Fibromyalgia (FM) is one of the fastest growing disease-syndromes of the past 10 years. The diagnosis of this condition is spreading like an epidemic. It has replaced chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as the diagnosis of choice among physicians to describe a collection of seemingly unrelated physical and mental complaints. It is my contention that chronic fatigue and FM are, in fact, the same syndrome, characterized by persisting and chronic fatigue and chronic and persisting pain. In CFS, fatigue is the predominant symptom and for FM, pain is the main complaint. However, it is typical that both patient groups complain of both chronic pain and fatigue.
The medical profession considers FM to be incurable, because no drugs have been found that reliably relieve the chronic pain and other symptoms. CFS is also considered to be a psychological illness by most physicians, because of the difficulty of determining a physical cause for the condition.
However, if we look at FM and CFS from an integrated, naturopathic perspective, we learn more about its causes as well as its cure. As I have just pointed out, most FM patients suffer from both chronic pain and chronic fatigue, as well as allergies, chemical sensitivities, sleep problems, depression, memory problems, digestive complaints, candida, PMS, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, and many more symptoms. FM is, in fact, a multi-causal condition that requires persistence and understanding to peel apart and treat the multiple factors that initiate it. Multiple stressor occurring over a long period of time cause FM, damaging the natural healing system of the body and leading to chronic pain, fatigue, and debility.
The stressor that lead to this chronic condition are best understood in terms of four categories: chemical-biological, physical, electromagnetic, and psychological. I will discuss each of these stressor individually and then look at how this condition is best diagnosed and treated from a naturopathic perspective.
Chemical stress on humans has become pervasive in the late twentieth century. The earth has become a dump for toxic substances that have permeated our air, water and food supply. Modern medicine has further increased the toxic overload by inundating our population with synthetic biochemicals that, in the long term, cause more harm than good.
Two recent news reports bring this problem to light. The first is the news that so many people are now taking prescription drugs that the breakdown of the drugs in urine has begun to contaminate the water supply in many communities. The second news item is that many Canadian cities are now requiring dentists to install filters in their offices that remove mercury before the water is dumped into the sewage system. This is in recognition of the fact that mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal that has no business being haphazardly discarded into public water systems. It is shocking that mercury is still being implanted in people’s mouths.
It is my contention, after having worked with hundreds of FM patients over the last 10 years, that chemical and heavy metal stress play a significant factor in the development of the syndrome of symptoms that we know as FM. The end result of this toxic exposure is damaged cellular and enzyme systems, which impair the body’s ability to create energy and remove toxins on a cellular and tissue level.
Energy is created in the body inside each of our cells in tiny organelles called mitochondria. These mitochondria are present in every cell of the body, producing the energy necessary to keep that cell alive and functioning optimally. Mitochondria are present in increased numbers in the most metabolically active cells of the body, which are our skeletal muscles and our heart. If these mitochondria become damaged due to long-term exposure to chemicals or heavy metals, they become incapable of producing sufficient energy for optimal function. This leads to a situation of diminished energy production on a cellular level and chronic fatigue as perceived by the patient.
If there is insufficient energy available to feed the energy requirements of the cells, then the next consequence is a breakdown in the ability of each cell to detoxify itself from normally occurring waste products, not to mention the added burden of chemical and heavy metal exposure. When the cell is unable to detoxify itself adequately, then there is a build-up of waste products in that cell. Since muscle cells are the most metabolically active cell-types, any use of the muscles will dramatically increase the toxicity of these cells. Chronically toxic muscle cells result in low energy and the chronic pain that appears to move around the body on a day-to-day basis, as well as the tender trigger points that constitute a diagnosis of FM by medical doctors.
Thus, the chemical and heavy metal exposure for the FM patient is played out primarily in the mitochondria of the muscle cells. This renders these cells unable to adequately produce energy, detoxify, repair or defend against free radicals or microbes. This is a scenario that inevitably produces both chronic pain and fatigue. Unfortunately, taking a drug, herb, or vitamin or two is not going to normalize or resolve this underlying problem.
FM patients also routinely suffer from biological stress in the form of allergies, chronic candida, and viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections because their immune defenses are weakened. Their immune systems are compromised due to exposure to chemicals and heavy metals, as well as psychological, electro-magnetic, and nutritional stressor. It used to be thought that FM was caused by a chronic viral infection of the muscles, producing muscle aches and pain much like that common to flu sufferers. While this is certainly true in some cases of FM, it is not true for the majority of FM patients. More common among FM patients is a generalized yeast overgrowth in their digestive systems. This is initiated by the overuse of antibiotics, steroids (which are sometimes prescribed to deal with the inflammation and pain common to FM), hormones, chronic psychological stress, and poor eating habits. Chronic yeast also appears to be maintained by mercury toxicity from dental amalgams and certain large fish like tuna and swordfish.
As you can see, FM is often caused by a myriad of interacting and self-perpetuating causes which all must be addressed for a final resolution to the syndrome to occur. This is why this condition is thought to be incurable. The many imbalances and problems must be systematically addressed before symptom relief can occur. Also, proper diagnosis of the underlying conditions must be made before any treatment program is attempted.
Physical stress almost always plays a role in FM. The most common physical stressor are whiplash syndrome caused by motor vehicle accidents, and repetitive strain injuries caused by lifestyle or work. Under these conditions, when a person suffers physical trauma to the muscles, the normal self-repair systems do not operate effectively, due to the pre-existing cellular toxicity.
This results in a chronic pain syndrome of the muscular system due to ineffective repair mechanisms. In a person not already suffering a chemical stress, muscles heal in a predictable fashion after an acute injury. Unfortunately, for the FM patient, muscles do not heal properly and the situation for chronic pain is created. In order for muscles to heal, the underlying toxicity and mitochondrial dysfunction must be addressed.
This is the least understood stressor, but with the advancement of computers, cell phones, wireless networks and microwave transmitters, it is becoming increasingly common. We do know that electromagnetic stress can impair the function of the immune system. I also believe that the subtle human energy system is affected by electromagnetic radiation.
The only solution would be to remove oneself from the greatest sources of electromagnetic concentration, which occur in large cities and wired homes and offices, and spend more time outdoors in nature.
Psychological stress is an almost universal condition among FM patients. It can be further broken down into emotional, mental and spiritual stress. Mental stress is typical of the overachiever who takes on too many responsibilities while neglecting to take care of his or her own personal needs. Caregivers, such as nurses, health-care workers, doctors, and mothers, are particularly susceptible to this phenomena.
Emotionally, many FM sufferers are victims of long-term psychological stress or abuse. The typical FM patient is often a person with a chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome. Long-term stress of this type often affects the thyroid and adrenal glands. This leaves these glands depleted and under-functioning. In the case of the adrenals, chronic daily stress and over-stimulation causes over-functioning and eventual depletion.
Spiritually, a person may suffer stress due to a lack of purpose in life and work, disconnection with God or spirit, or an overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness towards life. Years of psychological stress impacts on biochemistry, leading to an excess of toxic hormones and chemicals and deficiency of vital nutrients. These biochemical events, combined with the other three stressor, can contribute to permanent damage of the self-repair systems of the body.
Fibromyalgia is Treatable
FM is a potentially curable illness. It certainly responds to appropriate treatment in nearly all cases. It requires a person to take responsibility for their own healing and to seek the right professional help and therapies. While there is no magic bullet for FM, proper diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes will result in remission of symptoms and the more devastating aspects of this illness. While total cure is not possible for every patient, many will find a transformation fo their attitude towards their illness. While total cure is not possible for every patient, many will find a transformation of their attitude towards their illness – from a curse to an incredible opportunity for growth and self-renewal. No small task, but this is what is required to heal.
My first advice is to get a proper diagnosis of all the underlying causes for FM, which I have discussed in this article. This includes both conventional and alternative diagnostic methods. An integrated approach is needed, in which the medical and naturopathic perspectives are both utilized and respected. Diagnostic tests that I have found particularly useful for FM patients include the Biological Terrain Analysis (BTA); Adrenal Stress Profile, including 24-hour cortical and DHEA levels; specialized thyroid profiles, including T-3, reverse T-3, and anti-thyroid antibodies; and heavy metal analysis, using hair analysis and provocative urine analysis.
As well, I have found a thorough psychological assessment and appropriate therapy to be extremely helpful in assisting FM patients get back on their feet, both literally and figuratively.
There are multiple causes of this illness and there are multiple cures. What may work for one person may not work for another due to biochemical individuality. Again, professional advice is one of the best investments you can make to help yourself through the maze of cures offered for this illness.
Naturopathic Therapies for Fibromyalgia
I have found the following therapies of particular benefit to FM patients:
- Breathing Exercises
Meditation, prayer, relaxation exercises, visualization
- Gentle Exercise
Water-based exercise, yoga, Tai Chi, dance, walking
- Creative Healing Arts
Including journal writing, music therapy, art, poetry
- Anti-oxidant Vitamins
Beta-carotene, C, E, B-complex
Especially magnesium maltase and potassium citrate
Digestive plant enzymes and anti-inflammatory proteolysis enzymes
- Essential Fatty Acids
Evening primrose oil, flax seed oil, borage oil, fish oils
- Herbal Muscle Relaxants
Avenal-oat straw, Jamaican dogwood, hops, valerian, black choosy
Massage, my therapy, acupressure
- Acupuncture and Energetic Therapies
Including craniosacral therapy and healing touch
- Oxygen Therapies
Ozone, IV hydrogen peroxide, CoQ10 and green drinks
Alkaline water using a water ionizer
- Detoxification Program
Including amalgam removal and mercury detoxification, liver cleansing, candida and parasite cleanses, juice fasting and colonics
- Intravenous Nutrition
Administered by a knowledgeable health professional, psycho-spiritual counseling and psychotherapy from a qualified psychologist or therapist
Finally, the most important therapy is the power of faith – faith in the healing process and faith in oneself to heal. If you want to get better, do not stop working on yourself. Keep looking for the help you need from positive and loving healers. May the healing force be with you.