Have you experienced muscle soreness throughout your body? Tenderness and pain? What about fatigue? (Let’s just admit most of us feel fatigued at some point during the week). Like many of you, I had chronic recurring muscle pain and tenderness all over and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It’s what led me to Functional Medicine in the first place! Many have questioned whether or not it’s real since there are no definitive tests or blood markers for it. At the time 20 years ago this diagnosis was dismissed as “a woman in need of an anti-depressant!?…)
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a multi-symptom condition with a prevalence worldwide of around 3%. The United States has an estimated 10 million cases. If you think you have it, you are not alone. Affected individuals are predominantly women. Typically they experience widespread musculoskeletal pain and a range of concomitant symptoms; cognitive problems, fatigue, impaired sleep, gastrointestinal discomfort, and mood dysregulation.1.
Dr. Christensen prefers the term used in Europe, because it more accurately describes what is happening, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). The “myalgic” refers to muscle pain, which is a widespread pain that is commonly experienced by people living with ME. The “itis” ending of the word “encephalomyelitis” refers to inflammation. In this particular case inflammation of the brain (encephalon) or nervous system, where the pain sensation is actually originating.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia:
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain – The largest complaint of a patient with fibromyalgia is widespread musculoskeletal pain which involves both upper and lower parts of the body. The pain may be localized initially, commonly in the neck and shoulders, but can also appear in the legs, and back.3
- Fatigue – The other cardinal symptom of fibromyalgia is fatigue. You may find this symptom especially prevalent upon waking from sleep, you may experience stiffness waking up in the morning, but it’s also possible it could demonstrate itself in the midafternoon.
Minor activities may exacerbate the pain and fatigue. However, inactivity for a prolonged period also increases the symptoms. You may find yourself waking up repeatedly in the early morning hours. And it’s possible that even after 8 to 10 hours of sleep you still might wake up tired. 4
- Cognitive disturbances – Often referenced as “fibro fog,”; patients have difficulty with attention and doing tasks that require rapid changes in thought.5
What are the Causes of Fibromyalgia?
- Leaky Gut issues– including IBS, SIBO, SIFO. Increased gastrointestinal permeability or “leaky gut” has many causes from gluten intolerance, to excessive use of NSAIDs, Antibiotics, and the SAD American diet. As in most chronic illnesses, a functional medicine approach always begins with the gut!
- Mitochondrial Disruption– mitochondria are the small organelles in every cell that generate energy. If they become damaged from pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals, other chemicals, and mycotoxins, they begin to disintegrate and lose their ability to generate energy. Nerve cells in the body have the most mitochondria per cell, so they become affected first leading to neurological inflammation, that may present as chronic muscle pain.
- Injury (as in Dr. Christensen’s case along with mold): Dr. Christensen had been feeling fine and then slipped on some ice and landed on her tailbone. Perhaps surprisingly, while she did not hit her head, she did in fact lose consciousness. There is also evidence showing that if you had a Traumatic Brain Injury you are at risk for chronic pain.
- ACES: It is not just physical injury, in some studies patients will discover that symptoms start with onset of an emotional trauma. 6
- Abnormal Pain Messages: “One thing that is believed to cause fibromyalgia is a problem with the processing of electrical signals in the brain. Even weak signals are then felt as pain. This theory is supported by the fact that people who have fibromyalgia often also have other medical conditions that affect pain processing in the central nervous system, such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and certain conditions affecting the jaw muscles and joints (craniomandibular disorders). In some people with fibromyalgia, local (peripheral) pain signals from the bones or muscles play a role too – for instance, if they also have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.”7
- Genetic Issues with Pain Processing: While there is not a fibromyalgia gene, it does run in some families. 8 Often the genetics have to do with compromised detoxification pathways.
- Exposure to Toxic Mold: An extremely common underlying cause! Mitochondria are the powerhouse of cells, which may lead to several diseases when they malfunction. Mycotoxins poison mitochondria causing dysfunction in many chronic diseases.9. Exposure to water and mold damaged indoor environments can damage mitochondria and trigger autoimmunity.10
- Food Allergies and Sensitivities: as alluded to in discussing leaky gut above, there are many foods, particularly grains such as gluten, and high histamine foods, along with any foods that the body develops a reaction to because of leaky gut, that may then trigger MAST cells and histamine responses, inflaming the nerves.
Can Fibromyalgia Be Cured?
Fibromyalgia is often a life long condition, but it is not a progressive disease, meaning with proper protocols that are healing, the symptoms won’t progress. There is no actual damage to the muscles and joints, though it may at times feel that way.
What Causes Fibromyalgia Symptoms to Flare?
- Mold Exposure: If you are in a Water-Damaged Building (WDB), that has been damaged in the past or is currently, the exposure to mold can cause symptoms to flare up. 11
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy: You may notice that you have difficulty sleeping, an increase in widespread pain, or headaches just before your period when your hormone levels drop. Your periods may also be more painful.12
- Stress: Chronic (long-term) stress may raise your risk of getting fibromyalgia. Also, even short-term stress, such as work-related stress, or a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, can trigger flare-ups in people who have fibromyalgia. 13 Especially now, while we are all under a tremendous amount of stress due the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. We are worried about our kids returning to school, or having to teach our kids at home, our jobs (both in and out of the home), and simply wondering if life will ever be “the same.”
- Weather: As fall approaches many patients to report pain with changes in barometric pressure (such as when the temperature drops from warm to cold) or when temperatures increase on hot, humid days.
- Poor diet: Eating processed foods with inflammatory trans fats and lots of sugars, especially, high fructose corn syrup, often triggers inflammation as well as histamine release, resulting in pain.
Brain Trauma, Mold Toxins, Heavy Metals, PTSD, and Fibromyalgia.
Brain trauma, such as from a fall or concussion, Mold Toxicity, Heavy Metals, and ACES. ( Adverse Childhood Events) all affect the nervous system. Once the nervous system is triggered, it activates the limbic system. The “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” part of your brain.
Your body’s response when this instinct is triggered is a cascade of physical events. It will cause blood vessels in the skin to constrict to lessen blood loss if injured. Simultaneously, it will shut down the digestive system in order to conserve the glucose needed for energy to run or fight.
In addition, your nervous system will cause muscles in the neck, shoulders, and back to constrict. Your bronchial tubes will dilate in the lungs in order to carry more oxygen to the muscles. Your heart rate will elevate to push blood flow to large muscles in order to react quickly, run fast, or come out fighting.
This is your body’s normal reaction to stress, and it is normal for you to feel the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. To address these concerns, we strongly recommend Annie Hopper’s Dynamic, Neural Brain Retaining system. ( insert affiliate link). This system helps combat not only the fight or flight response but the freeze response as well.
What Is The Treatment for Fibromyalgia?
There are medications available to treat the painful symptoms of Fibromyalgia including opioids, NSIADs ( ibuprofen, Aleve), acetaminophen and muscle relaxers as well as anti-seizure meds such as Lyrica or Gabapentin. Additional medications include the use of anti-depressants and sleep aids. However, often these medications can disrupt the gut and or mitochondria, causing a vicious cycle.
While some of these medications can be effective in helping ease symptoms like pain, fatigue, and insomnia. Often they come with side effects that make it difficult to maintain taking them for an extended length of time, and they are not treating the root causes.
The first step in treating fibromyalgia is by first treating the mitochondria. As always we start with diet and nutrients. The primary ways the mitochondria are protected are manganese-dependent superoxide dismutase, catalase, CoQ10, vitamin E, and glutathione.14
Holistic Alternatives for Treatment of Fibromyalgia
- Diet: Getting all the toxins and heavy metals out of your body, may help to relieve the symptoms. We recommend the Mold Detox Diet. This restorative diet detoxifies the body and helps with a variety of health issues. Most patients who are suffering from Mold toxicity and Fibromyalgia symptoms are also lacking in antioxidants. This diet helps to rebalance your body from the nutrients you are lacking.
- Manual Lymph Drainage: Manual lymph drainage therapy (MLDT) is a type of massage. It helps move lymph fluid through your body. Your lymph system helps rid your body of waste and toxins.
- Music: Music studies at a specific level showed that when it comes to Fibromyalgia; music can play a rehabilitative role through driving neural rhythmic oscillatory activity, and resetting or regulating the dysrhythmia. However, RSS, when applied as full-body vibrotactile stimulation, as in the present study, may also contribute to a reduction in FM symptoms by blocking pain perception through GCT, or by improving lymphatic drainage and lowering vascular congestion.15
- Yoga: Many studies are available that show yoga can help reduce the painful effects of Fibromyalgia. 15
- Meditation: We know now that meditation helps with neuroplasticity in the brain. A solid mediation program may help to rewire those pain signals.
- Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese medicine technique does wonders to help block pain pathways, as well as to treat the nervous system sympathetic overdrive causing a chronic fight or flight response.
- Limbic system retraining: learning to consciously control the perception of pain and the body’s response can be immensely helpful. Check out RetrainingTheBrain.com
Chronic Disease is never fun, and can even be debilitating. Disease in the body like Fibromyalgia, typically means there is a cascade of issues going on, that with patience and the right support, can be helped. You can live a life of health. Call our office to schedule an appointment for us to help you on your journey.