Fibromyalgia is surprisingly common and although it may occur in both men and women, it seems that women experience it more frequently than men. It is a condition characterised by chronic widespread pain in joints and muscles. It is often accompanied by fatigue, disrupted sleep, decreased muscle strength and mood disturbances.
Fibromyalgia may also be present alongside other conditions including migraine, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is not fully known why some people develop fibromyalgia but research has some interesting findings.
Those with fibromyalgia have been found to have an increase in a compound called Substance P. This neuropeptide is thought to be involved with inflammatory processes and pain, and increased levels may cause enhanced perceptions of pain. It has also been found that co-enzyme Q10 levels may be low in sufferers and they may have an increase in oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between the damaging effect of oxidised molecules and natural protection against them.
Stress is also a factor in fibromyalgia and quite frequently low levels of the stress hormone cortisol are found. Cortisol plays a role in regulating inflammation, the sleep-wake cycle, memory and blood sugar balance. As stress regulation may be an issue, stress supportive nutrients may be of use. These nutrients include vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins as they are all readily used during stressful times. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is required for the production of anti-stress hormones. The herb rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, which offers support during times of stress and is traditionally used to relieve symptoms associated with stress such as fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety.
Mood issues are often an issue in fibromyalgia and altered serotonin levels may be associated with the condition. In particular, research has shown that those with fibromyalgia may have lower levels of tryptophan, an amino acid required for serotonin synthesis. Low tryptophan levels have been directly linked to low mood. The omega 3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA have also been found to support mood patterns as well as reducing inflammation.
Sleep disruption is common and often those with fibromyalgia can wake up feeling unrefreshed. Getting a good night’s rest is essential for good health. Nutrients such as magnesium help muscles relax. Herbs such as valerian offer a non-addictive traditional remedy to help relieve sleep disturbances.
Vitamin D status may also be important and low levels can frequently be seen in fibromyalgia. In fact, studies have indicated that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to fatigue and the severity of the condition. Vitamin D supports normal muscle function and contributes to the normal function of the immune system.
Although there are many factors involved in the development of fibromyalgia, nutritional solutions are available to offer support for many of the symptoms.