by Donna Gregory Burch
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researcher Dr. Jarred Younger has improved the lives of thousands of fibromyalgia sufferers through his research on low-dose naltrexone (LDN).
Now, he’s hoping to repeat that success with the first trial using dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient commonly found in cough syrup, as a potential treatment for fibromyalgia.
Younger and his team will recruit 15 fibromyalgia patients next month for a 30-week university-funded trial. He expects to announce trial results by September. If DXM shows promise, the findings will be used to apply for a larger, federally-funded study.
DXM is a cough suppressant that reduces the brain’s ability to trigger the cough reflex. But Younger thinks it could also be used to quiet the overactive immune systems of fibromyalgia sufferers.
“[DXM] is really the same idea as LDN. It’s a low-dose, generic drug, easy to get, but a new use for it,” said Younger, director of UAB’s Neuroinflammation Pain and Fatigue Laboratory. “We hope that when people take it, it will have this strong systemic effect on inflammation and help the pain.”
(Note: DXM isn’t the same as guaifenesin, another common cold-medicine ingredient that some fibromyalgia patients use for treatment.)
Younger has been nicknamed “the neuroinflammation man” for his theory on the mechanism behind fibromyalgia.
“The basic story behind all of the research we do is the majority of people with fibromyalgia have a central inflammation syndrome,” Younger explained. “The immune system in their brain is upregulated so the microglia cells are producing chemicals that make you feel sick. These are the same chemicals that make you feel horrible when you have the flu. That [theory] still looks good to me. I haven’t changed it in about 10 years because the data still supports it.
“If that’s true, then the way to help someone with fibromyalgia to reduce their pain and reduce their fatigue and reduce their fibro fog is to keep those pro-inflammatory chemicals from being produced, and how we do that is to try to calm down those cells that produce those chemicals. DXM, like low-dose naltrexone, has the ability to antagonize those cells and prevent them from getting into their activated state where they produce all those chemicals. It’s basically kind of putting the brakes on these immune cells that we think are hyperactive.”
The trial will use an extremely low dose of DXM – much lower than what’s typically given to suppress cough – so the drug should be well tolerated by patients, and side effects are expected to be low.
“The primary question will be does it decrease the daily pain severity, but we will also look at fatigue and cognitive symptoms,” Younger said.
Recruitment will be open to fibromyalgia patients living within two hours of Birmingham, Alabama. Patients will be expected to travel to Younger’s lab periodically to pick up their medication and for blood draws. To be considered for the trial, click here and fill out the research study survey on the homepage.
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.