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Several studies in the past few years indicate that fibromyalgia symptoms may arise from mitochondrial dysfunction. But what does that really mean? In this post, I am going to explain what mitochondrial dysfunction is and how it leads to not only pain and fatigue, but many other fibromyalgia symptoms as well.
As scientists have learned more about the mitochondria’s role in health and in disease, they have concluded that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of many diseases and conditions. The list of known diseases and conditions with a mitochondrial dysfunction component is long and growing longer. It is even responsible for the aging process itself.
Mitochondria are the powerhouse of almost every living thing with complex cell structures including animals, plants and human beings. They provide energy for cells to move, divide and all the things they need to do to function properly.
The main function of mitochondria is to take in nutrients, break them down and create energy for the cells. Every cell in our body contains mitochondria. Some cells need lots of energy such as brain and muscle cells, so they contain thousands of mitochondria. Cells that don’t require a lot of energy contain fewer mitochondria.
How The Body Produces Energy
The brain, heart, muscle, nerve cells and so on all have different jobs to do. To do these jobs requires energy. Energy is supplied to the cells by mitochondria. The mitochondria take in nutrients and create a chemical energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate). The ATP molecule contains stored energy. Once the energy is used up it converts to ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate).
ADP then passes back into the mitochondria, where it is recycled back to ATP. The process requires oxygen and is extremely efficient. In a healthy person, ATP is recycled about every 10 seconds. If the process goes slow, then the cells go slow, all bodily functions go slow and problems arise.
When our body needs more energy faster than it can be supplied, there is another way the body tries to supply this energy. When the body is short on ATP, it can make a small amount directly from glucose (D-ribose) by converting it into lactic acid.
However, this results in two serious problems. First, lactic acid quickly builds up, especially in the muscles causing pain, heaviness, aching, and soreness. Secondly, no glucose is available to make D-ribose, so new ATP cannot be made. Energy demand exceeds energy delivery resulting in fatigue.
Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Fibromyalgia
Multiple studies suggest that mitochondrial dysfunction could play a significant role in fibromyalgia. Muscle biopsies have found patterns of mitochondrial dysfunction (abnormal mitochondria, mitochondrial defects, and muscle fiber abnormalities) similar to those typically found in mitochondrial disorders.
Just about every single symptom of fibromyalgia can be explained by mitochondrial dysfunction. Pain, fatigue, headaches and migraine, IBS, heat and cold intolerance, sweating, mottling of the skin, heart rate and blood pressure problems, dizziness and balance problems, blurry vision, trouble sleeping and so on.
Mitochondrial dysfunction can affect any organ or organ system in the body. And mitochondria are easily damaged. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, mitochondria are not well protected and easily damaged by toxins, infections, allergens, and stress. But one of the biggest insults over time is the standard American diet.
Another major cause of mitochondrial damage is medications. All classes of psychotropic drugs (which includes antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds) have been documented to damage mitochondria, as well as statin medications, analgesics such as acetaminophen, and many others. Here is the link to the list of reported drugs with mitochondrial toxicity.
Mitochondrial dysfunction makes sense to me because it explains why we have so many different symptoms. Most important is that we can improve our overall mitochondrial function.
*Photo Credit: CC BY-NC-ND by ZEISS Microscopy