Serotonin is an important chemical that your body produces naturally. It functions as something called a “neurotransmitter.” Essentially, it helps to regulate a lot of the things that your body does on a daily basis. And when your levels are low, it can affect everything from your ability to sleep to how well your muscles function.
But most importantly, serotonin seems to play a significant role in fibromyalgia. In fact, most of the drugs currently approved for treating fibromyalgia are based on altering the levels of this neurotransmitter in the blood. So what exactly is the relationship between the two? And what does that mean for you?
Serotonin And Fibromyalgia
There’s a clear link between this particular neurotransmitter, or rather the lack of it, and fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia consistently have lower levels of serotonin in their blood than the general population. What we don’t quite know yet, is why that is.
We don’t have a clear idea of what causes fibromyalgia or even exactly how it causes the symptoms that it does. The best guess right now is that something within the brain of someone with fibromyalgia sensitizes the nervous system, resulting in a breakdown of the normal pain response. Essentially, people with fibromyalgia have their brains sending pain signals to the nerves constantly for no reason.
And based on the evidence, we can assume that neurotransmitters are involved. It could be that the low levels of neurotransmitters either trigger or enhance this reaction, resulting in the chronic fatigue and pain of fibromyalgia.
For instance, we know that the brain uses serotonin to send these nerve signals in other chronic pain conditions. The brain releases neurotransmitters that react with the trigeminal nerve, a bundle of pain receptors located near the spine. This produces the sensation of widespread pain we associate with conditions like fibromyalgia.
There are a few possible explanations for why the levels of serotonin seem to be low in people with fibromyalgia. Basically, your body needs to do several things to maintain a balanced level of neurotransmitters. First, it has to produce enough of the neurotransmitter. And there are a number of conditions that limit your body’s ability to do that. Secondly, your body has to be able to absorb the chemicals floating around in your blood. Of course, there is also a range of conditions that can prevent that. Finally, your body has to send those chemicals where they need to go and use them effectively. And that can be interrupted by conditions like fibromyalgia as well.
Because we don’t know exactly how fibromyalgia works, we don’t know which of these things is causing the issue. But while we still don’t fully understand the condition, we know that neurotransmitters are no doubt involved.
What It Means For You
The most important thing to take away from this is that maintaining the correct balance of neurotransmitters can help with your symptoms. That’s why the most commonly prescribed drugs for fibromyalgia tend to be anti-depressant SSRI medications.
Essentially, SSRIs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in your brain, thus encouraging your body to produce more of it. Obviously, these drugs aren’t effective for everyone. But the fact that they work for many people suggests there’s something to the neurotransmitter angle.
So, how can you keep your neurotransmitters in balance if you can’t or don’t want to take SSRIs?
As with nearly everything about fibromyalgia, lifestyle plays a big role. A healthy diet and regular exercise are great ways to help control your symptoms. Exercise boosts the natural production of neurotransmitters in your body. But it’s not always easy to exercise when you have fibromyalgia.
The chronic pain and fatigue make finishing basic chores around the house a struggle. And too much exercise can cause painful fibro flares that make your symptoms worse. The key is to start slowly. Don’t push yourself too hard or try to do too much. Try an easy stroll around the neighborhood. Many studies prove that just getting 150 minutes of exercise a week is enough to improve your body’s balance and use of neurotransmitters.
Another great way to keep your body balanced is to pay attention to your sleep patterns. Your serotonin levels play an important role in sleep. And they seem to be tied to your circadian rhythm. Get to bed on time if you can and rise early. Make sure you get enough sun as well. Getting enough natural light at the right times is a big part of keeping your neurotransmitter levels healthy.
So do you have fibromyalgia? What do you think about this connection with neurochemicals? Let us know in the comments.
Some Supersizing Causes Fibromyalgia?
Nervous System Sensitization
The most disabling symptom of fibromyalgia is the pain. So regardless of what causes fibromyalgia, what’s most relevant to the average sufferer is knowing why they are in so much pain. Well, to figure that out, it’s worth asking how pain works.
Essentially, pain happens in the brain. When your hand touches a hot stove, for example, it’s not your hand that’s hurting. The damaged nerves in the hand send a signal to your brain that it then interprets as pain and sends back to your hand. That’s why you feel the pain in your hand, but the hand itself doesn’t actually generate the feeling of pain.
So, in fibromyalgia, it isn’t your muscles that are the source of the pain, but the brain. After all, the muscles in someone with fibromyalgia aren’t actually damaged. That leads us to something called central nervous system sensitization.
In central nervous system sensitization, the nerves become over-active and start sending pain signals when there is no obvious source. No one is completely sure why this happen, but traumatic injury and stress both seem to contribute, as they are known to do with fibromyalgia.
It could be that fibromyalgia is the result of over-active nerves. But there are some issues with this theory. To begin with, not everyone who has CNS has all the distinctive symptoms of fibromyalgia, which implies that they are separate conditions. But, more importantly, it doesn’t really explain what causes it. It’s more of a how than a what. The over-active nerves cause the pain, but what causes the over activity of the nerves and why does that lead to the specific symptoms of fibromyalgia? That’s a question researchers are still trying to answer.
Another common explanation for fibromyalgia is that it might actually be an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions are things like arthritis and lupus and are caused when the body’s immune system turns against it.
In a healthy immune system, the white blood cells produce antibodies which then attack foreign cells like bacteria and viruses. But in someone with an autoimmune condition, these antibodies start attacking their own cells, destroying them and causing inflammation.
A lot of people have suggested that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune condition because of the similarity in the symptoms of fibromyalgia and other autoimmune conditions. Both conditions lead to fatigue, chronic pain around the joints, and cognitive difficulties. And in addition, people with fibromyalgia frequently develop autoimmune conditions like lupus, arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
But, doctors are able to easily diagnose autoimmune conditions because they can test a patient’s blood for elevated levels of antibodies. But while some people with fibromyalgia have elevated antibody levels, most don’t. But that doesn’t mean the immune system plays no role in fibromyalgia, and we’ll discuss why it might in a minute.
The current theory that might best explain the cause of fibromyalgia actually puts the source in the brain. You see, your brain is full of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are things like serotonin and dopamine, which control everything from how well your body moves to how happy you feel. And people with fibromyalgia have low levels of these neurotransmitters, which might explain their symptoms.
In fact, two of the drugs commonly used to treat fibromyalgia, Cymbalta and Savella, work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. That implies there’s a pretty direct link between these chemicals and fibromyalgia symptoms.
But one of the most promising theories might involve something else in the brain called microglia. Microglia are immune cells that can pass through the barrier into the brain, which might explain the relationship between fibromyalgia and autoimmune conditions. A researcher at the University of Alabama named Jared Younger has been looking into the relationship between microglia and fibromyalgia.
He found that in people with fibromyalgia, the levels of a hormone called leptin were abnormally high. And he discovered that by measuring the levels of leptin he could predict how bad fibromyalgia symptoms were. And since leptin passes into the brain, it activates microglia, which causes your body to trigger an immune response which explains the fibromyalgia symptoms.
This microglia might be what causes fibromyalgia. But until more research is done, we just don’t know for sure. But what do you think? What causes fibromyalgia? Is it the immune system? Is it microglia? Is it something else? Let us know in the comments.