- Dr. Melyssa Hoitink, ND
Is Gut Dysbiosis Causing Your Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
This month on social media, we’ve been focusing on the Back to Basics series. The basics include a number of factors, including sleep, movement, what you eat, mindset, and stress management. We haven’t talked much about one of my favourite basics yet: The Gut Microbiome. No idea what that is? This article will give you a brief overview on the gut microbiome and why it’s so important in fibromyalgia.
What Is Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live in the gut. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other tiny living beings. Our little friends are so tiny, in fact, that we can’t see them without the help of a microscope.
Our digestive tracts are filled with these tiny organisms. It is estimated that there are 100 trillion bacterial cells in our gut. In fact, bacterial cells are thought to outnumber our human cells 10 to 1. How crazy is that?!
While this may seem gross, many of these bacteria actually help us out. They produce nutrients for us, help to break down food, and take up valuable space to prevent more pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites from moving in. They also play a huge role in regulating the immune system, inflammation levels, and hormone metabolism (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, etc).
Our gut microbiome is influenced by many factors, including our mother’s microbiome during pregnancy and breastfeeding, infections we’ve been exposed to throughout our lives, how “clean” our environment is (i.e. disinfectants and sanitizers we may be exposed to), food poisoning, travel, pesticides, the food we eat, mould exposure, how effective our immune system is, stress, supplements, various medications (including antibiotics, stomach-acid lowering meds, and the birth control pill), among others.
The gut microbiome can greatly improve our overall health when it is healthy and in balance itself. It can also cause all kinds of symptoms when it’s out of balance (generally called Gut Dysbiosis).
The Link Between Gut Microbiome And Fibromyalgia
More and more attention is being dedicated to the role of digestion and gut bacteria in fibromyalgia. Research performed on the gut bacteria composition in people with fibromyalgia has uncovered a strong correlation between Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and fibromyalgia. It is possible that imbalances in the populations of different bacteria within the gut could be a causative factor to the symptoms and metabolic abnormalities noted in fibromyalgia.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO for short) is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Normally, most of the bacteria that live in the gut are present in the large intestine and colon. With SIBO, larger bacteria populations than expected live higher up in the intestines and can cause symptoms.
Various metabolites produced by common gut bacteria species have been linked to low levels of cortisol, vitamin D, tryptophan, serotonin, thyroid hormone, and melatonin levels. Imbalances in all of which have been correlated with fibromyalgia. Further to the connection between gut bacteria imbalances and fibromyalgia, patients who achieved eradication of SIBO showed significant improvements in symptoms. In other research performed on this topic, researchers have uncovered distinct patterns in gut bacterial growth that seem to correlate with symptoms and severity of fibromyalgia.
The catch with the gut microbiome is that if it has become imbalanced in one part of the digestive tract, it’s very likely to be imbalanced in other parts of the body as well. This means that if there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, there are likely problems in the gut microbiome other parts of the digestive tract too, since your entire body (not just one section of your digestive tract) is exposed to the same triggering factors that disrupt the gut microbiome.
Symptoms Of Gut Microbiome Imbalance
So how do you know if you have a gut microbiome imbalance? See the list of possible signs and symptoms below. As you can see, the list is long and it includes many different symptoms, not just digestive ones. There are tests available to determine what types of microorganisms are living in your digestive tract. If you’ve been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Fibromyalgia, there’s a very good chance your gut microbiome could use some attention.
Mucus in the stool
Lack of appetite
Fatty liver disease
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
Weight loss or gain
Psoriasis, eczema, or skin rashes
Feeling better or worse on probiotics/antibiotics
Inability to tolerate many different foods
As our understanding of the gut microbiome develops, so does our understanding of complex health conditions like fibromyalgia. We have much more to learn, but research in this area is looking very promising for all of you fibro warriors out there. I have much more to share with you on this topic! Stay tuned for more in-depth blog posts on this topic coming soon.
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Tomasello G, Mazzola M, Bosco V, et al. Intestinal dysbiosis and hormonal neuroendocrine secretion in the fibromyalgic patient: Relationship and correlations [published online ahead of print, 2018 Sep 11]. Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2018;10.5507/bp.2018.051. doi:10.5507/bp.2018.051
Minerbi A, Gonzalez E, Brereton NJB, et al. Altered microbiome composition in individuals with fibromyalgia. Pain. 2019;160(11):2589–2602. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001640
Dukowicz AC, Lacy BE, Levine GM. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2007;3(2):112–122.