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Adrienne Dellwo

The Brain-Gut Connection in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By September 7, 2011

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Research Brief

New research demonstrates that bacteria in the digestive tract can have a direct influence on neurotransmitter function in the brain. This is what scientists call the brain-gut connection, but it's something they don't yet understand well.

Researchers say the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus, when fed to mice, altered receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms the brain. GABA dysregulation is implicated in depression, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome, as noted in the study, and also in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The mice in the study showed lower anxiety levels when put in situation that normally cause them to show signs of stress.

Researchers believe the vagus nerve was responsible for the changes in the brain. A known function of this nerve is carrying signals from the internal organs to the brain. (Read more about the vagus nerve and a possible fibromyalgia treatment.)

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a probiotic bacteria that's believed to be good for your overall health. It's available as a supplement and also in some dairy products, especially yogurt (not all yogurt, though -- check the label.)

This bacterium is also being studied as a treatment for yeast infection, which is a common problem in people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo Yasuhide Fumoto/Getty Images

September 7, 2011 at 10:00 am
(1) Rachael says:

The second brain, technically known as the enteric nervous system contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. Because antidepressant medications called SSRIs increase serotonin levels, it’s little wonder that meds meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect, such as irritable bowel syndrome. This is probably one of the reasons SSRI’s affect some CFS sufferers so badly; those who already suffer from irritable bowel and nausea and not in need of a serotonin boost.


September 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm
(2) Kathy says:

I was diagnosed w/CFS in 2008 after 33 years. I’ve had high levels of viruses and many digestive complaints. Recently, I learned about GAPS, the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, coined by an MD neurologist who restored her autistic son to a normal state with a 3 pronged approach: an anti-candida/Atkins-like diet, high powered probiotics and cultured foods like barrel aged sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir. In 3 weeks I’ve put aside most of my digestive enzymes and noticed that I am calmer and happier than ever.

For those w/depression or mood disorders, I recommend looking into the GAPS diet. “The Gut and Psychology Syndrome” book is available on Amazon as are related books that help you w/the diet. Expect to give up processed foods, starches and sugars except for a little fruit. The reviews on Amazon show the results can be dramatic & seen at any age.

For more information on the diet, go first to http://www.mercola.com/videos and search for Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s videos. Also, you can go to http://www.YouTube.com and search for “Autism Diet” to see an interview w/Dr. Campbell-McBride and Donna Gates. If resources are limited, look for “The Body Ecology Diet” (BED) by Donna Gates at Amazon. It is less expensive but contains the basic GAPS-type diet, developed by Ms. Gates independently of Dr. Campbell-McBride to heal herself of many ailments. The BED book contains less medical information than the GAPS book but is fine for the basics of the diet.

These websites will help: http://www.gaps.me, http://www.Doctor-Natasha.com, http://www.gutandpsychologysyndrome.com, and http://www.bodyecology.com.

I saw a dramatic improvement in my mood when I boosted my intake of probiotics (my doctor told me to take at least 60 billion organisms/day). When I included the recommended foods from the GAPS diet, my digestion improved. It will take time for my digestion to improve my immunity to the point that it can overcome the viruses.

September 8, 2011 at 2:19 am
(3) Rebecca says:

The science of how our microflora affects us is indeed in its infancy. But even at this early stage, it’s clear that this is an area that is likely to produce real breakthroughs in the near future.

Dr. Art Ayers of the University of California is doing incredible research on the nexus between our gut flora and inflammation (which plays a role in so much of fibro systems.) Some of his most surprising insights are on fecal transplantation. This sounds incredibly gross, yet has resulted in astonishing remissions of several diseases:

I think it’s an exciting time and I have hope for real advances sooner rather than later. As always, it’s crucial to find the right fibromyalgia doctor, but I think there’s cause for optimism.

Adrienne, thanks again for bringing much-needed attention to the brain-gut connection.

September 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm
(4) Janet says:

It seems like the things to stay on top of never stop.

I guess it’s progress, but it just makes me want to scream.

September 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm
(5) cindy says:

I started taking probiotics a few months ago and have had a marked improvement in my digestive issues.

September 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm
(6) shosh says:

I am so glad that this is helping you. i take a prebiotic, probiotic and one capsule by solal and it has made a tremendous difference to my health and of course my diet which is very strict – no wheat, dairy or meat or preservatives. good luck to all of you.

September 10, 2011 at 12:10 am
(7) HypoGal says:

After I developed Sheehan’s Syndrome (HypoPit) my colon perforated. I know the two conditions are related. It is so unfortunate that numerous Endos and GI’s told me my condition was just post partum blues. Well, yes I ache and I can barely move. I always advise second and third opinions. If I had listened to the specialist I would indeed be dead.

September 10, 2011 at 12:28 am
(8) Tammie says:

While probiotics are generally considered a very good thing and DO help a lot of people with Fibro and ME/CFS, I have had the exact opposite experience and have since found that there are many people with CFS (that I know from the Phoenix Rising site) who have also had big problems taking them. There have been a few discussions on this on there and some possible ideas as to why this is.

One theory has to do with having too much H2S (hydrogen sulfide) in our bodies. Normal people can process it and not have problems with it, but we may not be processing it properly and in large quantities it is a neurotoxin and can cause leaky gut. Probiotics make H2S as a byproduct, so if we cannot process it and/or already have leaky gut issues, then taking probiotics may make this worse.

This is obviously just one theory and there are others, and yes, they are coming from personal experiences, not research, but the theories are based on the research we have read and the results we have had with taking probiotics. And I would not write about it at all, except that having not read any of this prior to taking them it took me a while to figure out for sure that they were the problem.

As a result I did not stop taking them until I became substantially worse, and the stomach issues that arose have become horrible. (I am literally living on pretzels these days because i cannot keep anything else down and have been thur all sorts of tests and treatments to try to fix this…..so far no luck. )

So, anyway, I would not say to anyone not to try them, but I would caution you to be very aware of any negative results and to know that they could, in fact be from the probiotics. I would hate for anyone else to go thru what i am dealing with rt now as a result.

September 12, 2011 at 6:57 am
(9) Nicholas and the CFS Monster says:

Thanks for this article! It is high time they do more research on the brain gut connection. Things like antibiotics absolutely destroy the good stuff in the gut and doctors just prescribe that left and right. We that suffer from CFS need to be very aware of this and look after our gut much better!

September 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm
(10) edwards29 says:

Where can I find yogurt containing lactobacillus rhamnosis? The regular grocery-store varieties don’t contain it but do contain 3-5 other bacterial cultures.

January 13, 2013 at 8:33 am
(11) Redhed says:

CFS/ME sufferer since 1996. Only one week ago I began taking a probiotic supplement containing “Bifantis”. I feel that it is helping with the sudden urgent need to lie down at times ( esp after meals ) that I’ve struggled with for many years. I feel a bit clearer headed and in some ways calmer and more able to cope. Now I realize that one week isn’t long enough to claim any sort of “cure” but I am hopeful that this supplement may help improve quality of life in one or two areas

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