It seems that more and more these days people arrive in my office telling me that they have fibromyalgia. I ask them point blank if their doctor diagnosed them with it – some say yes, some say no.
The common thread through many of their individual stories however is widespread body pain, often fatigue, and a growing inability to physically function. So what’s up with that? Why is this condition occurring more often now than even in the last ten years?
Let’s see if we can break this down. The fibromyalgia basically refers to pain or inflammation of muscle fibers. This condition affects 2 – 13% of the population, over 80% of which are female.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic, widespread pain which includes pain on both left and right sides, as well as upper and lower parts of the body.
The widespread chronic pain, as well as strategic pain points (tested by a physician through physical exam), must exist for at least 3 months or longer.
There are adjunct issues that run alongside a true fibromyalgia picture – we often see dysfunctioning thyroid, low metabolism, depression, chronic long-term stress and unresolved traumas even from many decades past.
People who diagnosed with fibromyalgia will often report sleep disturbances, headaches, gastro-intestinal dysfunction, muscle stiffness and cognitive challenges.
The medical community still to this point has many hypotheses as to to why Fibromyalgia occurs, most of which has merit, but does not necessarily pinpoint an exact cause for what triggers it to develop.
The first theory lies in the neurotransmitter deficiency hypothesis – the thought that serotonin levels in the brain are what contributed to heightened pain perception. This theory has now been disproven.
The second and more recent hypothesis has to do with a potentially inadequate thyroid hormone regulation – underproducing thyroid, inability for the body to adequately convert one thyroid hormone to another, and the individual body’s resistance to thyroid hormone output in general.
These all connect with other adjunct factors – low physical fitness, nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, chronic stress and lifetime unresolved trauma along with medications that can impede metabolism in general.
So how can we best address Fibromyalgia? Personally, I think the answer to all of this is multi-factoral. There are common themes that most people experience, but the underlying factors, or physiological triggers will differ for everyone. Fibromyalgia is never a one size fits all diagnosis nor treatment.
For everyone that walks through my office with this, officially diagnosed or not, my first step always is to order specific tests. Whether it’s checking neurotransmitter levels, hormone testing, food sensitivity tests, environmental, or micro and macro nutrient levels, these are areas that are always addressed.
No two people are ever alike in their health condition and ultimately no treatment approach will ever be the same for everyone. Guaranteed though, 100% of the time, treatments are geared to be multi-pronged.
From physical medicine to nutritional and dietary changes, hormone therapy, and exercise plans - we can as a minimum address some key fundamental aspects of this mysterious illness.
If you suffer from these issues, do not hesitate to talk to your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor. Get properly diagnosed through correct testing and assessment - the DIY approach here simply does not apply.
Your doctor or naturopath can work with you to create an appropriate treatment strategy that is unique for you as the person you already are.
This article first appeared in the Herbal Collective Aug'19 issue. Dr. Olena Gil, a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist who runs Indigo Medicine, is a regular contributor to the Herbal Collective.
Disclaimer: Information in this article should not be construed or used as a substitute for medical evaluation or advice. See your naturopathic physician for proper evaluation and prescription.