When science catches up with symptoms

An article jumped out at me from my newsfeed today – one which announces that researchers have correlated symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and giant cell arteritis with solar cycles.

For as long as I can recall, I have been declaring that there seems to be a distinct link between fibromyalgia symptoms and the solar cycle and have written about it many times before in this and my other blog. My own symptoms become significantly more extreme at times of geomagnetic storm and solar flare – the current solar max has been a fairground-ride of dramatically variable symptom-levels and the previous solar max, a decade ago, coincided with the very onset of fibromyagia for me. Going back a further solar cycle or two, I can trace further distinct patterns with the health circumstances of my life going back to childhood. Yesterday was a case in point; a solar flare during the night accompanied by a day of high-speed solar wind pouring through a coronal hole and geomagnetic storms that reached the G1 threshold over a 48 hour period, following a  remarkably quiet period since May, presented in my body as though all my symptom switches had been flipped on to severe level, including crashing exhaustion and intense neuropathic sensations, after a period of mild symptoms and relative stability.

The new article by John Greenwald (which I recommend reading: see here) refers to a study published in BMJ Open by husband and wife team Simon Wing, a John Hopkins University physicist and Lisa Rider, deputy unit chief of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science in the National Institutes of Health. The pair noticed and developed the coincidence that cases of RA and GCA seemed to closely follow the approx. 10-year cycle of solar activity. In particular, they tracked correlations between these conditions and both geomagnetic activity and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) solar radiation. The profound coincidences that they found seemed to warrant further investigation, especially relating to geomagnetic activity (correlation with EUV was found to be “not as strong, but statistically significant”). What is more, the study helped to explain other characteristics of disease occurrence that had otherwise proved impossible to explain, fitting in like a missing jigsaw-piece that shed new light on an otherwise mystifying area of study.

Another piece of this study that grabbed my attention was that it concludes that “seasonal variations in the incidence of GCA and RA need further investigation” given that geomagnetic activity peaks at the spring and fall equinoxes (known as the Russell-McPherron effect) and so do incidences of GCA (my own Fibromyalgia symptoms are extremely seasonal – March is often a challenge and September has always, rather mysteriously, been the worse month of my health-year for as long as I can recall). The mystery of this seasonal variance – which seems to have nothing to do with lack of sunlight or particular weather trends – has long fascinated me and, it seems, space weather may hold another piece of the jigsaw.

A summary note of interest: “None of the leading hypothesis for GCA and RA, namely, lack of sunlight (including solar UV), vitamin D deficiency, smoking, air pollution, periodontal disease, occupational exposures to silica and low oestrogen, can account for” the five distinct patterns of RA and GCA brought to light in the study (see the full study below to go into these in detail). Yet all are consistent with the effects of geomagnetic activity!

Similarly I suspect, and have long suspected, that a broader approach to studying incidences of Fibromyagia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and ME, incorporating data relating to the solar cycles, might shed considerably more light on these conditions. Fibromyalgia, in particular, shares much territory in common with rheumatoid arthritis, including a strong relationship with variations in the body’s production of melatonin, which is understood to be an anti-inflamatory mediator with immune-enhancing effects as well as serving to scavenge and inactivate free radicals in the body –  thus sudden dips in melatonin production could be expected to have fairly dire consequences on health. A study referred to in this one, by Burch et al, found that “on days when the geomagnetic activity was high, the mean excretion of the overnight melatonin metabolite was approximately 21% lower than on days when geomagnetic activity was low”. Reduced melatonin production is a key player in the fibromyalgia causation mix. In fact RA and fibromyalgia are such close cousins that the borderline between them seems to be as narrow as the definition that RA symptoms are deemed to be progressive, coming in episodes – which is exactly how I experience pain –  rather than being chronic (there all the time) – leaving me, and many other people, rather vague as to which they really have, although its all the other, rather hotchpotch, incredibly widespread and often bizarre symptoms that tag along with the pain episodes that have led me to apply the fibromyalgia label for so long. This confusion boils down to nothing more than semantics and, really, both present as members of pretty-much the same family of symptoms with, very likely, the same triggers.

Certainly this study is food for thought and my hope is that, as the net of these kind of discussions (between scientists and those of us that are symptomatic and, like me, keep track of interesting correlations) begins to widen, more scientists might be encouraged to run with new studies that look at other conditions in this broader way. To quote directly from Wing & Rider’s conclusion “The link with solar, geospace and atmospheric parameters need to be investigated. These novel findings warrant examination in other populations and with other autoimmune diseases”. I suspect this kind of curiosity will take us far beyond a better understanding of autoimmune conditions and into the kind of territory where we start to fill the blanks in our understanding of the extraordinarily profound relationship we have with our broadest cosmic environment. Put simply, the more we come to understand the impact space weather has on our bodies at the cellular level, the more we get to unravel a whole myriad of previously unexplainable “symptoms” and come to see the bigger picture of how we are intricately affected by, and connected with, the broader universe that we live in.


A fair extension of this line of thinking is to wonder how geomagnetic activity relates to other conditions that (anecdotally) appear to correlate with occurrence of it, one being extreme peripheral neuropathy and other neuropathic effects, a profoundly connected symptom of mine – which begs the obvious question, is MS related to space weather? A quick Google around brings several articles and a couple of bits of research to light, in particular these studies and a commentary found on an MS forum:

The latter paper hypothesises that the highest incidents of MS correspond with areas of lower Earth geomagnetic field strength becuase, at higher levels, the Earth’s own field potentially acts as a shield against incoming cosmic radiation. As much as these tentative new studies fail to explain all aspects of MS prevailance, it seems clear to me that further studies into correlations are warranted  in light of coincidences that are far too striking to ignore.

Useful links relating to the arthritis and geomagnetic activity

Main article Researchers correlate incidences of rheumatoid arthritis and giant cell arteritis with solar cycles by John Greenwald, June, 2015 – originally published on the PPPL website.

BMJ Open Do solar cycles influence giant cell arteritis and rheumatoid arthritis incidence? Wing & Rider et al

Rheumatoid arthritis compared with fibromyalgia

The Russell-McPherron effect

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