WHAT IS SEROTONIN AND HOW IT COULD BE HELPFUL FOR FIBROMYALGIA

Serotonin

Image: Shutterstock/ Roberto Sorin

Serotonin is an important chemical that your body produces naturally. It functions as something called a “neurotransmitter.” Essentially, it helps to regulate a lot of the things that your body does on a daily basis. And when your levels are low, it can affect everything from your ability to sleep to how well your muscles function.

But most importantly, serotonin seems to play a significant role in fibromyalgia. In fact, most of the drugs currently approved for treating fibromyalgia are based on altering the levels of this neurotransmitter in the blood. So what exactly is the relationship between the two? And what does that mean for you?

Serotonin And Fibromyalgia

There’s a clear link between this particular neurotransmitter, or rather the lack of it, and fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia consistently have lower levels of serotonin in their blood than the general population. What we don’t quite know yet, is why that is.

We don’t have a clear idea of what causes fibromyalgia or even exactly how it causes the symptoms that it does. The best guess right now is that something within the brain of someone with fibromyalgia sensitizes the nervous system, resulting in a breakdown of the normal pain response. Essentially, people with fibromyalgia have their brains sending pain signals to the nerves constantly for no reason.

And based on the evidence, we can assume that neurotransmitters are involved. It could be that the low levels of neurotransmitters either trigger or enhance this reaction, resulting in the chronic fatigue and pain of fibromyalgia.

For instance, we know that the brain uses serotonin to send these nerve signals in other chronic pain conditions. The brain releases neurotransmitters that react with the trigeminal nerve, a bundle of pain receptors located near the spine. This produces the sensation of widespread pain we associate with conditions like fibromyalgia.

There are a few possible explanations for why the levels of serotonin seem to be low in people with fibromyalgia. Basically, your body needs to do several things to maintain a balanced level of neurotransmitters. First, it has to produce enough of the neurotransmitter. And there are a number of conditions that limit your body’s ability to do that. Secondly, your body has to be able to absorb the chemicals floating around in your blood. Of course, there is also a range of conditions that can prevent that. Finally, your body has to send those chemicals where they need to go and use them effectively. And that can be interrupted by conditions like fibromyalgia as well.

Because we don’t know exactly how fibromyalgia works, we don’t know which of these things is causing the issue. But while we still don’t fully understand the condition, we know that neurotransmitters are no doubt involved.

What It Means For You

The most important thing to take away from this is that maintaining the correct balance of neurotransmitters can help with your symptoms. That’s why the most commonly prescribed drugs for fibromyalgia tend to be anti-depressant SSRI medications.

Essentially, SSRIs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in your brain, thus encouraging your body to produce more of it. Obviously, these drugs aren’t effective for everyone. But the fact that they work for many people suggests there’s something to the neurotransmitter angle.

So, how can you keep your neurotransmitters in balance if you can’t or don’t want to take SSRIs?

As with nearly everything about fibromyalgia, lifestyle plays a big role. A healthy diet and regular exercise are great ways to help control your symptoms. Exercise boosts the natural production of neurotransmitters in your body. But it’s not always easy to exercise when you have fibromyalgia.

The chronic pain and fatigue make finishing basic chores around the house a struggle. And too much exercise can cause painful fibro flares that make your symptoms worse. The key is to start slowly. Don’t push yourself too hard or try to do too much. Try an easy stroll around the neighborhood. Many studies prove that just getting 150 minutes of exercise a week is enough to improve your body’s balance and use of neurotransmitters.

Another great way to keep your body balanced is to pay attention to your sleep patterns. Your serotonin levels play an important role in sleep. And they seem to be tied to your circadian rhythm. Get to bed on time if you can and rise early. Make sure you get enough sun as well. Getting enough natural light at the right times is a big part of keeping your neurotransmitter levels healthy.

So do you have fibromyalgia? What do you think about this connection with neurochemicals? Let us know in the comments.

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