Can the gut-brain axis help researchers understand the link between microbiome changes and chronic pain?
02/11/2020 // Cassie B. // Views

The gut microbiome has been an area of increasing interest to researchers recently, and a new study has pointed to a potentially important link to chronic pain.

In the study, which was published in the journal Pain, researchers looked at patients suffering from fibromyalgia. People with this condition experience chronic pain along with fatigue and cognitive impairment. It’s not well understood by scientists, and it does not have a known cure. However, researchers believe that fibromyalgia heightens painful sensations by altering how your brain processes pain signals.

The researchers compared 77 patients with fibromyalgia with 79 who don’t have the illness. In some cases, they compared the fibromyalgia patients to healthy control subjects who lived in the same household, with some being the parents, siblings or offspring of the participants. They compared samples of urine, stool, blood and saliva, and they found a previously unnoticed correlation between the level of a person’s intensity of symptoms and the number of bacteria that were either present or absent within their gut.

They found that fibromyalgia sufferers had similar gut microbiome compositions, particularly in terms of the abundance or absence of 19 bacterial species, when compared to people who don’t have the illness. For example, populations of butyrate metabolism-related bacteria such as Bacteroides uniformis and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii were significantly lower in fibromyalgia patients.

The researchers used various techniques to confirm that these changes were not related to other factors that can affect the microbiome, such as medication, age, physical activity and diet. They were then able to use machine learning to diagnose people with fibromyalgia based solely on their microbiome composition with 87 percent accuracy, highlighting a potential new way to diagnose people with the illness.


They added that some of the abundant bacteria in fibromyalgia patients have features in common with those seen in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Further research is needed to determine whether these gut bacteria changes are characteristics of the disease or if they actually play a role in its development. However, if gut bacteria are indeed a marker of the disease, it could lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes for sufferers. It is currently quite difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia due to the similarity of its symptoms to those of other diseases.

According to the CDC, around a fifth of American adults are living with chronic pain, which can contribute to other physical and mental health issues, and findings like these could help a significant number of people.

Vitamin D may help fibromyalgia patients

While scientists continue to seek new insight into the illness and work on an effective way to address it, sufferers may be able to take the edge off fibromyalgia with help from vitamin D. Austrian scientists carried out a study involving 30 women with a clinical diagnosis of the illness who were also deficient in vitamin D. All of the women had experienced the symptoms of the illness, such as pain, fatigue and depression.

They were divided into groups, one of which was given a vitamin D supplement while the other was given a placebo. After 25 weeks, those who took vitamin D supplements noted greater energy, lower pain, and less inflammation than the placebo group; those in the placebo group did not note any changes in pain or other symptoms. When the study ended, the women who had been taking vitamin D supplements reported seeing their pain levels rise after stopping the supplements, underscoring the utility of the vitamin in alleviating symptoms.

While there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding fibromyalgia, this study could make a big difference in how the disease is diagnosed and treated moving forward.

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