Is Serotonin Surprisingly The Ultimate Cure For Fibromyalgia?
Can you identify the relation between these two following symptoms?
A patient suffering from fibromyalgia condition has widespread muscle pain, inflammation, cognitive difficulties, swelling and tingling in limbs, depression and a lack of muscle strength.
A person with low serotonin level experience symptoms of insomnia, chronic headache, painful mensuration, muscle cramping, cognitive difficulties, and depression.
If you said that low serotonin level and the fibromyalgia conditions are related then you are right.
Fibromyalgia is a painful condition which affects over 10 million people in North America, and most of them are women.
Do you know why women suffer more from fibromyalgia than men.
About 20 percent of all fibromyalgia patients find pain to be too severe to be not able to do anything physically, and another 30 percent are not able to hold their job due to the painful condition and presence of other fibromyalgia symptoms.
Even though so many people are affected by it, it is still widely debated condition and medical community is still split on it.
The one problem with identifying the fibromyalgia condition is that the many fibromyalgia symptoms overlap with other chronic illness and there is no standard blood test developed yet which can confirm the presence of fibromyalgia condition.
There are three criteria used to identify the fibromyalgia condition:
- Presence of muscle pain on both side of body, above and below the waist
- The pain must be present for three months or more
- There must be a pain in at least 11 or more from 18 localized tender points.
The misdiagnosis and the proposed treatment for fibromyalgia conditions are still very common these days.
If you suspect that you have fibromyalgia condition and have above three symptoms, then you should first undergo routine lab tests, even though these tests cannot confirm the fibromyalgia.
It is important to rule out other conditions before you start doing any treatment planning for fibromyalgia. There are several other dangerous conditions which often mimic fibromyalgia symptoms.
Lupus and Hypothyroidism are two conditions with similar symptoms as fibromyalgia and require specific treatment which can often be cured without many issues.
Currently, to treat fibromyalgia conditions, there are three FDA-approved medications, Lyrica, Savella, and Cymbalta but often these medications have several side effects, and most of the time they treat one symptom but cause several other conditions.
What is Serotonin and How Can It Treat Fibromyalgia.
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain, often called neurotransmitters, and it helps to regulate your sleep, appetite and pain signals. It transmits signals between your brain cells (neurons).
Many people know about the serotonin with the ability to control moods, and lack of it can result in a small positive attitude. Often many people suffering from depression are prescribed the medicines which increase the serotonin level in the body.
Although serotonin is a brain chemical, the majority of serotonin chemical is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin produced inside the brain does not go to other parts of the body as it is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Low level of serotonin has been long associated with the depression, and other disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and sleep disorders.
Many recreational drugs such as MDMA and cocaine are thought to inhibit the re-absorption of Serotonin in the brain which increases the duration of high the users feel.
Several new research suggests that people with fibromyalgia condition may have low levels of serotonin or low serotonin activity.
Individuals with low Serotonin experience:
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Mood changes
- Muscle cramps
- Bowel & Bladder problems
- Difficulty concentrating
Those are some of the common symptoms found in the fibromyalgia patients as well which make many researchers believe that boosting the serotonin may provide some relief from the fibromyalgia symptoms.
On the other hand, a higher level of serotonin does not have many symptoms, but some people have reported having confusion, hyperactivity, fever, and fluctuating blood pressure.
Serotonin and Fibromyalgia Pain
Studies have shown that serotonin helps to raise the pain threshold, and helps the brain to become more active in the pain management.
A headache and migraine are typically caused by the blood vessels in the brain to contract and expand uncontrollably, serotonin helps regulate the elasticity of blood vessels which helps relieve a migraine and headache pain.
Our brain has another neurotransmitter called substance P, which works along with serotonin.
Substance P is primarily responsible for:
- To transmit pain signals from spinal cord to brain
- Produce impulses from nerves that dilate blood vessels
- Helps proteins to move from inside to outside the cells
Researchers have suggested that low serotonin levels can increase the substance P levels in fibromyalgia patients.
The higher level of substance P increases the pain perception which may explain why fibromyalgia patients experience greater pain.
Serotonin and Sleep Disturbance
Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from insomnia as they find it difficult to sleep either due to pain or due to lack of serotonin itself.
An alternate form of serotonin is called melatonin.
When it gets dark, a certain amount of serotonin converts into melatonin which helps us fall asleep.
At the day time, serotonin is released again helping us wake up feeling refreshing.
A low serotonin level causes people low in melatonin as well which causes people to have insomnia or sleep disturbance.
To treat insomnia, doctors prescribe serotonin boosting medicine such as tricyclic antidepressants, which in very low dose helps people sleep well.
It is necessary to understand the difference between the general sleep and the deep, restful sleep. You can sleep whole night but still feel tired when you wake up in the morning.
The reason is the type of sleep. The sleep which makes us feel restful and refreshed is called deep sleep or “delta sleep.”.
Around 25 percent of our total sleep is deep sleep, and we mostly get it at early night’s sleep.
Serotonin boosts our delta sleep stage by controlling our thought process and reducing the brain activities which allows our mind go into an entirely dark stage with no thoughts or devoid of any dreams.
When this happens, our brain waves slow down and are dominated by long slow delta waves.
People suffering from fibromyalgia, generally with low Serotonin, often have difficulty controlling their thoughts, and worries even when they are at sleep. This causes them feel tired, and fatigued when they wake up in the morning.
There are other side effects of not having a deep sleep.
When we sleep, our body starts repairing damaged nerve cells or generate a new cell. Any obstruction to deep sleep stage hinders the repair of these damaged muscle tissues which causes the muscle pain or muscle spasm.
Serotonin and Digestive System
Irritable bowel syndrome or difficulty with bowel or bladder are another common complaints in fibromyalgia patients.
Researchers have suggested that fibromyalgia patients are found to have low serotonin level in their body.
A majority of serotonin is found in the guts. When you have a problem with your digestive system or have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then there is a complex disorder that causes some abnormalities in contraction of the intestinal muscles, secretion of digestive bile and sensation along the intestine linings.
Fibromyalgia patients experiencing irritable bowel syndrome have gut nerve receptors sending false or misleading signals to the brain such as nausea, bloating and even pain.
Medicines which helps serotonin release have found to help patients calm their intestines and control the digestive process and provide relief from IBS. (Source)
People experiencing constipation have a low level of serotonin, and those with IBS and high level of serotonin often experience diarrhea like symptoms.
Fibromyalgia and Hyperactive Immune System
Fibromyalgia patients have a hyperactive immune system which causes them to be over sensitive to the pain.
Hyperactive immune systems have a characteristic of flu-like symptoms such as stuffy nose, slight fever, swollen glands, muscle pain, fatigue, and insomnia.
As per Dr. Khalsa, M.D., in his book The Pain Cure states that the immune system tends to become hyperactive when the body produces too many cytokines- a chemical that stimulates immunity.
Serotonin controls the production of cytokine. A low level of serotonin results in overproduction of cytokine.
Besides serotonin, illness can also cause the immune system to become hyperactive and produces excess cytokine.
Serotonin deficit is the common cause of fibromyalgia, and we can correlate it with the fact that women suffer more than men with fibromyalgia condition.
It is due to reason that women are much more vulnerable than men to fluctuations in their levels of serotonin.
The main reason is that serotonin levels are often destabilized by shifting levels of female hormones, such as estrogen.
What are the Signs of Serotonin Deficiency?
It is not just that fibromyalgia patients have a serotonin deficiency. You can have serotonin deficiency while not having fibromyalgia condition.
Although you should consult your doctor to be sure whether you have serotonin deficiency but below are the common signs which help you find out if you any serotonin deficiency.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sugar craving
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble keeping focus
How to Boost Serotonin Level
There are 4 ways you can increase your serotonin level.
- Using Medicines
- Taking Supplements
- Eating High Protein Diet
- Going Outdoor in Sunlight and Exercise
Using Medicines: Often serotonin deficiency can be overcome through the use of medication. These drugs work by mimicking certain neurotransmitters.
Some of the common medications use to boost serotonin are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft; or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Cymbalta and Savella which are two of three FDA-approved fibromyalgia medication.
However, as with a majority of prescription medications, these medicines often have side effects and becomes less effective over time.
As per Fibrodaze, the following supplements can help boost the serotonin level:
- L-Theanine: It increases both norepinephrine and dopamine while lowering glutamate. Helps improve the mood, increase concentration, and decrease stress and anxiety. You should not take this supplement if you have low blood pressure.
- Rhodiola Rosea: It boosts the serotonin and dopamine level and relieves, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. It should not be taken with other antidepressants.
- 5-HTTP: 5-HTP is converted by your body into serotonin. 5-HTP is also helpful in relieving other fibromyalgia symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, headache, mood swings and depression.
- L-carnitine: This supplement can help lower pain levels and boost overall mental health. You should not take L-carnitine if you have low thyroid hormone level
- Vitamin B and Magnesium: Vitamin B and Magnesium found to keep serotonin and other chemicals balanced inside the brain. Eating balanced DietYour body synthesize serotonin from tryptophan, an amino acid, found in high protein rich foods such as turkey, beef, salmon, and cheese.
When you eat these large proteins rich food, your body first convert tryptophan into a substance called 5-HTP, which then converts into serotonin.
It is important to have a protein rich food in your diet otherwise you will not have enough tryptophan to convert into 5-HTP or serotonin.
However, eating high protein diet alone will not help you to boost your serotonin level.
As per an article in Healthline, the tryptophan present in the food has to compete with other amino acids.
If your food contains high protein diet, vitamin B6, and riboflavin, then the amount of tryptophan absorbed in the body is significantly reduced.
One way you can overcome this problem is by eating carbs. Carbs release insulin into the system which promotes the absorption of amino acids and increases the tryptophan in the blood.
By mixing the high tryptophan-rich diet with carbs, you will increase the serotonin level in the body.
As per Healthline, the following foods are high in tryptophan:
- Nuts and Seeds
You can also improve your tryptophan metabolism by taking digestive enzymes. These enzymes help break down protein and individual amino acids such as tryptophan.
Going in the Sunlight and Exercising
Exercise is very effective in balancing the serotonin level.
Besides balancing the serotonin level, exercise stimulates other chemicals and hormones which help to reduce stress, relieve depression, increases stamina and endurance and also keep you refreshed and healthy.
Several studies have proved that with a regular exercise, the serotonin level increases in the brain. Doing 3 to 5 sessions of moderate-intensity exercise can help you make feel much better.
If you are starting exercise then start with 30 minutes to an hour of exercise time each day to get your body to adapt and don’t skip the warming and cool down stretching movements to avoid muscle soreness.
Sunlight naturally contains vitamin D which is well known to relieve symptoms of depression. Walking or sitting in a sunlight particularly during the morning or evening time when the ultra-violet radiation level is low can boost your overall mood.
Vitamin D naturally boost serotonin level and you can get it free just by being exposed to light.
If you are working out indoor or live in a place with minimal sunlight, you can choose light therapy options from Amazon to have comfortable vitamin D inducing workouts.
Serotonin and Controversy
Although there has been several studies and research which showed that serotonin helps boost the mood and fight the depression.
But there has been some controversy around the serotonin and depression.
Prof. Healy from Dept. of Psychiatry of Hergest Psychiatric unit in North Wales, argues that low levels of serotonin have nothing to do with depression.
He argues that the effectiveness of serotonin in treating depression were based on the false assumptions.
The medicines used to deal with the depression is the marketing department of big pharma companies trying spin the use of their antidepressant drugs by relating it to a lower level of serotonin.
However, many doctors have refuted the statement of Prof. Healy by saying that “most researchers have long since moved on from old serotonin model.
”Moreover, the newer antidepressant drugs are safer if taken in overdose than the older antidepressants", stated by many researchers.
Although it is still debatable whether the serotonin plays an important role in treating depression. In a study conducted in 2011 on 2,515 patients showed that majority of patients (over 75%) demonstrated a superior response with the antidepressants than other patients.
There is still more research need to be conducted to understand the use of antidepressants and the serotonin level, but doctors recommend that people taking these medications should not stop taking it and should consult their physician first if they have any concern regarding these medicines.
Although depression is one of the symptoms in fibromyalgia patients but boosting the serotonin level has shown significant improvements in treating other fibromyalgia conditions.
Now we know that Serotonin is vital for our body to function properly.
Maintaining proper serotonin level is not only important to get relief from fibromyalgia symptoms, but also it is essential for anyone looking to maintain a healthy life.
Serotonin has a large effect on our mood, mental health, and our immune system.
Luckily for us, maintaining optimal Serotonin level is not that challenging, and fibromyalgia patients don’t have to just rely on medicines to boost serotonin level in their body.
You can quickly raise your serotonin level by:
- Eating protein and carb diets
- Going outdoor during sunshine
- If necessary, taking supplements
Have you tried boosting your serotonin level either naturally or using medicines?
we would love to hear your experience in the comment below.
You can also join the discussion at the Fibromyalgia Pain Cure Facebook page which is dedicated to a discussion of natural treatments for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.
Image Credits: Freepik and Pixabay