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Neurotransmitters in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What's Going On in Your Brain?


Updated October 17, 2011

Fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) long remained mysteries to medical science, and we're just now getting a picture of what's going on in the body, and especially the brains, of people with these conditions. One thing that research has shown, time and time again, is that when you have FMS or ME/CFS, your neurotransmitters are out of whack.

Neurotransmitters: What They Are & What They Do

Your brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons that communicate with each other to control everything that goes on in your body. Communication between neurons relies on chemicals called neurotransmitters, which create and control signals. Every time you feel an itch, hear a noise, or experience an emotion, neurotransmitters are responsible. In addition, they tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to produce digestive enzymes.

Each bodily function and emotion is linked to the operations of specific neurotransmitters. When your levels of a particular neurotransmitter are too high or too low, things can start to malfunction. FMS and ME/CFS have been associated with irregular levels of several neurotransmitters, including:

  • Serotonin (the sleep cycle, pain processing, body temperature, appetite, sex drive, mood)
  • Norepinephrine ("fight or flight" response, alertness, memory)
  • Dopamine (mental focus, movement disorders, motivation)
  • GABA (calming the mind, sleep, relaxation, anxiety, muscle function)
  • Glutamate (stimulating the mind, learning, forming memories)

A lot of treatment research has focused on how to regulate these neurotransmitters in order to alleviate the symptoms of FMS and ME/CFS. So far, experts don't know why neurotransmitter levels are abnormal in these conditions, but we do know they're responsible for a host of symptoms.

The measurement of neurotransmitter levels is complex and still only takes place in the research setting. Most labs don't perform such tests and most insurance companies wouldn't cover them. Doctors typically suspect neurotransmitter abnormalities based on symptoms, which is one of many reasons you may want to keep a symptom diary.

Options for regulating your neurotransmitter levels include:

  • Prescription medications
  • Dietary supplements
  • Your diet
  • Lifestyle changes, including diet, sleep and exercise habits

Learn more about these neurotransmitters, including the symptoms associated with each of them and how the dysregulation is treated:

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