Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder that affects millions of people in the United States. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are complex and often misunderstood, as fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose, and the cause is unknown.
Myths abound that fibromyalgia is not a real disease, and that it is only psychosomatic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Who gets fibromyalgia?
Statistics help us understand more about risk factors for fibromyalgia.
- Overwhelmingly, most fibromyalgia sufferers are women, between 80-90%.
- Usually, fibromyalgia occurs in middle age, but it can also occur in childhood.
- People who often suffer from fibromyalgia are patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spinal arthritis, and lupus.
- Other risk factors for fibromyalgia are history of child abuse, trauma, stress, repetitive injuries, severe illnesses, and history of autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
In diagnosing fibromyalgia, doctors must locate at least 11 of 18 “tender spots” that all fibromyalgia sufferers have at specific points of the body. Fibromyalgia causes hypersensitivity for sensations that illicit almost no response in healthy individuals.
Fibromyalgia pain can be constant, but it often occurs in phases, or relapses.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Severe muscle and joint pain
- Morning stiffness
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive problems, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Painful numbness and tingling in the hands and feet (possible indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Confusion, memory problems, and lack of concentration, also known as “fibro fog”
- Difficulty attaining restful sleep’
What causes fibromyalgia?
Scientists do not agree on the specific cause of fibromyalgia, but they speculate that it involves a malfunctioning of the nervous system.
Scientists have noted a tendency for excitotoxicity among people who suffer from fibromyalgia and migraine disorder. When certain neurotransmitters become stimulated, they damage and destroy nerve cells, causing painful headaches, soreness, and burning sensations.
Factors that influence excitotoxicity are excitotoxins, or “triggers” in food, chemicals, scents, and sometimes even environmental conditions.
Fibromyalgia and vitamin B12
There exists a high correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and celiac disease. This is likely because of the common denominator, gastrointestinal disorder.
Anytime damage to the intestinal tract occurs, vitamin B12 deficiency is sure to follow. Unless you are able to produce the digestive enzyme intrinsic factor, you cannot digest vitamin B12 from natural food sources. With fibromyalgia and many other autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal problems are standard, and stores of vitamin B12 eventually decline.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is underdiagnosed, for the simple reason that the symptoms are often indistinguishable from fibromyalgia.
Both vitamin B12 deficiency and fibromyalgia cause extreme fatigue, forgetfulness, muscle pain, sleep problems, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Doctors have also noted elevated homocysteine levels in sufferers of fibromyalgia and vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 aids in breaking down the hormone homocysteine, and when vitamin B12 levels are low, homocysteine levels rise. The fact that elevated homocysteine is noted with fibromyalgia represents an interesting correlation.
Homocysteine is linked with increased risk for stroke and heart disease.
Fibromyalgia patients are advised to supplement with vitamin B12, even if they don’t suspect deficiency. Benefits include increased stamina, healthy immune system response, proper nervous system functioning, and overall sense of well-being.