Stretching the envelope

Regulation of research results in painfully slow progress, as each proposed intervention is tried singly against a control group. Those participants being duped by allocation to the placebo arm may well wonder if the feel-good/self-resolving* factor hasn’t already been examined sufficiently to be quantified. However conformity within academic rules is the only safe option for the investigator, rather than gamble a decade’s investment in higher education by following any heretical notions. It’s been suggested in ‘Bad Pharma’ by Dr Ben Goldacre that drugs should be compared against each other, in trials conducted  by GPs within the real-world of practitioner ℞ (pending removal of the roadblock placed by Ethics Committee approvals etc, that all research be conducted by institutions).

Where the disorder is conveniently profiled to the satisfaction of the institutions, patient registries give an advantageous shortcut of study recruitment effort. Fibro is inconveniently enigmatic in this regard, and a disenfranchised community lacks trust in the specialists who’ve pushed antidepressants in lieu of solutions. Enlightened mavericks have extended the notion of online support forums into Patient Reported Outcomes for inductive study. Unashamedly intrusive gathering of data is openly shared – meds, QoL ratings, pathology results etc, in the hope of expedited understanding (of both the syndrome itself, and the qualitative, subjective experience of the person’s suffering). 20,000 diagnosed fibromites report their medications and psychometric Pain & Fatigue Rating Score (PFRS) at PatientsLikeMe. Without adjustment for any factors such as an individuals’s symptom duration or other confounders, anti-convulsants Lyrica and Neurontin (discussed previously under ‘Bad Medicine’) showed imperceptible nett improvement, although cold comfort can be drawn from opioids being associated with even worse scores. Endep and Cymbalta are reported more favourably, and surpassed again by anti-inflammatory interventions such as NSAIDs or corticoids. Far better were supplements D-Ribose, Omega-3 and CoQ10, along with massage therapy, exercise and yoga. Raw rankings have no better merit than a wet finger in the air as a meteorological report, but is a pointer to investigations conducted in an approved manner. Psychiatrists Carta & Cacace et al extended the drug trial’s usual brief therapy monitoring of wellbeing on takers of antidepressants out to a year, observing psychometric Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire FIQ worsened by 26% compared to unmedicated fibromites.relax Not so good.

Prof Rob  Bennett set aside his Eli-Lilly commitments for a study on the effect of a yoga course of 8 by 2 hour classes. The FIQ-Revised dropped an impressive 27% average, more regular adherents to the program having better results. Strength (rising from chair) also showed significant improvement, compared to controls. But on what basis are claims for yoga’s strengthening of the immune system made, and why have practitioners been given unconventional names, and is fibro an auto-immune disorder anyway?

The wet-finger ranking of therapies, as voted by the patients’ PFRS points to lowdose naltrexone or LDN as winner. At one tenth the approved dosage for withdrawing from alcohol or drug dependence, Adelaide’s Prof Hutchinson achieved inhibition of Toll-Like Receptors (TLR) response to antigens. Antibody mediated immunity is actually a little over-the-top within the central nervous system and brain, where overmuch is at stake. The alarm is sounded by a cytokine (inter-cell signaling) InterLeukin-8 (IL-8), mediated by TLRs and the ominously named Tumour Necrosis Factor. The idea of shooting the messenger in this situation gave rise to the concept of specific Monoclonal AntiBodies or the _mab biological DMARDs, indeed fibros on these report nearly as good a PFRS as the natural supplements can achieve!

Overall there’s more systems functioning as they should than those which aren’t, even if somewhat dysregulated and anyway anti-inflammatory cytokine  IL-10 being elevated in fibro is an example of the body’s fighting back. Suffice to say, it is how homeostasis is maintained. Pro-inflammatory IL-6 was given the alternative description by Pederson & Febbraio as a muscle function myokine in 2012, since its message is integral to the response to exercise.  IL-8 links to fibro pain and IL-6 links to CFS fatigue. Wang & Schiltenwolf et al multidisciplinary program dropped fibromite IL-8 levels (that were initially double those of healthy controls) by half, in 6 months of self-directed application of techniques from a 15 day physical and psycho therapy course. Bote & Ortega et al took physically inactive fibromites and healthy controls for a 45minute moderate intensity cycle ride. Baseline IL-8 levels were fourfold in patients, but one day later the tables had turned. Controls were elevated, and FM levels were now healthy. At the beginning of their extended 8-month water aerobics regime for non-exercisers, IL-6 levels were one eighth higher in FM patients than controls, and mid-course they’d risen another eighth. But dropped by study’s conclusion, to less than healthy control levels. Kiecolt-Glaser compared yoga experts and novice IL-6 levels, finding them 41% higher in the beginners. Pullen & Khan et al dropped IL-6 levels in heart failure patients by 20% in 8 weeks of 1 hour yoga sessions twice weekly. Randomised trials of yogic breathing techniques found improved cardiac autonomic balance in diabetes, asthma, hypertension, IBS and epilepsy.

Baker Heart and Diabetes institute poached Febbraio’s skeletal muscle team after his discovery that concentric contraction is non-damaging, in that it doesn’t exacerbate IL-6 and IL-8 levels. Fair enough too, there’s no money in fibro research. Anyway, play it safe by cycling, or rowing. A good Spanish Open Source study points to many examples through its references, such as ‘Effects of physical exercise on serum levels of serotonin and its metabolite in fibromyalgia: a randomized pilot study’.

* Voltaire: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” or Ben Franklin: “God heals, and the doctor takes the fee.”

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