Fibromyalgia patients may have a distinct composition of gut microbiome species.
For the first time, scientists (Minerbi et al., 2019) have identified a correlation between specific gut microbiome assemblage and a disease—fibromyalgia—which is characterized by widespread chronic pain, sleep impairment, and fatigue. These findings by a Montreal-based team of researchers, “Altered Microbiome Composition in Individuals with Fibromyalgia,” were published online ahead of print this month in the journal Pain.
The interdisciplinary team of scientists involved in this study has affiliations with McGill University, Université de Montréal, and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).
The Canadian researchers also discovered that the severity of someone’s fibromyalgia symptoms were directly correlated with an increased presence of certain gut bacteria and a conspicuous absence of other gut microbiome species. According to the researchers, this is something that hasn’t been observed or reported until now.
As you can see in the diagram (below) by first author Amir Minerbi, a side-by-side comparison revealed more than a dozen different species of gut bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of study participants with fibromyalgia in comparison to a healthy control group without the disease.
Nota bene: Identifying a correlation between fibromyalgia and specific gut microbiome species does not mean that these microbiota cause the disease. These initial findings are not causal, but instead, offer insights into a potential microbiome-based marker for the disease. As the news release clearly states:
“At this point, it’s 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.”
Future research will drill down on whether specific gut microbiome plays a causal role in the development of various symptoms (e.g., chronic pain) associated with fibromyalgia.
These findings could lead to a breakthrough in diagnosing fibromyalgia. Because it can take as long as four to five years for someone with fibromyalgia to receive a final diagnosis, if scientists can pinpoint a specific assemblage of gut microbiome that is universally correlated with fibromyalgia, it could lead to a speedier method of identifying this debilitating disease.
How the Research Was Conducted
For this relatively small study, the cohort involved a total of 156 individuals from the Montreal area, 77 of whom had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A cohort of 79 individuals without fibromyalgia were used as a control group. Many of the participants, with and without fibromyalgia, lived in the same household or were biologically related.
“We used a range of techniques, including Artificial Intelligence, to confirm that the changes we saw in the microbiomes of fibromyalgia patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medication, physical activity, age, and so on, which are known to affect the microbiome,” Amir Minerbi, from the MUHC Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit, said in a statement.
Because this pioneering research is still in its infancy, follow-up studies are needed to learn more about the possible link between fibromyalgia and unique gut microbiome composition. The next step for Minerbi and colleagues is to see if these soon-to-be-published findings can be replicated using a cohort of human participants from another part of the world. Also, future animal studies could be designed to unearth a possible causal link between the colonization of specific gut bacteria and the development of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
Amir Minerbi, Emmanuel Gonzalez, Nicholas Brereton, Abraham Anjarkouchian, Ken Dewar, Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, Stéphanie Chevalier, Yoram Shir. “Altered Microbiome Composition in Individuals with Fibromyalgia.” PAIN (Published online ahead of print: June 18, 2019) DOI: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001640