognitive ability is negatively associated with functional somatic symptoms (FSS) in childhood. Lower childhood cognitive ability might also predict FSS and functional somatic syndromes in adulthood. However, it is unknown whether this association would be modified by subjective and objective measures of parental academic expectations.

METHODS: 14 068 participants from the 1958 British birth cohort, whose cognitive ability was assessed at 11 years. Outcomes were somatic symptoms at 23, 33 and 42 years. Self-reported irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and operationally defined CFS-like illness were measured at 42 years.

RESULTS: Lower cognitive ability at age 11 years was associated with somatic symptoms at ages 23, 33 and 42 years. Adjusting for sex, childhood internalising problems, previous somatic symptoms and concurrent psychological symptoms, childhood cognitive ability remained negatively associated with somatic symptoms at age 23 years (?=-0.060, 95% CI -0.081 to -0.039, p<0.01), 33 years (??=?-0.031, 95% CI -0.050 to -0.011, p<0.01), but not with somatic symptoms at 42 years. Overall, we found no clear association between lower childhood cognitive ability and CFS/ME, CFS-like illness and IBS. Associations between cognitive ability and somatic symptoms at 23 years were moderated by low parental social class, but not by subjective indicators of parental academic expectations.

CONCLUSIONS: Lower childhood cognitive ability predicted somatic symptoms, but not CFS/ME, CFS-like illness and IBS in adulthood. While earlier research indicated an important role for high parental academic expectations in the development of early-life FSS, these expectations do not seem relevant for somatic symptoms or functional somatic syndromes in later adulthood.

Source: J Epidemiol Community Health. 2013 Sep 10. doi: 10.1136/jech-2013-202850. [Epub ahead of print]. Kingma EM, Rosmalen JG, White PD, Stansfeld SA, Clark C. University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Department of Psychiatry, Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE), Groningen, The Netherlands.

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