ME SUFFERERS have been offered hope following a study which suggests the condition can be reversed with counselling and exercise.
Researchers in Scotland have identified two forms of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), both of which could help thousands of patients.
The study is the most comprehensive to date and challenges the belief that the illness cannot be cured.
Scientists, who spent eight years on the research, believe it could herald a new dawn for the treatment of ME.
They hope their findings will dispel the notion that nothing can be done for the quarter of a million people living with the condition in the UK.
Researchers found six in 10 patients reported significant improvements after undergoing either cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - counselling which helps people take charge of issues, while encouraging them to increase their activity - or graded exercise therapy (GET), which is based on gradually increasing exercise.
Half of these people reported a return to "normal" energy levels.
However, the study showed one of the most common CFS treatments has no definitive medical benefit.
Adaptive pacing therapy (APT), which teaches patients to match their activity level to the amount of energy they have, does little more than help sufferers manage their illness, the study showed.
Though it has been widely advocated, the therapy has never before been scientifically tested.
Michael Sharpe, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the report, said scientists had achieved a significant "milestone" by proving GET and CBT were both effective and safe.
"This trial has clarified that picture, finding both GET and CBT have substantial beneficial effects and they are safe if delivered properly."
Meanwhile, the trial found that while APT patients claimed to be satisfied with their treatment, it ultimately failed to reduce fatigue.
Some 640 adults with CFS from England and Scotland took part in the year-long trial. The findings are published in The Lancet today.
Trudie Chalder, professor of Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy at King's College London and a co-author of the study, said: "It is very encouraging that we have found not one but two treatments that are similarly helpful to patients, which provides them with a choice.
"We now need to find out what the common essential ingredient is that makes these treatments work, and which particular types of patients will respond best to which therapy."
The trial was led by researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, King's College London and the University of Edinburgh.
ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), or CFS, causes debilitating tiredness and symptoms can include poor concentration, disturbed sleep and muscle and joint pain. Its cause is unknown.