Nobody knows the actual cause for the onset of fibromyalgia and worse still, the reason why it continues to torment and for some this could mean a lifetime.  Research supports the theory that part of the root cause is all down to abnormalities in the neuro-endocrine system and deregulation of the central nervous system, named central sensitization syndrome. 

That aside, what we  know as fibromyalgia sufferers – and I’m sure you’re with me on this – is that it’s not an easy syndrome to live with and there are times when we have to dig deep for the energy to juggle life around it.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

The most common symptoms include widespread pain, gut health problems, unrefreshed sleep, fatigue, headaches and of course there’s that brain thing that goes on – fibro fog!  These symptoms are classified as:

  • Functional
  • Structural
  • Metabolic
  • Abnormalities within the muscles

I’ve always been puzzled by the pains in my arms which comes and goes on its own accord – you know that type of pain that takes your breath away!  It was such a relief to find my answer in a bunch of numerous studies on fibromyalgia patients revealing there are definite structural abnormalities within the muscles, that when tested, show anomalies of the membranes, mitochondria and fibre type.

The studies also revealed that these anomalies may be down to something much deeper where they may co-exist with biochemical abnormalities, metabolic problems resulting in altered energy production causing a dysfunction in the muscles and we all know how this feels when we’ve overdone it!

On top of this, there’s a host of other co-existing syndromes, all under the same spectrum, such as restless leg syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, CFS and migraine etc.  There’s also a heap load of other symptoms that are less common and vary so much for each sufferer.

Alarmingly, some of these, (as reported on various fibromyalgia websites, blogs etc., state there are over 200 different symptoms), which I’m afraid is taking it a bit to the extreme and in itself may well be just another symptom called “catastrophising”, only adding to the stigma attached to fibromyalgia. 

Similar to the variation of symptoms, the same applies to the effectiveness of treatment which also differs from one person to the next, making it a complex condition to treat.  However,  what we also have to consider here is what else might be contributing to this?

Factors such as other health and comorbid conditions, medications and their side effects, lifestyle choices, stress, diet and exercise, will all impact on an individual’s fibromyalgia, pain levels and the energy it steals.

When referring to energy here, I’m talking about cellular energy – yourbody’s mitochondria, the unique structures within every cell of your body.  It’s easier to think of them as the “powerhouse” of every cell and needed to generate most of your body’s energy, including the muscles, organs and your brain. 

Simply put, our much-needed energy is partly produced by a process of converting nutrients from the food we eat into something called adenosine-5’-triphosphate (ATP), the body’s source of cellular fuel.  The bad news is that tests have shown low levels of ATP in the red blood cells of patients with fibromyalgia and this may also be linked to low level platelet serotonin and depression.

Gut bacteria, along with your mitochondria, (which are abundant in your brain cells), are both critically important and need to be continuously nourished in order to support physical and mental health.

The bottom line is that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondria functioning and many chronic illnesses, (including fibromyalgia and ME/CFS), also  increased pain, depression, fatigue, anxiety disorders and stress related illness, to name a few.

How does this impact on Fibro-Fog?  

When your mitochondria functioning isn’t at its best, the result is a decrease in ATP (your body’s cell fuel) which increases oxidative stress – just a reminder that levels of ATP are already lower than normal with fibromyalgia!  Oxidative stress in the brain leads to cognitive impairment with symptoms like blips in your short-term memory, language recall and impaired concentration – or more commonly known to us fibro sufferers as fibro-fog.

What’s this got to do with Supplements?

Really the questions here should be:

  • How healthy is your gut and what does long term medication do to your digestive system?  
  • Is your diet giving you everything you need in order to keep up with the supply of nutrients to feed your mitochondria and balance the effects of fibromyalgia and stress has on your body?

If your answers reveal that you live in a continuous fibromyalgia-stress loop and or suffer with digestive problems, IBS etc., it might be worth considering the benefits of supplementing your diet.

It has to be said that diet should come first when it comes down to your health and helping your mitochondria to thrive. Aim to eat lots of nutrient-dense, whole foods packed full of phytonutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, especially omega-3 and omega-6 as well as proteins.

When choosing to supplement your diet, it’s worth noting that not all supplements are created equally and it’s worth doing some  research.  Here’s a few of my recommended  supplements known to help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia and will also help support your mitochondria efficiency to provide the fuel to produce ATP and strengthen your muscles.

Vitamin B Complex  plays an essential role in mitochondria function and metabolism by helping convert nutrients into energy.  They are also needed for a wide range of processes within the body such as healthy nerve function, digestion, as well as supporting muscle tone.

A note of caution, vitamin B complex belong to a group of water-soluble vitamins, meaning they are not stored within the body and can be depleted by various medications, stress and stimulants like caffeine.

When choosing to supplement with vitamin B complex make sure it contains vitamin B12.  My findings at the clinic show so many fibromyalgia sufferers feel so much better when they supplement with Vitamin B complex and B12. 

Deficiencies can show up as weakness and fatigue, pins and needles or paraesthesia, balance and co-ordination problems leading to falls, all pretty common symptoms of fibromyalgia.  Vitamin B12 can be quite difficult to absorb from foods, particularly if you take digestion remedies, various other medications, or have poor gut health.  I supplement with a Vitamin B12 oral spray to ensure absorption and have to say I know the difference if I don’t take it!

Vitamin C  is a water-soluble broad-spectrum antioxidant that supports the immune system and is essential for the mitochondria metabolism of fats.  Studies show that deficiency is related to poor immunity, frequent infections, low mood, depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), here’s why:

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, plays an essential role in the synthesis of some of our neurotransmitters that are involved in mood, interest, concentration as well as energy production.  It’s involved in the conversion of tyrosine (needed to synthesize protein) into dopamine (needed to provide physical and motivational energy) and gives us that wonderful feeling of satisfaction, contentment and reward.

The link here to fibromyalgia is that dopamine is a cofactor of norepinephrine (also called noradrenalin) which is both a hormone and neurotransmitter.  It acts as a chemical messenger which transmits signals across the nerve endings in the body and plays a role in the regulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responsible for the stress response, fight-or-flight.  Keeping this under control is vitally important for managing fibromyalgia.

It’s no surprise that research suggests people with fibromyalgia tend to have a dysfunction with low levels of norepinephrine which is associated with memory problems, (fibro fog), mood swings, irritability, depression and lack or loss of interest.

If that’s not bad enough I’m sorry to add more bad news.  We all know the significance of serotonin and its connection to fibromyalgia?  Also known as the happy chemical, serotonin – here we go again – has also been found to be abnormally low when tested on patients with fibromyalgia. Vitamin C is involved here again!

Vitamin C is a cofactor of tryptophan, an amino acid that is the precursor of serotonin and this means low levels of vitamin C means decreased levels of the happy chemical.

The bottom line is whether to supplement with Vitamin C or not?  Too much can irritate the gut and you’ll be running to the loo, not so good if you already have this problem with IBS.  Bear in mind we need vitamin C to absorb iron, so other than making sure you’re eating a wide variety of vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables, a safe supplement that is gentler on the tummy is  Ester-C.  This is a patented form and is better absorbed and excreted less rapidly than ascorbic acid which sometimes is like flushing your money down the loo!

Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant molecule naturally occurring in the body that is highly concentrated in the mitochondria and significant in the production of energy and the prevention and treatment of chronic illness. For me it’s a must have!

The question here is that if we make it naturally then why do we need to supplement it?

The answer is that it decreases with age and during ill health where the increased demands made by the body’s tissues as a consequence of pain or illness, is why it’s an effective supplement for fibromyalgia.  Here’s how it helps:

Co-Q10 reduces oxidative damage that causes the pain, weakness and fatigue in your muscles, skin problems, lung and respiratory problems such as shortness of breath.  It also helps with cognitive function and reduces headaches and decrease inflammation occurring during migraines.

It also helps to improve insulin sensitivity which is linked to mitochondria function and helps to regulate blood sugar levels which are put out of sync by stress and frequent  stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.  So if you’ve ever wondered why stress makes you ravenous, that’s the reason why.

If you think that you could do with a bit more Co-Q10 you can supplement with 90-200mg daily, but as always do your own research and then check with your GP.

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and we all need more of that!  We need it for the absorption of calcium and phosphorous into our bloodstream, bones, teeth and muscles. We get it naturally when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight and also from certain foods such as oily fish and eggs, the RDA for an adult is 600iu.

Vitamin D levels tend to be low in people with fibromyalgia but it relieves many of its symptoms such as muscle pain, fatigue and weakness as well as reducing depression, anxiety symptoms and low mood.  It also supports the heart health, circulation and increases ability to heal from infection, so it’s one of the must have’s if you have fibromyalgia and don’t get enough time in the sunshine.  I use an oral spray supplement which is easier absorbed than some of the rather large tablet form.

5 HTP (5Hydroxytryptophan) is an herbal supplement containing tryptophan made from griffonia seed extract and usually combined with other vitamins.  As previously mentioned tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which has made this a popular supplement for those who suffer with fibromyalgia.

It’s commonly used to alleviate symptoms and bring effective relief from morning aches, pain and stiffness, sleeping problems, chronic headaches and depression.  However, it comes with a word of caution that if taken in the wrong doses it can be seriously harmful and also has contra-indications to various medications.  I strongly advise that you discuss with your GP or health professional before supplementing with 5HTP.      

Magnesium plays a key role in as many as 300 enzyme reactions and it is reported that about 80 per cent of adults are deficient!  It’s vitally important for managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia and although abundant in many foods it’s not a naturally occurring compound in the body, this is why it’s a recommended supplement.

A few of  its major roles include regulation of  muscle function, nerve transmission and the production of energy, bone and cells.  It’s also a much-needed muscle relaxant which is essential therapy if you have fibromyalgia.  Magnesium comes in many forms as explained in my related article Magnesium for Fibromyalgia and well worth a read.

Multi-Vitamin and Mineral supplements are a good option if you go for a high strength, one a day tablet giving  you a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. 

You can then add to this, as and when, with whatever you feel you need more of, such as extra vitamin C, B12, flaxseed or CO Q10 etc. 

Healthy Fats provide the body with essential fatty acids, called essential because the body doesn’t produce them so they  need to be consumed from our diet on a daily basis.  Foods that contain omega-3 and omega-6are the best source and keep the body’s cells healthy by  helping to strengthen the membranes of your mitochondria and have shown to improve the function of the brain.

It’s important to include fats in your diet from oily fish, grass fed beef, nuts, seeds and their oils, avocados, hemp, flax, coconut and olive oil.  If you think you’re not getting enough and show signs of deficiency, you might consider supplementing.  Deficiency  symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination, bladder problems
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry skin, dull hair, brittle nails
  • Inflammation
  • Painful joints
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Allergy or intolerance tendencies
  • Visual symptoms, sensitivity to bright light, night blindness, dry eyes
  • Poor concentration
  • Emotional sensitivity, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Sleep problems

I know what you’re thinking – many of these symptoms can easily be mistaken for fibromyalgia.  One way to find out is to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of essential fats in your diet or to supplement with something like flaxseed capsules, cod liver oil, borage oil (also called starflower), or evening primrose oil and see if you notice any improvements.

To supplement or not to supplement, that is the question and only you will know what’s best for you, your fibromyalgia, your energy levels and the all-important health of your mitochondria. 

On a final note, there is one other way alongside nourishment to kick-start your mitochondria back to optimum function and it’s free – fresh air, exercise and deep breathing.

When you increase oxygen and blood flow it activates biological pathways that produce new mitochondria and improves the efficiency of your existing energy busting cells!  For breathing exercises see related article The Benefits of Breathing Exercise for Fibromyalgia.

I hope this article has been helpful and feel free to share or leave a comment.

Author Jok Saunders, founder of the Fibro Clinic South West

Disclaimer:  Fibromyalgia is not a “one size fits all” diagnosis, effecting each sufferer differently.  What may work for some won’t work for others.  The information provided here is intended for general knowledge and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

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