Fibromyalgia is one of the most common pain disorders, yet its etiology is still unknown. For people with this disorder, body aches, fuzzy thinking, and chronic fatigue can severely compromise their quality of life.
Because no one knows exactly what causes fibromyalgia and what happens in the body to cause its symptoms, it is difficult to treat. People sometimes try to find some relief through holistic care.
Although no one knows fibromyalgia’s direct cause, there is a strong connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and fibromyalgia. Mitochondrial dysfunction can generate a variety of symptoms, but is commonly overlooked. It is, however, common in people who have fibromyalgia. As a result, supporting mitochondrial health may help fibromyalgia. (1)
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a frequently encountered syndrome, affecting approximately 4 million adults within the United States. This condition can appear across all different ages, but most often occurs as you get older. Those individuals with a lupus or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis are more likely to also develop fibromalygia. (2, 3)
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia include: (4)
- Anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Headaches, including migraines
- Pain and stiffness all over the body
- Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration
- Sleeping problems
Other symptoms may include:
- Digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Pain in the face or jaw, including temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
Although this condition has no specific treatment, supporting some areas may help. First, though, it's important to understand the apparent link between fibromyalgia and the role of the mitochondria.
What Are Mitochondria?
Mitochondria are organelles, or parts of a cell, that make and store the cell's supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — the cell's source of energy. Mitochondria are found in nearly all types of human cells and are involved in a variety of processes. To sum up the function of mitochondria, they: (5)
- Break down food to supply the body with energy
- Control signaling between cells and cell death
- Form heme needed to ferry oxygen around the body as hemoglobin
- Generate the majority of our ATP
- Play an essential role in immune defense
- Produce steroid hormones
- Store calcium ions needed for muscle movement.
The mitochondria are vital for cellular energy, and if they become compromised in any way, the whole body is compromised. After all, if the energy source in your cells becomes impaired, it is fair to say the whole body may suffer as a result. This may explain why individuals with fibromyalgia commonly experience lack of energy.
Let’s take a look at what can damage our mitochondria and potentially lead to a disorder like fibromyalgia.
Common Causes of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
A variety of elements can damage your mitochondria. A few of the common known causes include the following:
- Heavy metals
- Severe oxidative stress
Heavy metals — Research shows that mitochondria subjected to heavy metals experience a high percentage of cell death and necrosis, meaning that mitochondria are victims of toxicity. (6)
Medications — Mitochondrial function declines with age, leading to a variety of age-related diseases (cancer, metabolic problems, central nervous system issues, etc.). Naturally, medication usage among older people rises alongside the increase in diseases. Drug-induced mitochondrial toxicity has been described as a side-effect for many different drug classes and can lead to liver, muscle, kidney, and central nervous system injury. Many of the commonly prescribed medications in the geriatric population carry mitochondrial liabilities. (7)
Parasites — Parasites can also inhibit the proper function of mitochondria during mitochondrial cell division, which is essential for healing and repair of the body. Parasites have mitochondria in their cells as well. So when our mitochondria are attacked by parasites during cell division, the mitochondria of the invading parasites inhibit the proper function of the human body’s mitochondria. (8)
Severe oxidative stress — Oxidative stress has been implicated in inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and the development of cancer and several neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress typically occurs when your body produces more free radicals than antioxidants. Free radicals occur naturally as byproducts of mitochondrial metabolic processes. However, external substances — like cigarette smoke, pesticides, and ozone — may also form free radicals, and these additional substances can overload the body and trigger severe oxidative stress. To combat this, look for natural sources of antioxidants and avoid natural sources of free radicals. (9)
Viruses — Many viruses modulate mitochondrial functions by altering the amount of energy coming in and out of the cell, affecting cell death/survival, and even causing mitochondrial damage. (10)
Fibromyalgia and these other factors can damage or impair our mitochondria. They can cause fatigue, stress, and dysfunction in our bodies. By paying attention to and addressing your health on the cellular level, you may be able to improve your mitochondrial function, and thereby improve your overall health.
How We Can Improve Mitochondrial Function
Thankfully, we can help to restore mitochondrial function in our bodies. Here are a few ways you can help: (11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Build muscle mass — Even those with mitochondrial damage can increase ATP production through strength training. Lighter, lower-impact physical activity can include bicycling, daily short walks, and swimming.
Decrease toxin exposure — Mitochondrial dysfunction can increase toxicity. Everyday consumer products may add to your body’s toxin overload. These include cleaning products, electronics, personal care products, floor and wall coverings, etc. Be more mindful of ingredients in these and other common products, and limit your exposure to them to protect your mitochondria.
Increase nutrients — Provide nutrients that protect the mitochondria from oxidative stress, such as coconut oil, CoQ10, ginkgo biloba, melatonin, and vitamin E. You can also take nutrients that facilitate mitochondrial ATP production. These nutrients include folic acid, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.
What Does All This Mean?
Even though at this time there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there is plenty you can do to restore mitochondrial health. By becoming aware of what happens to your body on a cellular level, and specifically learning how to protect and strengthen your mitochondria, you can help repair and restore your body.
Unfortunately, a variety of areas can harm your mitochondria. For those with fibromyalgia who haven’t found successful treatment, looking to improve mitochondrial function could be a path to better health. Consider exploring supplementation that supports the mitochondria at the cellular level, which may also help conditions like fibromyalgia.
Just like the common phrase "two birds, one stone," putting your mitochondrial health at the top of your priorities may help ease fibromyalgia symptoms in the long run. As an added bonus, it may benefit you in other areas as well.
Where will you start to support your mitochondria?