Scientists find link between Fibromyalgia and Gut Microbiome

back pain

Scientists have found a correlation between Fibromyalgia and alterations in the gut microbiome.

A Montreal based research team has found that there are alterations in the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tracts of people with fibromyalgia. Approximately 20 different species of bacteria were found in either greater or lesser quantities in the microbiomes of the fibromyalgia control group participants.  

The team used a range of techniques, including artificial intelligence, to confirm the changes they saw in the microbiomes of the patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medication, physical activity, and age; all of which are known to affect the microbiome. Dr. Amir Minerbi, from the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the McGill Universtiy Health Center stated, “We found that fibromyalgia and the symptoms of fibromyalgia – pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties – contribute more than any of the other factors to the variations we see in the microbiomes of those with the disease. We also saw that the severity of a patient’s symptoms was directly correlated with an increased presence or a more pronounced absence of certain bacteria – something which has never been reported before.”

At this point, it is not clear whether the changes in gut bacteria seen in patients with fibromyalgia are simply markers of the disease or whether they play a role in causing it.

Due to the fact the disease involves a cluster of symptoms, the next step in the research will be to investigate whether there are similar changes in the gut microbiome in other conditions involving chronic pain, such as lower back pain, headaches and neuropathic pain.

The researchers are also interested in exploring whether bacteria play a causal role in the development of pain and fibromyalgia. And whether their presence could, eventually, help in finding a cure, as well as speed up the process of diagnosis.

“We sorted through large amounts of data, identifying 19 species that were either increased or decreased in individuals with fibromyalgia,” says Emmanuel Gonzalez, from the Canadian Center for Computational Genomics and the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University. “By using machine learning, our computer was able to make a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, based only on the composition of the microbiome, with an accuracy of 87 percent. As we build on this first discovery with more research, we hope to improve upon this accuracy, potentially creating a step-change in diagnosis.”

Fibromyalgia affects two to four percent of the population and has no known cure. Symptoms include fatigue, impaired sleep and cognitive difficulties, but the disease is most clearly characterized by widespread chronic pain.   It is a disease that has proved difficult to diagnose; some patients wait four to five years to receive a final diagnosis.  Perhaps this will change in the near future.

Reference: Minerbi, A., Gonzalez, E., Brereton, N. J. B., Anjarkouchian, A., Dewar, K., Fitzcharles, M.-A., … Shir, Y. (2019). Altered microbiome composition in individuals with fibromyalgia. PAIN, Articles in Press.