Your body produces chemical byproducts that are normally converted into harmless waste by your antioxidant defense system. These byproducts, sometimes referred to as free radicals, need to be neutralized by antioxidants, such as vitamins B, C, E and other helpful substances. An imbalance between your byproducts of oxidation and your antioxidant defenses leads to a state of oxidative stress, which can irritate your tissues and make you feel “unwell”—a phenomenon that certainly occurs when you are trying to get rid of a flu-bug or head cold. Although a few studies have shown that oxidative stress exists in people with FM, C. Michael Stein, M.D., and his research team at Vanderbilt University, recently published a report that uses a more accurate method for measuring oxidative stress.*
Operating under the hypothesis that oxidative stress was increased in FM patients and correlated with the severity of symptoms, Stein analyzed the urine for oxidative products in 48 individuals with FM and 96 matched controls. He also assessed each participant’s level of pain, fatigue, functional ability, and quality of life. Although each of these symptom variables were much worse for the group of FM patients when compared to the controls, the concentration of oxidative substances in the urine did not differ between the two groups.
While the average level of oxidative stress does not appear to be increased in people with FM, Stein did find a correlation between oxidative stress and fatigue in people with FM. As the values for the oxidative stress increased, so did the values for each patient’s self-reported fatigue. Pointing out the people with chronic fatigue syndrome have elevated levels of oxidative stress, Stein writes, “This suggests that oxidative stress may be more prominent in patients within the fibromyalgia spectrum of disorder in whom fatigue is more prominent.”
Future studies will be needed to better understand the association between oxidative stress and fatigue in FM. For example, will treatments targeting the symptoms of FM also lead to a reduction of oxidative substances in the urine? Or, what about the consumption of antioxidants? Can supplementation of one’s diet with vitamins B, C, and E (the least costly forms of antioxidants) lead to a reduction in FM-related fatigue? If you are not already taking a vitamin B complex in the morning, along with 1,000 mg of vitamin C, and 400 I.U. of vitamin E, you might try this for three months to see if your fatigue improves. The estimated cost for the entire three-month trial is only $40, and even if you do not notice significant improvements, it should reduce your chances of catching the flu this winter.
* Chung CP, et al. Clin Rheumatol [Epub ahead of print] December 17, 2008.