Fibromyalgia and other forms of chronic pain may be caused by insulin resistance, groundbreaking new research suggests.
And, scientists say, the agonising condition may be treatable using a common diabetes drug.
A team of scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston says that the discovery could lead to a revolutionary shift on how chronic pain is treated – potentially saving billions in painkillers.
In a new study, they were able to separate patients with fibromyalgia from regular patients using a common blood test (called A1c) for insulin resistance – or pre-diabetes.
Metformin dramatically reduced pain
They then treated the fibromyalgia patients with metformin – a drug developed to combat insulin resistance in diabetics – which dramatically reduced their pain.
The fibromyalgia patients involved in the study were divided into age groups.
Researchers found that the blood glucose levels of all the fibromyalgia patients were significantly higher than in normal people.
Neurology professor Dr Miguel Pappolla said that his group was puzzled as to why previous studies had overlooked that connection.
People often think that fibromyalgia just causes pain but the condition can result in a number of debilitating life-changing symptoms.
Other signs can include:
- brain fog
- sensitivity to weather changes
“The main reason for this oversight is that about half of fibromyalgia patients have A1c (blood glucose) values currently considered within the normal range,” he explained.
“However, this is the first study to analyse these levels normalized for the person’s age, as optimal A1c levels do vary throughout life.
“Adjustment for the patients’ age was critical in highlighting the differences between patients and control subjects.”
Earlier studies have found a connection between insulin resistance and dysfunction within the brain’s small blood vessels, but up until now, no one has bothered to investigate whether that’s linked to fibromyalgia.
Insulin resistance is ‘the missing link’
“Since this issue is also present in fibromyalgia, we investigated whether insulin resistance is the missing link in this disorder.
“We showed that most – if not all – patients with fibromyalgia can be identified by their A1c levels, which reflects average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months.”
He went on to say that people with pre-diabetes who had slightly higher A1c values had a higher risk of developing brain pain – a hallmark of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain disorders.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions.
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In America alone, it costs around $100 billion (£76bn) in health costs, and in the UK, up to 2 million people are thought to live with the condition.
And although there’s been loads of research into it, there’s been no conclusive therapies or drugs for sufferers beyond painkillers.
So this discovery into insulin resistance is massive.
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