Fibro Facts 1: What is "Bad Energy?"

According to Health Rising, a new study suggests that “bad energy” is a core problem in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

The study was published in FATIGUE: BIOMEDICINE, HEALTH & BEHAVIOR, 2017. This is my first time coming across it, hearing about it, or reading about it. Or so I think…

I mean, what is “bad energy” in this context, anyway?

It’s lactate. What is lactate? It’s a by-product of anaerobic energy metabolism. What does that mean? It means people release lactate from their cells during exertion.

You can think of it like sweating for now.

Study summary

The study examined lactate levels in a small sample of 74 persons with ME/CFS, ME/CFS + FM, FM, and healthy controls’ brains. It found higher levels of lactate in the brains of those with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. It’s important to note this is not the only study with similar findings. Four other studies suggested the same. Senior study author Dikoma Shungu, PhD, a project leader on the Cornell ME/CFS Collaborative Research Center, told Health Rising that the increased lactate levels are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.

“We have found elevated ventricular lactate in nearly every disorder in which mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated,” he said.

Moreover, subsequent findings show low levels of glutathione in the brain (antioxidant) which suggests, according to Shungu, that neuroinflammation and oxidative stress are culprits.

“Shungu believes an antioxidant poor environment allows an infection to trigger a free radical explosion which shuts down the blood vessels causing a hypoxic - low oxygen environment - in the brain,” writes Health Rising. Furthermore, the low oxygen environment exacerbates lactate production.

Now, I have heard the hypothesis that fibromyalgia is associated with a lack of oxygen to the brain, to the cells, etc. Perhaps this is where that idea stems from?

This research is significant for the fibromyalgia community, despite it being from a rather small sample size, because research in this area is underfunded and that’s one of the major reasons why there’s so much fake news filling the fibromyalgia community. We need to focus on these small pilot studies as starting points to a deeper understanding of this syndrome.

This particular research was made possible by three seed grants. In fact, the findings were so promising, the project was awarded two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The brain on lactate

There’s enough study consensus on the increased levels of lactate in the brain to make it worth further investigating.

I checked out an article titled LACTATE IN THE BRAIN: AN UPDATE ON ITS RELEVANCE TO BRAIN ENERGY, NEURONS, GLIA, AND PANIC DISORDER, 2017. It’s published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.

Here’s the takeaway: Lactate has been thought of in the past as an alternative energy source, but now it’s seen as more than that. It’s considered a signaling molecule in the brain to link metabolism, substrate availability, blood flow, and neuronal activity. Lactate can be used in high levels to induce panic disorder in research settings.

Fibro thoughts…

So. People with FM have been shown to have an increased level of lactate in their brain. Lactate has benefits, but it is also one of those things - like anything - that can go haywire when out of balance.

This does not mean lactate causes fibromyalgia. Could it mean, though, that reducing lactate levels could ease symptoms - especially those related to fatigue, pain, and anxiety? How would one reduce their lactate levels…

The rabbit hole continues.

We are back to trying to get a grip on this lactate thing… A quick search brings up everything about lactic acid and acidosis so I confirm that lactate comes from L-lactic acid and proceed.

There is a lot of info on lactic acidosis, but it is not with respect to fibromyalgia. My elbow is beginning to shoot pains and I’m wondering, now, for the first time, what lactic acid’s role in all this is…

“Lactic acidosis is a form of metabolic acidosis that begins when a person overproduces or underutilizes lactic acid, and their body is not able to adjust to these changes,” writes Healthline.

This is where things get dicey sometimes and conclusions are made and new arguments are formed. Hear me out, is it legit to argue that because people with FM were shown to have increased levels of lactate in their brains, does that mean we should assume as people with FM that we in the category of “overproducing” and therefore my body is actually in lactic acidosis?

Lactic acidosis sounds serious - jaundice and 911 serious. But the other symptoms listed on Healthline, no surprise, sound exactly like those of FM.

  • exhaustion or extreme fatigue

  • trouble breathing

  • muscle cramps or pain

  • body weakness

  • overall feelings of physical discomfort

  • abdominal pain or discomfort

  • diarrhea

  • decrease in appetite

  • headache

  • rapid heart rate

What are we to make of this?

We can ask our doctors, depending on where we live, to request a fasting blood test to see we are indeed in lactic acidosis. Not entirely sure what would happen next, but I am interested in talking to my new doctor and seeing what they says.


What haven’t I heard about lactate as it relates to fibromyalgia before? What's the depth of lactate's role in inflammation? Is this a significant thread to follow or am I chasing false hope?


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