Getting to the Root of Fibromyalgia

by Janis Leibold, Assistant Editor, Fibromyalgia Network
Posted: October 28, 2011

While many researchers are studying blood and urine of fibromyalgia patients to determine if mineral abnormalities exist, one team from Korea is taking a novel approach by going directly the root of the problem.* Their study of trace elements in hair samples shows fibromyalgia patients have lower levels of important minerals compared to healthy adults.

Using 44 women with fibromyalgia and 122 healthy controls, the researchers snipped hairs from the tops of heads, very close to the roots, to perform their analysis. Like crime scene investigators, the research team led by Nam-Seok Joo, M.D., carefully selected patients and controls who had similar characteristics related to age, body mass, and lifestyle habits. Women with other illnesses that could possibly influence their hair sample were excluded from the study. All the participants, averaging 44 years of age, had to refrain from using hair gels, or applying any type of chemical processing (such as coloring or perms) at least two weeks before the snip.

The clean hair analysis showed fibromyalgia patients had significantly lower levels of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. Many other minerals, such as chromium, selenium, potassium, phosphorous, sodium, and zinc, did not differ between the patients and controls.

Previous reports looking at mineral status in fibromyalgia patients have been very mixed and often conflicting. Joo points to the inherent problem of these prior studies that sampled blood or urine. The body is made to adapt to changing demands, such that many minerals are robbed from the bones to maintain sufficient blood levels. And alterations in the urine may not say much about the level of mineral storage in the bones or other tissues. However, hair analysis should provide a more accurate picture of the body’s overall mineral status.

So what exactly does it mean to be low in the five minerals identified by Joo? More studies are needed, but Joo points out that several reports have shown that fibromyalgia patients lack the necessary antioxidants to neutralize reactive chemicals that can interfere with cellular functions. This, in turn, leads to an oxidative stress environment and could account for symptoms involving muscles spasms and cramps, fatigue, neuromuscular weakness, and insomnia.

“Several studies have explored the relationship between fibromyalgia patients and oxidative stress. Still other studies investigated elemental composition of patients, but they surveyed only blood and urine samples,” reported Joo. “The latter studies, while potentially useful, overlooked the mineral content of hair. The hair mineral assay is a good method to explore the mineral status at the cellular level.”

While it is not practical to start taking a whole barrage of expensive mineral supplements, fibromyalgia patients should consider taking a daily broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains 100 percent of the essential nutrients including iron.

Mineral levels (average)
Healthy Controls
Fibromyalgia Patients
Calcium 1,093 mcg 775 mcg
Magnesium 72 mcg 52 mcg
Copper 40 mcg 28 mcg
Iron 7.1 mcg 5.9 mcg
Manganese 190 ng/g 140 ng/g


* Kim YS, et al. J Korean Med Sci 26(10):1253-7, 2011.

30 Responses to Getting to the Root of Fibromyalgia

  1. Benita Humble says:

    My doctor found several years ago when I had some stomach problems that I was not absorbing minerals and vitamins and was even malnutritioned. No one ever thought that it might be related to the Fibromyalgia, so this is very interesting to me–I will review a blood workup that my doctor gave me about a year ago to see if the minerals you mention above coincide. I notice that I definitely feel better when taking vitamin/mineral pills, however due to my sensitive stomach and trouble swallowing pills, I am not able to take them regularly so I don’t know how I would feel if I was able to stay on the supplements for a significant amount of time.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Sharon Ward says:

      There are a number of companies that make chewable vitamins & minerals as well as powders you stir into water or juice, as an alternative to a pill. You might try those and see if you can take them more regularly. There are even different flavors.

    • Cheryl Mitchell says:

      Try Nature’s Plus Source of Life liquid vitamin supplement. Although more expensive at first, you will find the boost it gives you will be worth it! It tastes like kiwi fruit. You can find it in a health food store. Hope this helps!

    • pamela says:

      Benita I had a lot of blood work done all minerals and vitamin levels were extremely low vitamin d and magnesium was off the charts low and I am always in sun so no reason for vitamin D to be that low . The doctor had me get a chewable vitamin that started with a V, I can’t remember the name for my life but they are with the vitamins and remind me of chocolate candy.
      He also told me you absorb chewable vitamins better.
      The best way to absorb magnesium is by soaking in Epsom salt bath daily hope this helps.

  2. miriam sivak says:

    I can’t take a multi vitamin for various reasons. I would like a pill that is a supplement for these except calcium which has many other options. I am going to ask my doctor if he can test me for these things.

  3. Jackie says:

    Benita if you have problems swallowing tablets take them with a spoon of yoghurt.

  4. MiMi says:

    I have learned how to “control my FM pain” by taking vitamins and supplements and doing other things as well….I would like to encourage all FMers to be sure and ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D level….which is so very important to a lot of people these days….Low Vitamin D can cause “additional pain” for some of us…and it can also affect other illnesses as well….according to the medical researchers…
    when my level was checked it was around 12….which is extremely low…and it took me a very long time to get it back to within the “normal range”….I now take a Vitamin D every week….I have also learned that taking Fibro Response, Omegas, Vitamin B Complex and Calcium….has helped my FM pain…doing gentle stretching and exercising also help….as well as taking a hot shower at night using lavender bath salts in a stopped up drain….(this helps my body to relax so that I can rest better)….Stopain Spray as needed…watching what I eat…and drinking water….plenty of water….(98% of what I consume)….

    This has helped me….and I have to sleep in a recliner….(not by choice though)….

    I hope this helps…..

  5. Janet McLaughlin, M.A. says:

    As a retired registered dietitian with fibromyalgia for approx 28 yrs, I cannot recommend supplementing with iron (Fe) without discussing it with your physician. I myself do take a multi-vit min for seniors, from Costco, which does not have Fe, after lunch, to minimize any stomach discomfort. Food also has the fat, enzymes and other “helpers” to promote bioavailability of that pill. Our vitamin and mineral needs are actually individual, not those listed on the label of the supplement. Unfortunately, we cannot press a button on ourselves for a printout!

  6. Barbara says:

    Thanks for this valuable information. I’ve felt some general improvement, and no GI upset, using OLA LOA Multi Vitamin/Mineral powder. It comes in several flavors, no sugar, gives a gentle energy boost. I use 1-2 daily in spring water, drinking it over an hour period. Tests show Vit D deficiency so I’m adding that too.

  7. Diana says:

    My friend has fibro. He is 50 yrs old and was diagnosed several yrs ago. At a young age he started hair loss for no reason. Weight loss and Chronic Fatigue are also a problem with him. For 3 yrs now he has been treated and although the hair hasn’t come back full he has more now than he did. He also is being treated with testerone injections which seeems to help. His body was so low on hormones that it was not even showing on the blood work. I have to say he is on the uphill rise and doing better.

  8. DrBobbi says:

    My pain MD checked my Vit D and & B levels, all way too low, and I’m now on supplements. He also recently recommended magnesium, too. It’s too soon to tell yet…but I’m hoping this will help. Some days can be hellacious, as we all know.

  9. margaret says:

    i got the vit/min iv an d it helped alot. any doses i take orally do not. the doses above are tiny, what doses do most of you take? i am taking a good multi vit and min daily plus 400 mg magnesium and 1000 iu vit d at nite.

  10. barbara says:

    i too take vitamindD magnesium and and iron will add b complex

    would love to hear about what food afeects different people

  11. Kathy Szczepanik says:

    I have suffered for years from RLS, CFS, Allergies, Chemical Sensitivities, frequent infections, continual pain and FMS.
    Magnesium helps control the RLS, but as soon as I cut down
    a bit it quickly flares back up. I am worse in spring, summer,
    and fall. It is challenging! I will look more into vit. and mineral
    deficiencies. Thank You for the info.

  12. maudine walker says:

    I was checked by my MD had blood chemistry levels checked I was told I had no Vit D whatsoever in my system. I had MD check on at Phyiscal for the year I noticed my Teeth cracking & Chipping after Dental work I ended in Dental Office 5 times after fillings, skin itching with Hives and I was not healing . I have fib 1992 auto accident, worker compensation and the job fired me and worker comp let me sit for 18 months I needed help? Chronic Fatquie & Myofasical diagnoise 2007 with severe Sleep Apena anixety & panic attack due to not getting proper help after auto accident when drunk driver hit me I never sleep due to continued pain!!!from 1992-present almost homeless never heal right and Original Doc never ran test for anything or even took blood due to emplorer not given BWC Number for years and switching MCO My doctor only gave precription for medication when I kept fighthing for my rights my old Meds Files where taken from hosp by emplorers Representative and Hospital gave me a certified letter stating that I need help?help??

    • maudine walker says:

      Hello forgot Hair also came out due to steriods shot skin itching and I lost Organs prior to Auto accident and I couldn’t walk got so bad I couldn’t think or help myself my life has been altered I never was sent to the right kind of Doctor’and Personal Dept Rep never sent me my Medical 1st report of injury paper’s I requested this held up my claim and the Doc could not see me and I never knew why?I was told by Personal rep we’ll take care of you? I told her to send me my papers she kept stalling I no why now and I needed help them and now from a very good attorney & the right Doctors that not afraid so this will never happen to anyone? Fibromyalgia News know how to get in touch

    • Carla Anderson says:

      I agree, all of us with Fibro are different with some similar and some different sx, and maybe multiple diseases and injuries, and causes of fibro. We need the personalized, not cookbook care, and I have not found it yet. I have not even found a doctor that can study or “read” once the copies of Fibro Network News I give. They say ” oh, I will give that to my students…” but they do not know a thing about fibro, and I cannot tell what is in their brain if they do not speak. I want a cure if possible, but if not, improvement by 50% at least by helping at the cellular level, as malabsorption seems universal, and affects everyone differently, as well as what else happened in their life, and their individual genetics. But while that is being done, we need help with our pain. I am fully functional with proper meds for “me”, not what some drug company patented for fibro. But I am in agony, and 10% functional without pain relief. Every movement, including on the couch is painful.

  13. jan charrlin says:

    My gastrointologist believes there is a corelation between the mast cells he found in my colon and stomach and fibromyalgia. Has anyone else ever been told this? My disease is mastocytosis -similar to Chrohn’s disease.

  14. Dianne Nabors says:

    It took me ten years and seven doctors to get a diagnosis for FMS. That was about ten years ago. At first my family doctor was very attentative and seemed interested in my wellbeing and my relief from pain. As I read about new treatments and deficiencies believed to be associated with FMS I would ask her to check for various things that I might have in common with other sufferers. She seemed to resent my suggestions and tried to make me feel stupid. She even told me she had never heard of having vitamin D checked. On my own I saw an Endocrinologists to do a further check on my thyroid. She also checked for several vitamins. When I told my family doctor about seeing someone else, she ranted and raved and said she had rather I not come back since I was “self referring” to other doctors. Now I don’t have a family doctor. Has anyone else had a medical doctor treat them in this manner? What do I do now? Why do doctors not like for patients to think for themselves? HELP!!

  15. Fred says:

    That a physician – much less your primary care doc – would treat you this way is reprehensible! The first thing I’d do is get ahold of someone in your state who works for whichever state agency monitors medical licenses, & I’d file a formal complaint. On top of that, I would (personally) also post to sites like Angie’s list!
    Sadly, there are doctors who prefer to make assumptions about a patient’s intelligence (pr worse, psychiatric well-being!) just because that doc lacks knowledge about Fibromyalgia is not all that uncommon. More than once I have had to educate a doctor on what current research says (I read it, because I deal with Fibromyalgia everyday!). But I have NEVER had a doctor insult like yours did, much less “fire me”.
    Yep. The Internet is great at spreading the word. Or a Facebook page like, “Don’t Go To Dr. So-&-So Because…” I’d make him/her regret treating me (or anyone I cared about) like you experienced.
    Every normal person knows that low vitamin D causes pain! Surely your doctor knew that!
    I’m sorry you experienced that… You might try the American Pain Foundation. They have a page with doctor referrals for those with chronic pain (although it may not include physicians in your area – you just have to look).

  16. Karrie says:

    I just seen the Dr again today to go over all the test he did. I to was very low in D and he said a lot of people with FM are low and will need to be on a strong dose for life. Also he seems to understand what’s really going on. They really feel it is an over stimulation of our nervious system. A lot of the medications they have now are for slowing down the over stimulated nerves. I have really bad migraines and this also is part of FM. He has also found that people with FM often have sleep apnea. I told him 8 years ago i got my machine but got tired of it and quit using it. So he has ordered me to go back to do a sleep study as this might be adding to my FM. I have to agree with him.
    I am willing to try anything to make this better.

  17. Mary Ann Scheler says:

    Hi all you fibro sufferes I too have been sick and in pain since my 30s, I am now 75. Long time, I diagnosed myself after reading an article, and taking it to my doctor and he agreed that’s what I had. I found the best help I received was from massage and prescriptions I take. Neurontin and flexerill. They do reduce my pain level. In 1999 I had neck surgery to repair two collapsed disks, I had so much pain from that for years before I got help. We all have different stories and I pray you all get the help you need. I had to be my own advocate. Also very low in vit D. Supplements haven’t helped so far.

  18. Fiona cole says:

    I am 43 years old and diagnosed with FM over 15 years ago. I experience every single symptom regularly and it totally sucks! I have been tested more than a science project. I’ve learned to suck it up and work around it. FM can’t kill you, just make your life really difficult sometimes….. Ok most of the time. But lots of things can make your life hard. My glass is half full!

  19. Stacey says:

    I have had FMS, chronic fatigue and OA for a little over 15 years now. I have all of the classic symptoms that everyone else states here. The worst pain that I have (besides the OA in most of my joints…at 47 years old) is in all the muscle groups in my back. It feel almost every day like I have been punched in the back…over every square in of it. I have done PT, meds and so on. I currently take Lexapro, meloxicam and neurontin. The lexapro keeps my brain calm which keeps the nerve pain at bay..somewhat. And it keeps ME calm too!! The neurontin isn’t a cure all, but It keeps the flares farther aprt in frequency. The meloxicam is the only things that keeps my joiont pain under control. AND….I HIGHLY recommend heat thereapy…every day. If you do not have a hot tub……GET ONE!!! Best thing ever for FMS and OA!!! It really works! Soft hugs to everyone….here’s to pain free days!!!!

  20. Marie says:

    Well I have had FM now for about 20 years. Most mornings just as soon as I open my eyes my head is killing me.
    I also have insomina for over 20 years, if I don’t take something to help me sleep I might sleep 2 nights out of a week. For me it doesn’t matter if I take something or not, my big problem is waking up. Once I get to sleep I just cannot seem to wake up after like 8 hours. Does anyone out there have this problem. Finally I do get to sleep (between 5 to 8 am) and I sleep that whole day and into the evening. I cannot get my scedule back on track, it’s been a few years now. Help!!!!!!!!

  21. Momerath42 says:

    I was diagnosed with FM when I was 19. I’m approaching 31 now, and it’s been an uphill battle. I have sleep issues (sleep walking/talking, extreme deep sleeper, difficulty waking, vivid disturbing dreams). I take Zoloft to manage FM and Xanax for anxiety & PTSD. I take Vitafusion gummy vitamins: calcium w/vitamin D, omega 3, and a multi. Seems to be helping thus far. I’ll look into magnesium, but I’ll need one without potassium because of blood pressure meds. Best wishes to all.

    • Kelly says:

      My daughter, Selena, is 16 and has been dealing with Fibro for several years already. Since you have also dealt with this condition since a teen, would you be willing to correspond with her to just occasionally “talk” about the daily challenges you both face? I think she feels isolated because none of her friends can relate to her extreme fatigue and how much energy it takes just to get through the school day. Please respond to my email ( and I’ll pass on her email if you’re willing.
      Kindest regards,

  22. Meg Taylor says:

    I take supplements but remain low in the minerals. I had a doctor tell me years ago to always take chelated minerals as they are absorbed by the body but even that does not bring my levels to a normal state. I have a theory that fibro patients do not process supplements in a normal way.

  23. pat says:

    We are all different, and we all need individuals solutions to pain management. Thank goodness for these creative people who have figured out they do not have a drug deficiency, but rather a nutritional issue or a metabolic issue. We seem to have varying degrees of sub-clinical and clinical signs, known often to ourselves better than anyone. How well we can communicate that has a great deal with how the dr. responds to us. On the other hand, some drs. can not recognise that medicines generally do not cure, but rather manage symptoms. It is expensive to do the detective work, if you will, regarding the source of distress. Sometimes it is never found. I guess it depends alot on how much energy one has to deal with looking. After 30 years of looking, and trying, I must say the concept of mineral/elecrolyte makes so much sense. If biological processes are not just on target, there will be effects. The magnesium issue is the most hopeful, and simplest idea, along with heat, nutrition,stretching–of painful parts. I fear the long term effects of so many psycotropics and cns depressants unless it is a last result. A place to start, but not the best place to stay. Best wishes on your quest.

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