Great strides have been made in recent years to uncover the causes of fibromyalgia (FM). FM is a common disorder that strikes more women than men and presents with muscle pain, sleep disturbance, weight gain, headaches and myriad other symptoms. Many FM sufferers are in constant pain and will do whatever they can to alleviate it.
New Research Points to Oxidative Stress
At one time the general consensus was that fibromyalgia was a muscle disorder; however, more current research indicates it is characterized by central sensitization of the spinal cord and central nervous system. The sensitization is the result of inflammatory cytokines that trigger an increase in oxidants, which in turn stimulate pain receptors. To boil all this down to simple terms, free radical damage and oxidative stress are now considered to be primary culprits in fibromyalgia symptoms.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is the damage caused to cells through the oxidative process in the body. Oxygen, the most vitally important element to human life, is necessary to fuel the millions of processes occurring continually within the body. Although the oxidative process is normal and necessary, it has a downside in that it has the ability to cause harmful side effects in the form of oxidative substances (free radicals) that lead to cellular damage.
The best way to describe this process is to liken it to rust. If an iron pipe is left outdoors exposed to the elements, it begins to rust. It is oxidation that causes rust. During the metabolism of normal oxygen cells, free oxygen radicals are formed. They are missing an electron and search to find a molecule to combine with in order to become whole. They fire charges that damage other cells around them. The result is rust. The same process happens within the body and the more free radicals there are running around inside, the more damage is done.
What Causes Free Radicals?
The elements that affect the human body and produce free radicals include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Unhealthy foods
- Environmental and air pollution
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Excessive exercise
- Increased exposure to sunlight
Depending upon what kind of toxin or stress a person is exposed to consistently, disease can become established early on if free radicals are not minimized. Going back to the recent research into the causes of fibromyalgia, oxidative stress, or free radicals are a very likely cause of this condition.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
The obvious antidote to oxidative stress is antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the cells in the body from oxidative stress damage by donating an electron to other molecules that are missing one (free radical). In doing this, the free radicals are neutralized and damage control is established. Antioxidants not only seek and destroy free radicals they also repair and prevent damage. The immune defense system is enhanced and the body is better able to fight off illness. Antioxidants are naturally produced in the body as enzymes.
- Superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione work to rid the body of free radicals.
- Superoxide dismutase changes the structure of oxidants and breaks them down into hydrogen peroxide.
- Catalase breaks the peroxide down into water and oxygen particles.
- Glutathione, which is a detoxifying agent, binds with the toxins that are released and removes them from the body as waste.
Where Antioxidants Can Be Found
Antioxidants are available in many foods, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains and in some meats, fish, and poultry. Antioxidant nutrients include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Since there is not yet a large enough body of research to allow for “antioxidant therapy” to be recognized, it is not routinely used to treat fibromyalgia. However, given the fact that recommended diets for this disorder include all of the foods that are high in antioxidant value, it can be assumed that one of the very likely root causes of fibromyalgia is being addressed through diet.