98% of true cases of Fibromyalgia are women, which is interesting. Fibromyalgia can be defined as body-wide pain perceived in the soft tissues. It is often accompanied with consistent fatigue, low moods, anxiety, poor sleep and waking up feeling unrested. There also may be some gut related issues such as gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea.
That’s quite a lot of symptoms and for this reason, Fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed. In fact, when put under the scrutiny of a board of Rheumatoid experts in Fibromyalgia, two-thirds of patients have been shown to be misdiagnosed!
The main characteristic of Fibromyalgia is chronic body-wide pain. If the pain is localized to any degree, then it’s not true Fibromyalgia. If it’s in localized in areas around the body to any degree, then it’s not true Fibromyalgia.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a true case, you don’t need a diagnosis to get better, you need to get to the root cause of the issue which may be structural, biochemical, stress-related or even stem for the digestive tract. A trained functional medicine practitioner can help you tease the root cause out and guide you towards better health.
So, of the remaining 33% of patients that are actually true cases, what is the actual cause of their condition? Well, it’s not a rheumatoid disorder, to begin with. When Fibromyalgia was first beginning to get noticed, doctors had no idea what to do with it (they still don’t). So, they decided to class it as a rheumatoid disorder and hand it over to rheumatoid specialists, who are to this day are still mostly baffled by it.
So, we have an intriguing disorder that affects mostly women, creates body-wide pain and is also linked to depression, anxiety, IBS and sleep issues. Conventional medicine tries to treat those symptoms separately (drugs for the pain, drugs for the IBS, etc), while functional medicine asks, what’s the link? What’s the underlying cause that could be leading to all these dysfunctions?
Research over the last couple of decades points to the nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system gears you up for fight or flight. It is energizing and makes you alert. It’s your way of gearing up to deal with a challenge. The parasympathetic nervous system cools things down. It allows you to rest and repair. It acts as the circuit breaker for the sympathetic nervous system.
It’s been found in Fibromyalgia patients, that their sympathetic nervous system is constantly switched on. The parasympathetic nervous system does not intervene. The Fibromyalgia patient is in a state of hyper-vigilance. They are always wired to go. Nerves keep firing and overstimulation leads to fatigue and pain, as there is no recovery time for muscles and other tissues.
Consider that digestion requires the parasympathetic nervous system to be activated and it’s easy to see why Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from IBS. It’s also easy to make the connection with poor sleep, anxiety, and depression. Aha, suddenly it all starts to fit together.
There is a high correlation between Fibromyalgia and stressful childhoods. During that time the nervous system is priming, and a stressful childhood or trauma events can cause the child to enter a hyper-vigilant state. This is the nervous system trying to adapt to a dangerous world. This may not be the case for everyone, but evidence supports the idea.
It’s thought that the reason Fibromyalgia affects mostly women is that women cope with stress differently from men. Men tend to act things out. For example, in an abusive household, they become like their abusers. Women, on the other hand, tend to internalize their stress, which may manifest as a nervous disorder such as Fibromyalgia.
Ok, so now we understand the likely cause of true Fibromyalgia. What can we do about it? What type of strategy would be effective? Namely, getting the sympathetic nervous system to switch off by getting the parasympathetic system to engage.
There aren’t any drugs available that have been shown to be effective at helping with this without serious side-effects such as drowsiness or loss or cognitive function.
However, various dietary and supplemental protocols, along with various mind-body practices have been shown in clinical practice to be effective at helping Fibromyalgia patients to step down from the Hyper-vigilant stage.
This along with working on any digestive issues and helping the client sleep well and deeply can have a profound outcome on their state of well-being.
This is a sort of work I specialize in. I use the functional medicine approach to work out which aspects of a person’s diet and lifestyle are most impacting their condition. I coach the client to make changes that can have a deep impact and affect their health. I use herbs and nutritional supplements that will stimulate the body to function in the correct way, all of which is evidence-based and clinically effective.