New Fibromyalgia Study Shows Gut Health Linked to Fibromyalgia
A new Fibromyalgia study completed in Canada shows that there is a causal link between poor gut health and Fibromyalgia. This is good news for several reasons. Firstly, it shows that this latest research is starting to focus on the various causes of Fibromyalgia, not just masking symptoms. And second, gut health is something we can do something about to improve our condition.
Journal of the International Associations for the Study of Pain published an article on June 18, 2019 about a research study that was completed in Canada regarding the link between Fibromyalgia and gut health.
The Medical News Bulletin reported the following on this new research study:
“In this recent study, 20 different species of bacteria were found in either greater or lesser quantities in the microbiomes of participants suffering from the disease [Fibromyalgia] than in the healthy control group. More importantly, the researchers observed that the severity of a patient’s symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria in the gastrointestinal tracts.”
To read all of the details pertaining to the study or learn more about the specific types of bacteria that were involved, click here.
Gut Health Basics
The microbiome is a collection of trillions of microbes, containing over 1000 different species of bacteria. It is often referred to as the “second brain” and functions much like an organ. The “friendly bacteria” are vitally important to good health, while the “bad bacteria” can cause health issues to arise throughout the body.
A healthy gut promotes a strong immune system. In fact, studies have shown that the health of the microbiome controls up to 70% of the immune system.
While we can’t control the genes we are born with such as a family history of heart disease, cancer, etc., fortunately, we can control and also change the genes in the microbiome based on what kinds of food that we eat.
Gut health relies on copious amounts of friendly flora to crowd out the harmful bacteria. The SAD, or Standard American Diet, consists largely of processed foods and sugar which contributes significantly to an unhealthy gut microbiome. Other factors such as stress and lack of quality sleep can also play a role in gut health. Genova Diagnostics offers a stool test that can identify the make up of your gut microbiome which includes testing for both beneficial and harmful bacteria, and pathogens.
Causation of Fibromyalgia
The cause(s) of Fibromyalgia have long been debated and really no one knows the definite cause still. Most health practitioners will simply prescribe drugs such as Lyrica or other antidepressants and/or other painkillers to address the symptoms, which not only introduce their own side-effects into the mix, but they nothing for addressing the underlying causes — so you will never improve your condition. It is so important to find a functional medicine practitioner who understands and is capable of treating the root causes of Fibromyalgia so that the patient can actually go into remission, and be educated about how to handle flares.
The Immune System
When the immune system has been compromised or is unable to function as it should, the body is much more prone to acute infections and long-term chronic illness. Additionally, our bodies hold many viruses and bacterial infections deep in our cells that are kept at bay or dormant by the immune system. Chicken pox and shingles are a good example of this. After having chicken pox as children, the virus symptoms go away and we return to a good state of health. But this virus lives in the body forever. If your immune system is weakened, the virus is opportunistic and can become active again, but will re-emerge as shingles.
We’ve already established that 70% of the immune system is located in the gut. This means that what we eat and put in our bodies is directly related to how well we are able to fight off viruses, bacterial infections and disease.
Symptoms of an unhealthy gut can include:
- Sugar, carb and alcohol cravings
- Widespread inflammation throughout the body
- Weight gain
- GI discomfort, especially after eating carb heavy meals
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Acid reflux, also called GERD
- IBS (Irritable bowel disease)
- IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease)
- Celiac disease
- Skin rashes and eczema
- Short term memory issues
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency and the inability to absorb nutrients
Lifestyle habits can also affect our immune system. For example, not getting enough sleep or being under stress can wear down the defenses. Illness can also severely deplete the body of being able to fend off attackers. A sudden trauma, whether physical or mental can also impact immunity.
We can’t always control things that happen to us, but we can change our diet and make lifestyle changes so that we can be more resilient to stressors that contribute to immune suppression.
Viral and Bacterial Infections
There are quite a few studies on Fibromyalgia that indicate that hidden viruses can resurface in the body because of a weakened or compromised immune system. Fibromyalgia can be caused by viruses that become reactivated and can include:
- Epstein Barr Virus
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV6)
Bacterial infections can also contribute:
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Chlamydia pneumonia
- Borrelia Burgdorferi (Lyme Disease)
Links to Studies that Show Infections Can Trigger Fibromyalgia
A Functional Medicine Approach to Healing
Dr. Wm. Marcus Spurlock, renowned physician and expert in diagnosing and treating Fibromyalgia, agrees with what these studies support and incorporates this testing in his treatment protocols. Here is more regarding Dr. Spurlock’s viewpoints of diagnosing and treating Fibromyalgia:
“Fibromyalgia is a complicated disorder that can be debilitating and life-changing. Oftentimes, people who are afflicted with these disorders have seen countless doctors looking for relief, only to be prescribed opioids and benzos which only mask the symptoms and can cause some of their own problems. There have been studies which show that these types of drugs are not very effective in treating Fibromyalgia, nor do they address the underlying causes. In order to successfully treat the disorder and provide relief for the patient, it’s important to address the cause of the symptoms in addition to any immediate symptom relief.
The disorder is generally caused by:
Suppression of the hypothalamus/hormonal imbalances. Because this controls other glandular functions such as thyroid, pituitary, and adrenals, there are often imbalances found within these as well.
Suppressed immune system.
Mitochondria dysfunction. Mitochondria (often called powerhouses) are located in the cells; they are responsible for energy production. When the immune system is weakened, the mitochondria lose their strength too and can appear poisoned.
Underlying viral and/or bacterial infections”
Is It Possible to Recover From Fibromyalgia?
Yes! While Fibromyalgia is considered an incurable autoimmune disease, there are many things that can be done to overcome its symptoms so that you can lead a normal life again. We consider Fibromyalgia be the result of a sort of “perfect storm”, with various factors coming together at the same time that cause it to rear its ugly head. Because of this, it needs to be treated from all angles:
- Restore gut health which will in turn, greatly help to heal the immune system. For more information on a diet specifically designed to help patients with Fibromyalgia, click here.
- Most importantly, cut out as much sugar, simple carbs and processed foods and drinks as you can. Focus on increasing vegetables, particularly green and leafy veggies.
- Add probiotics to your daily diet. You can obtain probiotics (live, living, healthy bacteria) from fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, and kimchi. You can also get them in the form of a supplement. Take them with meals to boost your microbiome with good bacteria.
- Add prebiotics to your diet. These are the things that feed the good bacteria and will keep them thriving. Most fibrous vegetables contain prebiotics, but they are also available in supplement form.
- Take digestive enzymes to help break down your food. People who have unhealthy guts, don’t always digest their food completely. This can lead to all forms of stomach upset and gastrointestinal distress as well as malnutrition.
- See a physician, preferably a functional medicine provider, who is up to date on Fibromyalgia testing and treatment protocols, and can test you for hidden, but active infections.
- Exercise. I know it hurts at times. I also know how unmotivating it can be to exercise when you don’t feel good. Establish a starting point, even if the first day you only walk to the end of your driveway and back. Build on that. Other low impact exercises that are good for Fibro patients are swimming, yoga and tai chi. Exercising is very important and will provide you with exponential health benefits and help keep the Fibro symptoms at bay. The more you do it, the less pain and better you get.
- Get your hormones balanced. Again, I recommend finding a good functional medicine provider to help you with this. Most people with fibromyalgia do have hormonal imbalances which can contribute to their fibromyalgia symptoms and overall health.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation is one of the cornerstone symptoms of Fibro. If you’re not sleeping properly, your symptoms will be aggravated even more. Here is an excellent video about the importance of sleep, and what to do to change your sleep habits. In his fascinating Broken Brain series, Functional Medicine and esteemed physician Mark Hyman M.D. interviews Shawn Stevenson, sleep expert, to help you learn how to get a good night’s sleep.
Don’t Lose Hope – Fibromyalgia Studies Look Promising!
I know that many of you are frustrated and have likely been to several doctors who only prescribe you medications such as pain killers and/or antidepressants. The good news is that as more and more studies are completed on patients with Fibromyalgia, the general medical community is starting to see some validity for specific causes of Fibromyalgia which will provide them with information on how to treat it effectively.
Once causation issues are addressed, then symptoms will start to disappear, you will feel better, and you’ll be on your way to having a better quality of life. It will be exciting to see a paradigm shift regarding the treatment of Fibromyalgia.