Not too long ago, many doctors questioned if fibromyalgia even existed. Fortunately for millions of women (fibromyalgia in women is seven times more common than in men), any thoughts that it is “all in a woman’s head” have changed.
Until recently, fibromyalgia was not well understood. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms throughout the body, and there isn’t a lab test to diagnose it. Patients are diagnosed strictly based on their symptoms and history, while ruling out dozens of other diseases with similar symptoms like depression, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune diseases.
There have been a lot of theories about what causes fibromyalgia and there are numerous forms of treatment, but the results have been far from consistent. Thanks to some new research, much of that is starting to change.
Symptoms and Treatment
The symptoms of fibromyalgia are so general and common that, in the past, sufferers were often labeled as chronic complainers with some “invisible disease.” Symptoms can include:
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Menstrual irregularities
- Sleep difficulties
- Inability to concentrate
- Digestive problems
- Generalized stiffness
However, the most common and consistent complaint among fibromyalgia sufferers has always been widespread chronic pain—in other words, “being sore all over.”
Previously, the only way to deal with fibromyalgia was to manage symptoms with medication. Everything from antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs, to over-the-counter analgesics and opiates, have been used in these efforts. The average fibromyalgia patient uses three or four drugs every day to control symptoms.
However, recent findings have shed new light the workings of this disease, as well as a natural way to help get it under control.
Fibromyalgia and the Gut Microbiome
With the explosion of interest in the gut microbiome, we’ve seen more research focused on learning if there are links between gut issues and a wide range of diseases. It turns out that several studies have connected fibromyalgia to various gut problems.
Among fibromyalgia patients:
- 30–70% have concurrent irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and 33% of patients diagnosed with IBS have the symptoms of fibromyalgia
- Up to 50% have chronic indigestion with no known cause
- 73% report gastrointestinal symptoms
- Their microbiome contains at least 20 different species of bacteria in greater or lesser quantities than healthy individuals
- 78% have been found to have small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO)
These changes in the gut microbiome are a contributing factor to fibromyalgia pain.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the “gut-brain axis”—the pathway that exists between the gut and brain by way of the tenth cranial nerve. Bacteria and other microbes release chemicals that trigger nerve impulses that go to the brain. These impulses directly affect the way the brain perceives and processes pain. Based on the latest research, if you want to get to the root of fibromyalgia, restoring gut health is the place to begin.
Natural Ways to Heal Gut Dysfunction
Here are some of the best ways to heal and balance your gut.
- Avoid foods and food additives that irritate the gut and destroy beneficial gut bacteria. Food preservatives work by destroying both bad and good bacteria. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, and avoid highly processed meats and other treated food products.
- Avoid or minimize the use of antibiotics and other prescription or over-the-counter drugs that have been shown to alter or destroy beneficial gut bacteria.
- Dechlorinate your water. Chlorinated water can lead to the destruction of beneficial gut bacteria. If your water source is chlorinated and you have no other option, either set a container of the water out overnight to allow the chlorine dissipate, or add a small about of powdered vitamin C to the water to help counteract chlorine’s effects.
- Regularly include live, fermented foods in your diet (yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, etc.) Fermented foods help replenish beneficial gut bacteria on a regular basis.
- Consume plenty of complex carbohydrate vegetables to feed the good bacteria in your gut. These foods contain fermentable fibers which increase the production of the unsaturated fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate reduces inflammation and is also the primary food source utilized by the cells that line the colon wall. Butyrate is needed to both repair and maintain a healthy colon. When the wall of the colon is weak or damaged, toxins leak into the bloodstream and can cause inflammation and pain all over the body. This is often referred to as a “leaky gut.” A short list of foods high in fiber includes sweet potato, yucca, apples, berries, carrots, peas, beans, celery, broccoli, bananas, onions, asparagus, nuts, and seeds. Foods that naturally contain butyrate include butter, ghee, milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Increase your consumption of glycine-rich foods. Glycine is an amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of the intestines. It also helps protect the intestinal wall from free radical damage. Glycine is one of the primary components of bone broth since it is abundant in the skin, cartilage, bones, tendons, and collagen of animals. Along with drinking bone broth, supplementing with collagen powder is also an easy way to increase glycine.
- Take a daily probiotic supplement. In addition to consuming a wide variety of fermented foods, it is the one sure way to continually replenish and restore the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Keep in mind that some longstanding gut problems may be due to intestinal parasites. This might require the temporary use of deworming compounds or antiparasitic herbs.
Fibromyalgia Is Complex
Fibromyalgia seems to run in certain families, so there may be an inherited genetic mutation that makes an individual more susceptible. In some cases, it can be triggered by a serious emotional or physical event in life. In other cases, a severe bacterial or viral infection might bring on fibromyalgia.
Also, some research may have found a link between fibromyalgia pain and insulin resistance. In some individuals, a higher-than-normal A1c level (a reflection of blood sugar levels over the past 2- to 3-month period) can be a predictor of fibromyalgia. Treating these patients with the drug metformin was helpful in reducing their pain levels.
Regardless of the triggering mechanism, research shows the majority of fibromyalgia sufferers continue to have unresolved gut dysfunction. Following the guidelines and suggestions above can address gut problems and will very often resolve fibromyalgia, or at the very least greatly reduce pain and other symptoms.