Could gut bacteria and therefore diet hold important secrets about the causes of fibromyalgia syndrome?
Perhaps I should begin by describing the range of symptoms most commonly associated with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). According to the NHS1, increased sensitivity to pain is typically experienced by sufferers of FMS, it can be so severe that even a light touch can be a problem. There is evidence2 that when fibromyalgia patients are exposed to pain-inducing stimuli, they demonstrate a stronger neurologic pain signature that a control group (people without fibromyalgia). However, the pain is not restricted just to the sense of touch, it can also be provoked by things a person might see, inhale or eat. People living with FMS might also experience great tiredness, problems sleeping, muscle stiffness and spasms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), poor cognitive function and headaches. The syndrome is also frequently correlated with anxiety and depression. FMS can be a life-changing and debilitating condition, unfortunately, the causes are currently unknown, although abnormal levels of brain chemicals are thought to play an important role.
If the findings of a scientific study published last week3 are confirmed, FMS may have to be viewed in a totally new light. A team of scientists compared the gut microbiomes of 77 women with FMS to a control group. Significant differences were identified in the composition of the gut bacteria of these two groups. Through algorithmic analysis, the variance in the respective groups of microbiomes was found to be linked to FMS related issues (more than any other cause). So put simply, if the results translate to the wider population, people living with FMS are likely to have different gut bacteria than those without FMS. There is not any suggestion of causality here, that gut bacteria alone is the cause of fibromyalgia. However, we cannot avoid the speculative idea that changes to gut bacteria could mediate the symptoms experienced by FMS patients.
This is just one study, the results have to be replicated in order for provisional findings to be confirmed. But if demonstrated to be reliable, the evidence would signpost new ways to understand and possibly treat FMS. For example, can the composition of gut bacteria be changed away from that typically found in someone with FMS, to a profile resembling someone without FMS? If any such change led to a reduction or elimination of fibromyalgia symptoms, a new way to deal with this illness might be developed, perhaps linked to diet. This is particularly interesting when considered alongside studies that suggest chemicals found in everyday food such as bread may be able to disrupt the gut microbiome.
It will take a sustained period of research in scientific and clinical environments to confirm any of the speculative hypotheses discussed here. But at least two important issues emerge from this latest evidence. Firstly, that the gut-brain axis can be considered as a potential mediating factor is FMS, and secondly, that gut microbiome alteration may be correlated with non-visceral pain more generally. Therefore eating or not eating ‘healthily’ may be linked to an increasingly wide range of human health conditions.
Health risks of bacon and other processed meats hit the headlines.
I’ve been reading about the potential health risks linked to meat consumption for decades1. The evidence of a relationship between processed meat products in particular and serious illnesses including cancer has been established for many years. So recent and widespread calls to rid bacon and ham of nitrates comes as no surprise. In fact, in some senses, it feels like a long overdue and underwhelming response.
Needless to say, The British Meat Processors Association stand by their bacon and maintain that nitrates are ‘authorised additives’. However the dispute over the risks and benefits of nitrates in processed meat begs the question, why don’t we do away with processed meats altogether? Meats are processed to modify the taste or extend the shelf life, products include bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky, ham as well as canned meats. Until we know more about the relative health risks of the different products it might be advisable to avoid them all.
It feels like this latest study into the effectiveness of regular doses of an 11-strain probiotic cocktail might set the cat among the pigeons. If we are naturally resistant to new bacteria how can we evaluate the effect of probiotic rich foods and supplements?
Lose weight, boost immunity, clear colds, increase stomach acid, feel great – Apple cider vinegar.
Here in the county of Kent, the local fermentation community have been buzzing about apple cider vinegar for some time. Kent is a ‘garden county’, it has a long standing tradition of growing fruit, in particular apples, pears, cherries and soft fruits, not to mentions hops. In fact Brogdale houses one of the UK’s largest collection of apple trees with some 2,200 different varieties on one site.
We’ve used organic apple cider vinegar regularly over the last year, it’s got a number of culinary applications but in our home its main role is as a homely remedy. In the media you will come across a number of claims for its health benefits including, treatment of cold symptoms, regulation of blood sugar, support for a healthy gut, an immunity booster and even a mediator of weight loss. Although I have seen little evidence that apple cider vinegar directly causes consumers to shed pounds, its reputation as a tonic goes from strength to strength.
My own personal use of apple cider vinegar was linked to a misdiagnosis of acid reflux. It turned out that my stomach acid levels were too low not too high or escaping. To restore the balance I took 1 tablespoon of the vinegar diluted in a small amount of water before meals. It gradually did the trick, after about ten days all the signs of acid reflux had gone, however I still take a shot of the vinegar a couple of times a week. Incidentally I have been told that acid reflux can manifest similar symptoms to low levels of stomach acid, so the two are often confused. One way to tell the difference is to look for signs of undigested food in your stools. This is normally a good indicator that what you eat isn’t being broken down fully in the stomach and can be caused by low levels of stomach acid.
As a home fermenter I was particularly interested in accounts of how to make apple cider vinegar for myself. It is definitely a little more complicated than the products I’m currently working with (soya and orange kefir, red and white cabbage, ginger) but I’m keen to give it a try. In September we can normally expect the quality and quantity of local organic apples to be at their peak, that’s when I plan to start my first batch. I’m advised that it can take anything up to 12 weeks to create. If anyone out there has some experience I’d welcome more tips or first hand accounts.