Fibromyalgia Tied to Insulin Resistance
Imagine waking up to widespread pain in your body with no apparent cause. Now, imagine taking this problem to the doctor, only to be told that you are probably just anxious and the anxiety is expressing itself in pain. Sadly, this is a real-life experience for plenty of Americans who have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that science is just starting to understand.
However, we may be on the brink of a revolutionary new treatment. A study published in May 2019 and spearheaded by a University of Texas Medical Branch professor of neurology has found a possible link between fibromyalgia and insulin resistance, a condition commonly found in people with diabetes. The subjects in the study were given a common diabetes medication, metformin, that significantly reduced their pain.
This discovery is ground-breaking because fibromyalgia has long been a mysterious yet devastating illness, affecting all aspects of life in about four million American adults. Let’s take a further look at the research.
What is insulin resistance?
First, to understand insulin resistance, we must understand insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps glucose (a sugar) enter a muscle, the liver, and fat to give the body energy. Insulin resistance is when these body systems that use glucose can’t absorb glucose properly. High blood glucose levels indicate prediabetes or diabetes.
What is metformin?
Because diabetes is a chronic illness that can get expensive to treat, many Americans now purchase their metformin from licensed pharmacies in countries where drug prices are lower. (Fibromyalgia patients may soon do this too!) You can access medicine like this for a very cheap and affordable price, from Canadian Pharmacy referral services.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain in the body, fatigue, sleep problems, and difficulties with thinking, focus, and memory. It can be accompanied by emotional distress as well as tingling and numbness in your extremities, jaw pain like temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), and even digestive problems.
No one knows what causes fibromyalgia, but past injuries, infections, and obesity are possible risk factors, as are lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Fibromyalgia diagnoses are also most common in middle age, and you are more likely to be diagnosed as you grow older.
Perhaps most frustratingly, fibromyalgia is frequently misunderstood. Because patients typically look healthy, their pain may be dismissed by doctors and the public alike as “all in the head.” Thankfully, thanks to increased awareness of the condition by celebrities like Lady Gaga in her documentary Five Foot Two, more people are becoming aware of fibromyalgia as a very real and very serious chronic pain condition.
Right now, fibromyalgia is typically treated with pain medications as well as exercise, psychotherapy for underlying emotional challenges, and patient education around topics like stress management and sleep. Sometimes, fibromyalgia is treated by antidepressants. The FDA has approved LYRICA® (a seizure medicine), Cymbalta® (a depression medication), and Savella, which is specifically designed to treat fibromyalgia. Savella acts very similarly to antidepressants.
Why is fibromyalgia a major health issue?
Fibromyalgia can greatly reduce a person’s ability to work and enjoy a good quality of life. In fact, the University of Texas Medical Branch reports that its related health-costs in the United States is around $100 billion every year. About 2% of the adult American population experiences fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia also affects woman a lot more often than men. This is an important detail because reports of pain from women are sometimes dismissed more often than reports from men. Women may even be accused of dramatizing their pain, or doctors may attribute pain to a psychological issue.
People with fibromyalgia often also have co-occurring conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder that can further impact their quality of life. To make matters even more challenging, fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose. There is no “test” for fibromyalgia. Instead, doctors diagnose it by examining the patient and ruling out other diseases. This process can be long and difficult due to fibromyalgia having overlapping symptoms with many other conditions like arthritis and hypothyroidism.
What did the study uncover?
Most notably, the study found that most patients with fibromyalgia could be identified from control subjects by their glycated hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels. HbA1c is an identifier for insulin resistance.
Moreover, patients who also met the diagnostic criteria for pre-diabetes or diabetes were treated with metformin (as well as standard fibromyalgia treatment) and showed massive improvements in their fibromyalgia-related pain. Eight out of sixteen patients reported that their pain totally disappeared.
The study does have some drawbacks, however. The sample size of subjects (23) was rather small. The authors also noted that it’s difficult to prove a causal effect between the two conditions based on this study alone.
For more information, you can read a plain-English summary of the study here.