Fibromyalgia is still a very poorly understood disease. Scientists are constantly researching to try and learn more about out and, hopefully, how to treat it. Researchers from Canada’s McGill University discovered in April of 2019 that gut bacteria have a very strong link to fibromyalgia. In fact, the research team shows, there are 19 different kinds of bacteria in the gut that appear in either greater or lesser qualities in those suffering from fibromyalgia than in a control group of healthy individuals. (1)
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles, tendons and ligaments. It also causes fatigue, sleep issues and other symptoms similar to those seen with depression. Fibromyalgia can lead to difficulty carrying out daily tasks and it often goes undiagnosed by doctors due to its vague symptoms. The condition affects between 2% and 4% of the population, making it more common than multiple sclerosis. (2)
Fibromyalgia is not a disease but rather a syndrome that can be caused by a number of factors including genetics, infections and trauma. There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia and treatment options are limited.
What Is The Gut Microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms, viruses and other tiny organisms that live in or on our bodies. It consists of over 100 trillion organisms that are present on every surface of our body and each one has a specific function. The microbiome is essential for our health as it helps break down food and absorb nutrients from the foods we eat, controls immune functions and produces chemicals which regulate moods.
The gut microbiome also interacts with the development of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. A healthy gut microbiome protects against these illnesses while an unbalanced microbiome can cause health problems such as leaky gut syndrome, eczema, skin flare ups and even weight gain.
Fibromyalgia and Gut Bacteria
As already mentioned, Canadian researchers discovered in 2019 that gut bacteria and Fibromyalgia are actually quite intricately linked. They found that, in patients with the condition, 19 different types of gut bacteria appear in either great or lesser quantities than in healthy individuals.
“Participants in the study were interviewed and gave stool, blood, saliva and urine samples,” says the McGill Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences newsletter. “We also saw that the severity of a patient’s symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria,” says Dr. Minerbi. It’s “something which has never been reported before.”
The researchers found that Faecalibacterium prausnitzii bacteria was low. This contributes to many diseases and illnesses that are not only similar to Fibromyalgia, but also are often comorbidities with it. Two other bacterial species that were low in fibromyalgia, Bacteroides uniformis and Prevotella copri, have been found to be elevated in inflammatory arthritis, which is often also seen comorbid with Fibromyalgia. Propionic acid and isobutyric acid were also low in Fibromyalgia patients.
They used a range of techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to confirm that the changes we saw in the microbiomes of fibromyalgia patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medication, physical activity, age, etc.
“We also saw,” Minerbi adds, “that the severity of a patient’s symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria — something which has never been reported before.” (3)
What Does This Mean?
The biggest problem now is that the researchers need to determine whether this is causation or correlation. Is having out-of-whack gut bacteria a cause of fibromyalgia? Or is this just another sign or symptom? In short, more studies are needed. But it’s a big step forward.
We now know that there is a strong link between the microbiome and fibromyalgia, and that this can be used to help diagnose patients with the condition. Diagnosis is often the hardest part for people with Fibromyalgia, so this will at least first help them feel validated in their pain and also set them on a path for treatment. This way, they can sooner get back to living a more normal life.
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- “Gut microbiome: pertinence in fibromyalgia.” Pubmed. Amir Minerbi and Mary-Ann Fitzcharles. January- February 2020.
- “Fibromyalgia and Gut Microbiome Abnormalities.” Verywell Health. Adrienne Dellwo. June 05, 2022.
- “People with fibromyalgia have different gut bacteria.” Medical News Today. Catharine Paddock, Ph.D. June 24, 2019