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Researchers Find Evidence Gut Bacteria Plays a Role in Fibromyalgia

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The connection between the bacteria in your gut and a wide range of chronic (and even mental) illnesses is one of the trendiest research topics. For conditions like fibromyalgia, which doesn’t have a definitive diagnostic test, a new study linking specific gut microbiome patterns to the condition opens the door to a better understanding of the disease.

Since its official classification as a medical condition in 1990, fibromyalgia eluded many professionals, who preferred to write symptoms off as “all in your head.” As research has improved, experts learned the condition is best described as the result of a hyperactive nervous system, which leads to fibromyalgia symptoms like chronic pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties like brain fog.

Researchers at McGill University in Canada wanted to see if gut bacteria played a role in fibromyalgia too. To do this, they looked for a difference in the gut bacteria of people with fibromyalgia compared to those without the condition. They compared 77 people with fibromyalgia to 79 healthy controls, including control participants who were related to and lived with patients with fibro to control for genetic and environmental factors. The results of their study were published in the journal Pain on June 18.

Between participants with fibromyalgia and healthy, unrelated control participants, McGill researchers discovered an identifiable pattern of differences in gut bacteria. The authors note they only saw the difference when they looked in more detail at gut bacteria patterns as opposed to first glance. In total, the study found distinct patterns across 19 species of gut bacteria in fibromyalgia patients, suggesting gut bacteria may play a role in the condition.

A write-up of the study points out one such species of bacteria, faecalibacterium prausnitzii, was lower in participants with fibromyalgia. This same bacteria has already been linked with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Another type of gut bacteria lower in people with fibro, bacteroides uniformis, is associated with inflammatory arthritis. Researchers could also determine the severity of classic fibromyalgia symptoms like chronic pain and fatigue.

Study authors note this is the first time research looked at whether or not gut bacteria and fibromyalgia may be related. To measure gut bacteria in this study, researchers used a computer program and machine learning to help identify “microbiome blueprints” associated with fibro. Preliminary results based on this study (though more research is needed) suggest gut bacteria could be one way to get a fibromyalgia diagnosis in the future — and potentially new treatment options.

“By using machine learning, our computer was able to make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, based only on the composition of the microbiome, with an accuracy of 87 percent,” Emmanuel Gonzalez, Ph.D., a researcher on the study, told New Atlas. “As we build on this first discovery with more research, we hope to improve upon this accuracy, potentially creating a step-change in diagnosis.”

Want to learn more about fibromyalgia? Check out The Mighty’s Guide to Fibromyalgia.

Header image via Jongho Shin/Getty Images

Originally published: June 27, 2019
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