Written by Alexandra Preston
Fibromyalgia is an often debilitating and isolating condition involving soft tissue pain and stiffness, particularly in localised “tender points”; unrelenting fatigue; cognitive impairment; and other symptoms that vary between patients. Once dismissed by mainstream medicine, fibromyalgia is now known as a disorder of central sensitivity. To know that it’s not all in your head brings relief, but after being diagnosed, you may be left wondering, what’s next? What therapies are the most effective? Will things ever be back to normal?
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Reine DuBois, our naturopath at The Health Lodge, states that “post viral syndrome, stress, mould, hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances, and postnatal depletion” are the main causative factors for fibromyalgia.
Patients with fibromyalgia commonly have a history of chronic infections, such as Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6), Mycoplasma species of bacteria, chlamydia, and Lyme Disease. Toxic mould can also cause, or mimic, fibromyalgia. These infections can trigger fibromyalgia by beginning the cycle of chronic inflammation, which results in symptoms including pain and fatigue. Swedish researchers have found that patients with this condition have higher levels of inflammatory markers in the brain and bloodstream. It’s “in your head”, but you aren’t imagining it.
The hormone imbalances that may contribute to fibromyalgia typically originate in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Dysregulated cortisol and other HPA disturbances caused by chronic stress may increase the risk of this and other central sensitivity disorders. Research has shown that early-life stresses, such as abuse, are linked to the severity and risk of fibromyalgia. Current stress and anxiety may also decrease pain threshold. Sleep disturbances have been found to lower pain threshold even further, partly by worsening stress. This means that poor sleep can magnify your symptoms.
As for postnatal depletion, this is an overlooked but serious complaint even found in mothers who gave birth ten years ago! The demands of childbearing and child rearing cause psychological stress and deplete the body of nutrients, which further lowers tolerance to stresses. Research has suggested a range of nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to fibromyalgia. These include antioxidant vitamins and minerals, which protect against oxidative stress and the resulting inflammation and over-sensitisation. Iron deficiency can contribute to fatigue as can deficiencies in amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) responsible for energy and neurotransmitter production. Additionally, nutrients required by the mitochondria in cells for energy production, including coenzyme Q10 and creatine, may be lower in patients with fibromyalgia.
Integrative Treatments for Fibromyalgia
A multifactorial chronic illness sounds impossible to beat, but Reine states that “Full recovery is 100% possible - I have many success stories - but it takes a team to restore the patient to full recovery”. The ideal team may involve “a naturopath, chiropractor, osteopath, IV technician, Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioner, and an acupuncturist”. A naturopath can help you to work with nutritional deficiencies, immune dysregulations, hormonal imbalances and lifestyle advice, such as on sleep hygiene. IV infusions can provide rapid relief from severe deficiencies, and vitamin C in particular can help with the inflammation and oxidative stress that drives pain. Chiropractic and osteopathic care, as well as acupuncture, can help to remove energetic blockages and aid injury healing.
While you may be familiar with the other therapies, what is SE? SE helps to release negative patterns from the body, such as holding or bracing, that can result in fatigue and are often caused by accumulated stress or trauma. One of our practitioners, Miles Sanderson, states that “Often there is fragility, pain or fear of pain that is held within the system [the body]. This often comes with a certain sense of vulnerability and a sense of not being able to trust the system. Often there is affiliated contraction, holding or tension associated with this… SE helps to ease that tension and bring more relief to the overall wellbeing of the system… there is more capacity to tolerate the everyday of bodily sensations.”
Another integrative therapy that may be helpful is low-dose naltrexone (LDN). A crossover trial involving 31 women with fibromyalgia found that LDN led to a 28% reduction in pain, compared to 18% when they took the placebo. Additionally, LDN was associated with improvements in life satisfaction and mood. LDN increases levels of our own opioids, which can help reduce pain perception, and by reducing nervous system inflammation.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), also known as Photobiomodulation or Cold Laser Therapy, uses light to stimulate the mitochondria, boost circulation, and stimulate immunity. This relieves pain and fatigue, while calming inflammation in tissues such as the nerves. A clinical trial found that LLLT significantly reduced pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia compared to a placebo.
If you currently suffer from fibromyalgia, do not despair, as there are so many treatment options available for you. For readers who have not begun their healing journey, the links above to book appointments with our practitioners may be helpful in getting started.