Fibromyalgia affects up to four million adults in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia has no cure, and those who suffer from this chronic condition are only offered treatments that work to reduce symptoms to improve their quality of life.
As researchers continue to study this perplexing condition, they discover new connections between fibromyalgia and the immune system.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that healthcare providers still struggle to understand. Symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to many other illnesses and include:
Muscle and bone pain
Sensitivity and tenderness
There are no tests to diagnose fibromyalgia definitively, so the condition is often misdiagnosed.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
While the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, researchers are getting closer to understanding the condition through its connection to the immune system.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, both autoimmune diseases, are more likely to have fibromyalgia. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body mistakenly unleashes its immune response against the healthy cells of organs and tissues.
Fibromyalgia can occur in conjunction with other autoimmune diseases. Additionally, fibromyalgia symptoms like fatigue and brain fog often overlap with autoimmune disorders.
These factors led researchers to theorize that fibromyalgia may be an autoimmune disorder, even though it doesn’t cause inflammation, a common symptom of autoimmune diseases.
In a recent study, mice injected with auto-antibodies from people with fibromyalgia began to experience fibromyalgia-like symptoms. This new development may lead to new tests to diagnose fibromyalgia and new treatments for those suffering from the condition.
Living with Fibromyalgia
Patients with fibromyalgia suffer from the pain, fatigue, and other symptoms associated with the condition, in addition to common social misconceptions. While fibromyalgia doesn’t have a cure, symptoms are often well-managed through diet and exercise, medications, alternative therapies, and stress relief.
Patients are exploring regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy, to help manage their symptoms experienced with fibromyalgia or an autoimmune condition. Stem cells are the building blocks and, specifically, mesenchymal stem cells have the regenerative properties to differentiate into any cell type while also addressing pain and inflammation within the body.
Crohn’s disease is a rare but serious inflammatory bowel disease. The condition causes the digestive tract lining to become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. Individuals with Crohn’s disease are also more likely to experience small intestine permeability, or what’s known as “leaky gut.” While there is no cure for the disease, medications and lifestyle modifications can be used to help manage the condition. In particular, research suggests zinc supplements may help to combat leaky gut associated with Crohn’s disease.
What is Leaky Gut?
In leaky gut syndrome, the gaps in intestinal walls loosen, allowing bacteria and toxins to pass through the intestines and into the bloodstream. Experts believe the condition may be linked to chronic and autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.
Leaky gut can occur whenever the balance between good and bad gut bacteria is off. The intestinal tract is home to hundreds of good bacteria, which help to manage digestion, process nutrients, and fight off bad bacteria.
Can Zinc Help?
While optimizing diet to maintain digestive health is a good start for many individuals, there are many other factors beyond nutrition at play when it comes to leaky gut. This is especially true for people with Crohn’s disease. Everything from compounds in tap water to medications can alter gut flora, which is why many individuals, and especially those with inflammatory bowel diseases, need an extra line of defense against leaky gut.
Because Crohn’s disease can inhibit proper nutrient absorption, people with the condition may face deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals. In particular, studies suggest that a zinc deficiency contributes to damage in the gut membrane barrier, but with zinc supplements, small intestine permeability can be improved. In a study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, the majority of patients who were given 110 mg of oral zinc sulfate supplements for 8 weeks had normal intestinal permeability and did not relapse. The findings suggest that zinc supplements can resolve permeability issues in individuals with Crohn’s disease and that strengthening the intestinal barrier may minimize the risk of relapse.
While each patient should check with their doctor before introducing any new supplements to their daily regimen, the findings do seem to be promising and may suggest that a single vitamin could play a powerful role in Crohn’s disease management.
Extreme temperatures can be uncomfortable for everyone, but for certain populations, summer weather is especially harsh – and in some cases, even dangerous. In particular, people with certain chronic illnesses may be at risk for heat-related complications. As you prepare for the warm season ahead, find out how you can beat the heat if you have a sensitivity below.
Conditions That Can Flare Up with Heat Many conditions, even when controlled effectively, can be aggravated by extreme heat. These include, but are not limited to:
Multiple Sclerosis:Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the nervous system, triggering a number of symptoms including muscle weakness and pain. Many people with Multiple Sclerosis experience intensified symptoms in the heat, so much so that it’s been given a name: Uhthoff’s phenomenon. Even subtle body temperature increases can exacerbate symptoms, so do what you can to keep cool this summer. Limit outdoor activities, especially during the hottest part of the day, and wear light, breathable clothing.
Migraines: The relentless summer sun can intensify or bring on migraines in individuals who are prone to them. While your best bet is to stay indoors in a cool, dark room when you experience an episode, you can still enjoy outdoor activities when you’re feeling up to it. Just be sure to wear large, polarized sunglasses, and arm yourself with a wide-brimmed hat to prevent excess light exposure.
Rosacea: Characterized by redness and bumps, rosacea is a skin condition which can worsen with heat and sunlight. UV rays can lead to flare-ups, while excessive heat can dry out the skin, further triggering the condition. Most people with rosacea know to keep their skin protected during long stints of outdoor activity, but don’t forget about the shorter moments in between. Even walking into the grocery store or walking the dog can expose you to heat and sunlight.
Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, known for causing joint pain, may be influenced by UV rays. Wearing protective clothing, or at the very least, applying an SPF 30 sunscreen or higher, may help.
Respiratory Illnesses: The dry season tends to make breathing more difficult and uncomfortable for people with conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). One reason is the spike in wildfires. If you live near a zone prone to wildfires, minimize your outdoor time as much as possible, as air impurities can aggravate the lungs.
Of course, extreme heat can take its toll on anyone, including otherwise healthy older adults. Exercising indoors or in a cool pool, snacking on chilled, healthy treats like homemade ice pops, and staying in the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day are a few simple yet effective practices for avoiding any heat-related complications all summer long.
In a recent edition of JAMA, the results of a 30-year study examining the possible connection between stress and autoimmune disease were revealed. The findings don’t simply demonstrate a link; instead, they reveal that stress-related disorders are significantly associated with risks of developing the subsequent autoimmune disease. In the study of over 100,000 subjects, the correlation showed that individuals with a diagnosed stress-related disorder were 30-40% more likely to later be diagnosed with one of many possible autoimmune diseases.
What is a Stress-Related Disorder?
The type of stress study subjects encountered is not to be confused with the stressors we encounter during everyday life. Sitting in traffic or worrying about being late for a meeting, for example, are examples of acute stress. These forms of short-term stress generally come and go but fail to create the sort of long-term damage produced by chronic stress, or stress-related disorders.
Stress-related disorders are mental health conditions resulting from short- and long-term anxiety from mental, physical, or emotional stress. Examples of these include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress reaction, and adjustment disorder.
Which Types of Autoimmune Disorders Are Linked to Stress?
According to the study’s findings, individuals with stress-related disorders were more inclined to be diagnosed with one of 41 autoimmune disorders. Among the many autoimmune diseases observed by the research were psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease.
Interestingly, additional variables seemed to further increase – or decrease – one’s risks of developing an autoimmune disease. Being diagnosed with PTSD at a young age, for instance, increased risks, while receiving antidepressant treatment shortly after being diagnosed with PTSD lowered rates of subsequent autoimmune disease diagnosis. Thus, it could be inferred that receiving treatment for a stress-related disorder may help to treat not only the stress itself but also minimize the lasting implications caused by it, including increased risks of disease.
What Causes the Connection?
Further research must still be conducted to pinpoint the precise long-term effects stress has on the body, and more specifically, on the immune system. Experts speculate that factors such as changes in cortisol levels and pro-inflammatory cytokine levels may need to be examined. Another hypothesis set forth by researchers is that individuals living with conditions such as PTSD might be more inclined towards unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more alcohol or sleeping less.
Although further research into this connection has yet to be conducted, one important takeaway from the findings is the fact that seeking treatment for stress-related disorders should now be considered more critical than ever. By consulting mental health professionals, individuals living with these conditions can pursue a tailored treatment approach to support short- and long-term improvements in overall wellness. For those with an auto-immune condition, see how stem cell therapy may help your symptoms and improve quality of life.
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