FIBROMYALGIA About 200 years ago, the term ‘muscular rheumatism’ was coined in Scotland for a poorly understood illness that resulted in poor sleep, fatigue, stiffness, aches and pains, and tender spots sensitive to touch.1
Half a century later in this country, the term ‘neurasthenia’ came into vogue for pretty much the same group of symptoms but was associated with the mental and emotional disturbances associated with the stresses of modern life. Twenty years later, another name, ‘fibrositis’ – meaning ‘inflamed fibers’ - was created to describe pretty much the same disorder.
In the 1970’s, there was yet another change in nomenclature because the inflammation and swelling of the connective tissue implied by ‘fibrositis’ was actually not present in patients with this condition.
Thus, the designation ‘fibromyalgia’ came into being: “fiber-muscle-pain.’’
By the 1980’s, clinical research was being carried out to try to understand this somewhat mysterious and often misunderstood ailment. Diagnostic criteria were developed to identify people experiencing fibromyalgia, and conventional medical protocols were established to try to control, though not cure, the symptoms.
Fibromyalgia (FM), as it is currently understood by conventional medicine, is a syndrome, not a disease. That is, it is a collection of symptoms that consistently occur together, but the origin and mechanism by which these symptoms arise is not fully understood. Most characteristically, there is hypersensitivity to pain (‘pain amplification syndrome’) and the condition is systemic, non-inflammatory and not progressive in nature.
Diagnosis does not rely on cell pathology, blood tests, x-rays or other similar imagining procedures, but on two simple hands-on clinical exams. A person is considered to have FM if they: 1- widespread pain in all 4 quadrants of the body for at least 3 months, 2- a positive pain response on 11 our of 18 specific tender points that have been identified around the neck, shoulder, chest, elbows, hips, and knees.
People with FM often are directed to rheumatologists because of the nature of their symptoms, despite the fact that it is not a form of rheumatism, or find themselves making the rounds to a number of physicians without diagnostic or treatment success. And, while there is increased awareness about the syndrome compared to a few decades ago, it is still not uncommon for these complaints to be dismissed as psychosomatic or just ‘aches and pains.’
But these are definitely not simply neurotic manifestations. In the early 2000’s, through the use of specialized MRIs, it was possible to see how the brain and nervous systems of people with FM and those without reacted differently to similar touch stimuli. The former group definitely was experiencing something the latter was not.
Other symptoms commonly experienced by people with FM are: numbness, headaches/migraine, dizziness, unusual sensations like tingling or prickling, gastrointestinal problems, painful menses, restless leg syndrome, temperature sensitivity, noise and light hypersensitivity, poor memory and concentration (‘fibro fog’), disturbed sleep and mood disorders.2
Estimates of the number of people with FM in this country vary. The American College of Rheumatology puts it at somewhere between 3 to 6 million. Others believe that the true number is 2 or 3 times that much, but that many persons are misdiagnosed as having arthritis or Lymes disease, or not diagnosed at all. Interestingly, about 90% of those diagnosed with FM are women.
Although there is not an officially recognized causation, a number of intriguing hypotheses have been advanced in recent years. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which is a division of the National Institutes of Health, is studying the genetic disposition toward FM and have made correlations between the presence of certain genes and a higher incidence of the syndrome.
Other research is focusing on the correlation between adrenal gland function and FM, since people with low levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which is produced by the adrenals, produce similar symptoms. While there certainly is logic to this line of inquiry - since people FM often appears after experiencing physical, mental or trauma, which over time would tend to depress the cortisol, clinically one finds that it is quite common for many types of ailments to arise after trauma.
Since the early 1990’s, there has been research done both in France and by Dr. John Lowe in this country, which indicates a strong correlation between inadequate thyroid regulation and the fibromyalgia. He states that this deficiency would account for ‘43 out of 46 subjectively verified findings in fibromyalgia patients’3. (Interestingly, Lowe does not encourage the use of thyroid replacement hormones to address the issue, but more on that later…) In addition, Dr. Lowe believes that other factors including low or abnormal cortisol, inadequate blood sugar regulation, sex hormone imbalances, pro-inflammatory diets, nutritional deficiencies, low physical fitness, and adverse effects of a variety of prescription drugs aggravate the condition.
There is also a great deal of evidence that chronic fluoride toxicity, which is known to undermine thyroid function, also plays a critical role in the development of FM. Overexposure to fluoride is not only due to fluoridation of our drinking water, but also through fluorinated drugs such as the antibiotic Cipro. The side-effects of this drug are legion, and many mimic those of fibromyalgia.
1. Sherron M. Stonecypher, History of Fibromyalgia, July 7, 1999 2. Chakrabarty and Zoorob, 2007 3. Mercola.com: The Simple Fibromyalgia Treatment that’s Nearly Always Overlooked… 2011 4. Earthlink.com: Fibromyalgia, Cause and Cure 08/11/2011
Aside from symptomatic relief with analgesics, sleep medications and various mood stabilizers, there is no curative conventional treatment for FM, let alone an understanding of its cause.
In this regard, as well as symptomatically, it is similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (formally known as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, CFIDS). The most predominant symptom of this disorder, as the name implies, is extreme fatigue. But usually there is muscular pain and weakness, headaches, fevers, swollen glands, poor sleep and diminished cognition.
CFIDS has been an officially recognized entity since the late 1980’s and it is not usual to find a person diagnosed with both conditions together. But while CFIDS most often develops after a prior illness such as mononucleosis or upper respiratory illness, and would therefore seem to be linked to a lingering viral or other microbial presence, FM has no such clear antecedents.
One causal connection that has been made is to the thyroid gland. According to Dr. John Lowe, who has researched and written extensively about FM, states that, “lab test and treatment results of fibromyalgia patients we’ve studied strongly point to a conclusion: Around 90% of our patients have had thyroid disease of one form or another. ”1
The ‘one form or another’ basically refers to two types of thyroid dysfunction that Lowe has identified: insufficient thyroid hormone production and cellular resistance to thyroid hormone uptake. This parallels the two forms of diabetes, another hormonal/glandular disease.
The parallel between the two does not stop there. Based on his research and clinical experience, one of the main factors that leads to thyroid disease and becomes an obstacle to recovery for FM patients is a diet that induces blood sugar and cellular metabolism irregularities. This typically means a diet high in carbohydrates and refined food, which is also the main culprit in diabetes.
So, one of the main ingredients in treating FM is to institute a low sugar, low grain diet using mostly organic foods with a high percentage consumed raw. Again, this is perhaps the most effective diet for most diabetics.
What Lowe very clearly does not recommend is simply supplying the patient with thyroid hormone, especially synthetic hormone, as a means of correcting the imbalances. Thyroid hormone is only part of an integrated approach that includes, in addition to the diet, supplements that correct nutritional deficiencies, exercise along with balancing other hormonal imbalances such as adrenal deficiency.
Lowe also finds that pharmaceutical drugs are most often an impediment to full recovery because they create further metabolic imbalances. Wherever possible, he encourages the avoidance of these medications.
Another causes of thyroid disease and thus fibromyalgia, not explicitly mentioned by Lowe is the presence of various toxic factors such as heavy metals, chemical toxins such as pesticides, and pathogenic viruses or other microorganisms. The relative presence of these and the treatment to cleanse the body of them will vary according to the patient, but a good place to begin is by removing mercury amalgams from the teeth.
Homeopathy is yet another quite effective treatment for fibromyalgia that is complementary to the above-mentioned approaches. From a symptomatic perspective, there are any number of homeopathic medicine that may reduce pain.
Perhaps the most common one would be Rhus Toxicodendron, a remedy derived from common poison ivy. It is has strong affinity for the connective tissue where there is soreness, stiffness and/or a bruised sensation. These pains tend to be aggravated by dampness and cold, on beginning to move and by rest whereas continued motion and warmth are beneficial. Overall, the patient needing Rhus Tox will feel restless.
Quite opposite in nature are the symptoms of the remedy Bryonia, commonly known as Wild Hops. The Bryonia individual wants to stay as still as possible because motion, even slight motion, aggravates the pains. They feel worse by heat and dryness, better by coolness. The muscles feel hard, and patient is adverse touch. Most of all they just want to be left alone.
But more than these symptomatic remedies, deeper homeopathic cures are brought on by constitutional homeopathic prescriptions. These are medicines chosen on the characteristics of the patient overall and not just the pains. They act at a causal level to reinvigorate a depleted or disturbed vitality. In 2004, the results of a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial of individualized – or constitutional – homeopathic treatment for fibromyalgia that was funded by the National Institutes of Health was published in the journal ‘Rheumatology’. The study show that, compared to placebo, a significantly higher percentage of patients on active medicines experienced less pain, improved health in general and more alpha brain wave activity. 2
1. http://www.drlowe.com/geninfo/clarify.htm 2. Bell, IR, et al: Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology, 43:577-82, 2004a