Oxidative Stress: Looking at the Underlying Causes of Fibromyalgia

Dr. Doni explains how treating the causes of fibromyalgia can also help us understand how to reduce inflammation and free radicals.

Part 7 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Oxidative Stress

fibromyalgia, oxidative stress, fibromyalgia causes, causes of fibromyalgia, oxidative stress and fibromyalgia, inflammation, free radicals, antioxidants

In the last segment, I wrote about how inflammation and oxidative stress affect the four core systems of the body (hormones, digestion, immunity and neurology), and how that leads to the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You can catch up here if you missed it.

Fibromyalgia is another chronic syndrome that has close ties to oxidative stress. It causes pain throughout the body with no apparent cause (such as an injury). Patients often also experience muscle spasms, weakness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia.1 But naming a condition is not the goal of naturopathic medicine. Instead, the goal is to understand the underlying causes so that we can address them (or eliminate them) in order for the body to heal. This week, I want to show you how looking at the underlying causes of fibromyalgia leads us to the treatments that reduce oxidative stress and help patients feel better.

The processes of detoxification and metabolism that happen naturally within our bodies lead to the production of free radicals—what is known as oxidative stress (this is discussed thoroughly in this article if you want to read more). Our bodies then make anti-oxidants to help squelch these free radicals before they can cause any harm.

However, oxidative stress can cause health problems if our bodies are unable to manage the ill-effects of free radicals and the cell damage that goes along with it. There are a number of reasons why your body may not be able to deal with oxidative stress:


Depending on your genetics, your body may have more or less ability to manage oxidative stress. There are two enzyme types in particular that do this: superoxide dismutase (SOD) and the enzymes that deal with the production of glutathione (glutathione s-transferase (GST); and glutathione synthetase (GSS). But if you have genetic mutations that affect these enzymes, they won’t be able to manage oxidative stress well for you. And if your glutathione levels are low, you’ll also have less glutathione peroxidase (GPx) to help protect your cells.

Diet – Anti-Oxidants

Then depending on your dietary intake of anti-oxidants (found in colorful fruits and vegetables) you may have less ability to counteract the production of free radicals. Whenever there are more free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), than there is an increased need for anti-oxidants, such as vitamins C, E and selenium.

Diet – Fats

The type and quantity of fats you consume also plays a role in your ability to manage oxidative stress. Free radicals can oxidize fats in the cell membranes (cell walls) leading to something called “lipid peroxidation” which can damage the cells. If this happens in a large number of cells then it is possible to start to ‘feel’ the effects as pain, or fibromyalgia.

Arachidonic acid (a saturated fat found in red meat) for example, is necessary in small amounts, but in large amounts, it is converted into inflammatory cytokines in the body which can lead to increased oxidative stress.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are most easily oxidized; it’s important not to warm them up as heat triggers the oxidization process, it is also important not to consume too much of them. Polyunsaturated fats include both omega 3 (EPA and DHA) and omega 6 fats, and is found in most vegetable oils except olive and coconut oil, however, it is also worth noting that omega 3 fats and gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is found in borage oil, both lead to less inflammation in the body which is a good thing so we don’t want to avoid them altogether.

So the best fats to eat are olive oil (omega 9) and coconut oil (mainly a saturated fat) just as long as you don’t overheat them. You should also make sure you get an equal amount of omega 3 fats (such as from wild salmon and sardines), as well as limited amounts of saturated fats, from animal meats and clarified butter, and omega 6 fats from nuts and seeds.

Now let’s look at where fibromyalgia fits into this picture.

The Causes of Fibromyalgia

There are a number of things that are known to cause fibromyalgia and they all have a connection to oxidative stress.2, 3

  • Chronic infections: Epstein Barr virus, Lyme Disease (Borellia), and others. These infections are known to trigger inflammation throughout the body, and inflammation causes pain and increases oxidative stress.
  • Stress, and specifically adrenal distress. When the body is under ongoing stress whether from lack of sleep, unending deadlines, trauma, toxins, or excess sugar, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis adapts to the stress by producing either more or less cortisol (the main stress hormone). This increase or decrease in cortisol levels increase inflammation, pain and oxidative stress.
  • Intestinal permeability, otherwise known as leaky gut. Stress leads to leaky gut, and once permeability increases in the gut lining, more and more inflammation, pain and oxidative stress results.
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction. The energy producers in our cells (mitochondria) are quite vulnerable to oxidative stress, which causes them to slow down or even to damage cells, leading to fatigue and pain. Here are some tips for supporting your mitochondria.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances. The messengers in our nervous system, many of which are produced in our gut, can be thrown off track by inflammation and oxidative stress, affecting not just mood, focus and sleep, but also increasing pain.

What Can You Do About It?

There are a number of dietary changes you can make and supplements* you can take to help your body manage oxidative stress better by reducing inflammation and therefore easing the pain of fibromyalgia (and other health issues). Here are a few simple adjustments you can make to your diet:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants such as citrus fruits, broccoli (sulforaphen), carrots (beta carotene), tomatoes (lycopene), spinach, sprouts, and berries. Olives and tea (green and black) also contain a high amount of anti-oxidants.4
    Note: If you have histamine intolerance or sulfur sensitivity, be sure to choose fruits and vegetables that don’t cause reactions for you.
  • Eat foods that contain cysteine, one of the nutrients your body needs to make glutathione, one of the main antioxidants that helps manage oxidative stress: poultry, garlic, onions, avocados, and broccoli.
  • Take a high quality, liposomal colostrum which contains glutathione as well as lactoferrin and proline-rich polypeptides (PRP), such as this one.5
    Note: although liposomal colostrum comes from cows, it is not cow’s milk so it doesn’t tend to trigger dairy allergies)
  • Consider eating some occasional grass-fed red meat or organ meat such as liver, which is known to help increase glutathione levels. Instead you could choose desiccated liver capsules.
  • Choose omega 3 fats (a high quality fish oil like this one) along with coconut oil, olive oil, and GLA (from borage oil) to help tip your body and cells toward less inflammation and reduced oxidation of fats.
  • Take choline (such as the product Optimal PC) and carnitine, both of which support and stabilize cell membranes and decrease oxidative stress.6
  • Choose organic foods as much as possible because pesticides are known to increase oxidative stress.
  • Take or use herbs that are high in anti-oxidants and support glutathione, such as curcumin (also known as turmeric). I recommend Meriva 500 capsules.

If you want more support, you could start with my Stress Remedy Program which is intended to help you to start making diet and lifestyle choices to support your health over 7 or 21 days.

If that is not enough, then you may want to get some testing done to find out:

  • If you have high oxidative stress.
  • If you have enough glutathione.
  • If you have any genetic mutations and what they are.
  • How your cortisol and neurotransmitter levels are doing.
  • If you have any food sensitivities that may be adding to your health problems.
  • If you have leaky gut.

You can even have a test to measure your fatty acid levels. Please contact my office if you’re interested in getting this test done.

All of this, plus one-on-one consultations with me, are included in my new Oxidative Stress Consultation Package, just launched today! I’m really excited to have this package available now—you can learn more about it here.

It can be challenging to get all of the information and support you need, and when you are in pain and feeling horrible it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other, let alone sort out where to start in order to start feeling better. This is where naturopathic doctors can help. Reach out to a naturopathic doctor near you or contact my office if you have questions or would like to make an appointment with me.

For more information about how to support your health by addressing stress and diet, and by taking high quality supplements, I welcome you to sign up to receive my e-newsletter. And please do leave your comments below—I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with fibromyalgia and oxidative stress.

Dr. Doni
28th January 2016


*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.



  1. Mahdi A, Fatima G. A Quest for Better Understanding of Biochemical Changes in Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2014 Jan; 29(1): 1–2.
  2. Naviaux, R. Metabolic features of the cell danger response. Mitochondrion. 2014 May;16:7–17.
  3. Iqbal R, Mughal MS, Arshad N, Arshad M. Pathophysiology and antioxidant status of patients with fibromyalgia. Rheumatol Int. 2011 Feb;31(2):149-52.
  4. Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, and Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul-Dec; 4(8): 118–126.
  5. Borissenko M. Glutathione: A powerful anti-oxidant found in colostrum. NZMP August 2002.
  6. Sachan DS, Hongu N, Johnsen M. J Decreasing oxidative stress with choline and carnitine in women. Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):172-6.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.