Somewhere around three pounds of you is microbiotic life forms that use you as a host.
Some of these are just hitching a ride, some are living in a symbiotic relationship with you, and some of them are trying to take over. The gut biome in particular is a hotbed for this microflora. This 2009 study suggests that “the mammalian immune system, which seems to be designed to control microorganisms, is in fact controlled by microorganisms”.
This makes me think of food. You may have tried your hand at making sourdough bread, wine, beer, or cheese at some point in your life. If you have, then you have seen this in action. For instance, take cheese: you curdle some milk, then keep it at the proper humidity and temperature for certain living cultures to thrive. If you are a home cheese maker you probably bought certain cultures and mixed them in, but traditional cheese is often named after a place. This is because that was the only place it could be made. The microbiota specific to these cheeses permeate the local environment and the cheesemongers were merely making a happy little home for them.
The cultures are given a nice warm place to live, the perfect moisture for them to grow, and plenty of food (the sugars in the milk). They get protective of their home and fight off everything else, hence why cheese doesn’t just dissolve into black mold unless something is seriously wrong. As they chug along and thrive, they excrete different gasses and compounds. These gasses give a certain aroma, and also cause the bubbles that form in cheeses like Swiss Emmenthaler. The compounds flavor the cheese.
Now just think: this is happening in your gut right now. You have somewhere in the vicinity of 30 or 40 different major populations of microbiota populating your gut this instant, and they want the same basic things that we do. They want a nice, comfy place to live, they want plenty of food, and they want to thrive as a species. They have tools to secure this. They can adjust their environment, moistening it or heating it up. They can put out gasses and compounds that damage competing species. They can tweak their host by releasing endorphins when they get the food they like (you know, McDonald’s). They are essentially terraforming their host, which is you.
When the gut is properly populated a balance is struck. When one or a few types get too strong or too weak then they start damaging that balance, and the body gets flooded with compounds and gasses that start to strongly affect the entire system. Inflammation, edema, weight gain and slowing of digestion are some of the early signs. By the time you are craving ice cold water all the time gut dysbiosis has already begun.
What does this have to do with fibromyalgia? Quite a lot. This is present in 60% or more of the fibromyalgia patients that I see, and is the root cause of almost a fifth of these cases. Since research has begun to focus on this topic in the 1990s, gut dysbiosis has been linked to almost every chronic illness in some way, and in fibromyalgia it can be a major complicating factor.
I’ll just leave this study here as a parting thought: The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease