A study comparing women with and without fibromyalgia, for the first time, linked gut bacteria to long-term illness and its main symptoms.
Researchers in Canada identified 19 species of gut bacteria that were present in greater or lesser numbers in individuals with fibromyalgia.
“We found,” says Amir Minerbi, from the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at McGill University in Montreal, “that fibromyalgia and fibromyalgia symptoms (pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties) contribute more than any of the other factors. we see the variations in the microbiomes of those with the disease “.
Minerbi is the first author of a recent article on the study, which appears in the journal Pain .
He and his colleagues used artificial intelligence and other techniques to rule out variables that could influence the link between gut bacteria and fibromyalgia. These include age, medications, diet, and exercise, among other factors.
“We also saw,” adds Minerbi, “that the severity of a patient’s symptoms was directly correlated with a greater presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria, something that had never been reported before.”
The team wishes to point out that the findings do not show whether changes in gut bacteria are just markers of the disease or whether they actually contribute or cause its development.
Other studies exploring the role of gut bacteria in headaches, back pain, and other pain-related conditions could shed some light on this question.
Should gut bacteria play an active role in promoting and causing fibromyalgia, such a discovery could significantly shorten the years it generally takes to diagnose the condition. It might even pave the way for a cure.
Gut microbiome and fibromyalgia
The gut microbiome is a vast and complex ecosystem of bacteria, yeast, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract.
These little guests are constantly exchanging signals with their host’s cells.
Numerous studies have revealed that the interaction between the gut microbiome and the body plays an important role in health and disease.
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Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that affects 2–4% of the population in the United States, which is equivalent to approximately 6–12 million people.
The predominant feature of fibromyalgia is widespread pain that often occurs along with fatigue, tenderness, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms. Symptoms do not go away, although their intensity may vary over time.
People with fibromyalgia may find it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as walking even a short distance, climbing stairs, and doing chores around the house.
Study lead author Yoram Shir, Director of the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at McGill University, explains: “People with fibromyalgia suffer not only from the symptoms of their disease but also from the hardships of family, friends, and medical teams to understand your symptoms. “.
Microbiome data led to an accurate diagnosis
Of the 156 Montreal women who participated in the study, 77 had fibromyalgia, while the remaining 79 healthy people acted as controls. Some of the participants in the control group were siblings, descendants or parents of people with fibromyalgia or shared their living space.
All the participants gave samples of stool, urine and saliva. They were also subjected to interviews. The researchers analyzed test data on the samples and from the interviews. They compared the results for the fibromyalgia participants with those of their healthy counterparts.
Study co-author Emmanuel González says: “We screened large amounts of data, identifying 19 species that increased or decreased in individuals with fibromyalgia.”
González works as a bioinformatics consultant in the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University.
Using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, to analyze the microbiomes in stool samples, the team was able to identify which participants had fibromyalgia with an accuracy of 87.8%.
“We observed,” the authors note, “a quantitative association between the abundance of various [species of bacteria] and the severity of symptoms related to [fibromyalgia], including pain intensity, pain distribution, fatigue, sleep disorders and cognitive symptoms. “
They add that the “abundance” of bacterial species was also “selectively correlated with disease-related symptoms, but not with independent disease variables.”
The researchers plan to replicate the findings in a larger and geographically diverse group of participants. They also want to conduct animal studies to find out if gut bacteria really play a role in causing fibromyalgia.