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Adrienne Dellwo

Fibromyalgia Pain & Premature Aging

By June 3, 2013

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Research Brief

Since I've been in my 40s, I've heard this expression a lot: You're only as old as you feel. My standard answer? "In that case, I'm 87."

Now, research is suggesting that I could be right about fibromyalgia making me older than my years. In fact, chronic pain could be aging us prematurely, in a very real sense.

A new study suggests that a structure called a telomere, which is part of a chromosome, is shorter than it should be. Telomere length is considered a measure of biological aging, kind of like the rings of a tree. It's also linked to illness, but we don't know a lot about its relationship to chronic pain.

Researchers compared telomere lengths of people with fibromyalgia and healthy controls and found there wasn't a huge difference, overall. However, when they looked at the fibromyalgia participants who had higher pain levels, they found shorter telomeres than in controls or lower-pain patients. Participants who had high pain AND high depression levels had the shortest telomeres, with lengths suggesting they were six years older than their actual age.

Telomere shortness was also linked with low pain threshold and sensitivity, as well as with less gray matter in regions of the brain involved in pain processing. This kind of premature gray-matter loss has been linked to fibromyalgia by earlier research.

Researchers concluded that not only fibromyalgia, but chronic pain in general is linked to premature cellular aging and is therefore a more serious condition than has been recognized.

So what can we do about it? This study didn't get into that, but we know that we can protect cellular health, and perhaps slow aging, with antioxidants. Those are certain substances that help get rid of oxidation damage to your cells.

Learn more about antioxidants:

Antioxidant supplements include:

Have you used antioxidant foods or supplements as a treatment? Has it helped? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo Juan Silva/Getty Images

June 6, 2013 at 2:51 am
(1) Donna M. Harker says:

I have had chronic pain sense 1988 and turned 45 in 2012.I have had many people tell me I look older and I know I feel older even my vision is like an older person.I have has a cataract that has become a very limiting problem in as short as 3 years.So I was wondering what would cause 1 person in a family to age so quickly and the others in the same family to barely age at all.
I have recently added 500mg of turmeric per day and about 1/2 tsp of ginger a day also and have found that my body doesn’t feel as old as it did even as little as 2 months ago.Will adding things like this help lengthen the Telomeres or just slow down their shortening?

June 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm
(2) dba says:

Interesting information. I have told my family for several years that I was aging prematurely. Have had older people issues for quite some time. I just wonder if there are any real measures available to slow the aging process down? for people with fibro. TY

June 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm
(3) Valetudinarian says:

This is absolutely true! All of my family members look young. My 87 yo Mom was often taken for 70. Looking young is a very noticeable trait in my family as well as longevity.

I find I am having the same problems my Mom had in her 80′s! At 40 I shouldn’t need depends! My hearing and vision r both diminished. My kids noise gets on my nerves like a cranky old Grandpa! Though I’ve always had that. I even feel like the new technology is overwhelming (brain fog), but it’s not as easy to avoid as putting black electrical tape over the blinking VCR!

June 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm
(4) Cathy says:

I was having trouble getting out of a chair that sits low at my mother’s just a few days ago and said “Mom, I’m getting OLD!” (I’m almost 58). Mom, who will soon be 82, laughed and said “We all are!”. I told her I wouldn’t mind being almost 60 if I didn’t feel 85! This article rang so true with me.

June 7, 2013 at 11:46 pm
(5) Wendy says:

Sigh, why am I not surprised? What a nightmare this illness is!

June 8, 2013 at 5:22 am
(6) ayesha says:

I was 48 when i went to see an ayurved for my condition. he checked me out and category said, your organs are that of an 84 year old…I was shocked , but now reading the above article , i understand it… as i truly only feel like a 84 year old…

June 8, 2013 at 7:29 am
(7) Mary Bennett says:

I have had fibro all my life, along with a bad back surgery in 1973, & another in 1980. I also have chronic pain with tumors on my spine, severe osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, & a congenital heart problems. I have been on disability since I was 40! My doctor has always told me I have the body of a 90 year old. Great! BUT! since starting taking supplements, I am much better now. Thanks to Forteo my bones are stronger, but the supplements have helped me more than anything. Sure I still have bad fibro days considering the weather & such, but the most important thing I have found that helps me is magnesium. Most doctors don’t check your magnesium levels. Apparently mine have always been low. A very important substance for life. I am 67 now, but feel much younger than ever. So take those supplements especially if you don’t eat right which most us us don’t!

June 8, 2013 at 7:15 pm
(8) Abot Bensussen says:

Just what I needed, more bad news! Where is the good news? How is ressearch going? Are there more meds in the pipeline? Does anyone, anywhere, have a clue why we are so ill? Where it started? and is there anyone working on a cure?

I am the only one sick of three siblings, I’ve had cataracts, gall stones, broken bones, back problems, and vision difficulties. Now I find out that I’m aging earlier. Well, I believe it and feel it!

June 9, 2013 at 3:27 am
(9) Dawn magness says:

I’m not shocked at this I’ve been saying for ages that I feel about 90 !!!! Exaggerated yes but I certainly don’t feel my age 51 ! Fibromyalgia is so complex even if I do live to 90. I will never fully understand it !!!!
Reading everyone’s messages its obvious to see that it ruins lives and causes so much heart ache , there’s more to it than pain that’s for sure !!!
No wonder people who haven’t got it can’t understand how we feel !

June 9, 2013 at 6:49 am
(10) Wendy says:

Oh, did this hit home. iJust a few days ago I was talking with a friend who is 5 years older than me. She is almost 70 and I’m almost 65. She said she felt 35 I said I felt 85. I try to exercise but the pain afterwards is so much I’m amazed. It’s just some slow easy yoga and walking ing place for 15-20 both together.and 20 min of swimming with a noodle. Do do every day, It just feels so hopeless. I’m never been this bad. I do not do anything terribly strenuous. Just a year ago I was exercising (about 20 min of more rigerous Yoga and an hour in the pool. Could walk at least a mile.

I don’t know what changed. I eat better, I’m very careful. Do gluten free. I do eat too much sugar, must cut that out.

But I won’t give up. I will again try to stop being afraid to move my body. I think we FM people start being afraid to move and we freeze up. Anyone else feel that way?

June 9, 2013 at 12:44 pm
(11) Catherine says:

I’m 58 going on 81. Even my ex husband whom I’ve been divorced from for 20 yrs. didn’t recognize me when we met up recently. I recognized him. :(

June 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm
(12) Gloria says:

Well, I am 66 and often “feel” older since I am having problems with my right leg and can’t do much walking or other exercise.

But I do look younger — many people think that I am almost 10 years or more younger than I am. I strongly feel that that is because I have researched and been VERY diligent about keeping up with my supplements. I make sure to take my supplements with every meal. And make sure to get my Vitamin D levels checked and KEEP them up by using supplements and SAFE tanning beds and practices. I know that I need extra B vitamins and lots of Vitamin C because I have had allergies ever since I had a severe infection when I was 12 years old. I also had mono with my third pregnancy and a fairly severe hemorrhage with the birth of my 4th child. All of those things can cause pituitary damage, so the thyroid and adrenals don’t function optimally. So I work HARD to compensate!!

June 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm
(13) ThatMartyGrrrl says:

This article is very timely! I’m 51 and have felt older than my age for the longest time. I’ve struggled with pain for most of my life beginning in my youth. How can chronic pain not age a person? The body is constantly “on” dealing with this incessant pain. Some days, it’s a major undertaking just to do routine things. Oh well, c’est la vie.

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