It is estimated that fibromyalgia (FM) affects nearly 1.2 to 2 million people in England alone, causing chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog.
Fibromyalgia affects more women than men. Originally recognized as an unavoidable part of normal ageing, it became a defined pathology when officially recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1994 (Hauser and Fitzchild, 2018). However, many patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a rheumatologist or a pain medicine specialist report having another health care professional state that: “fibromyalgia does not exist” (Petzke et. al, 2017). In this article, I will explore the limitations of conventional treatments for fibromyalgia. In doing so, I introduce the functional medicine approach to healing auto-immune diseases such as fibromyalgia.
“I think I have fibromyalgia, what are my treatment options?”
Conventional medicine offers limited options to help people with fibromyalgia and focuses only on managing symptoms through pain drugs and antidepressants. For that reason, the NHS claims there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia. However, they do offer limited treatments like talking therapies, antidepressant medications, and exercise, to help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with (National Health Service, 2019). Functional medicine, on the other hand, looks to find the root causes of fibromyalgia (as well as other chronic diseases) and treats the problem at the root level in order to restore the patient to optimum health.
I’m confident that this article will help you to understand why other symptomatic approaches to fibromyalgia fail and what I can do to help you achieve your health & wellness goals this time with an approach that is both holistic and yet, 100% science-based.
Digging deep to find the root causes of fibromyalgia
The conventional way of treating fibromyalgia does little to nothing to eradicate the underlying causes of the disease. Therefore, traditional treatments are limited in how far they can rebuild health & enhance the quality of life in the sufferers.
In functional medicine, we see things differently. Instead of working on the tip of the iceberg: the apparent pain, inflammation and depressed mood, we work on the submerged part of the iceberg. Causes not apparent to the naked eye. This is the investigative side of functional medicine and our first line of action. We investigate underlying biochemical glitches causing the disease process at a cellular, molecular, and organ level with the help of functional diagnostics. Most importantly, the functional medicine experts excel in this area of investigative medicine by caring to understand the causes, antecedents, and triggers of any chronic and degenerative disease before applying a remedy to solve the problem. Therefore, I’m personally concerned with understanding the root-causes of fibromyalgia in my patients.
Treatment in the past unsuccessful? This visual could explain why.
Root causes originating in the digestive system
There are several studies connecting fibromyalgia with digestive issues. Let’s see three of them:
- 73% of patients with fibromyalgia reported GI symptoms, compared with 37% of those with osteoarthritis (Triadafilopoulos et. al, 1991).
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is present in 30–70% of fibromyalgia patients (Wallace and Hallegua, 2004).
- FM syndrome occurs in up to 60% of patients with functional bowel disorders. 70% have symptoms of IBS (Chang, 1998)
Candida is a fungus or yeast normally present in small colonies in our intestine. It is normal to host small amounts of Candida in the gut. However, this yeast can overpopulate our gut when we experience chronic stress, excessive alcohol drinking or a poor diet. Under such circumstances, the gut lining becomes irritated, inflamed, and finally ruptures. Consequently, Candida penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxins substances once found in tissues in the body.
Often, this course of unwanted events is highly detrimental to our health manifests as insomnia, skin issues, unexplained fatigue, and more. Most of the patients with fibromyalgia that I’ve seen in practice (about 95 – 100% of them) had Candida overgrowth. So Candida is my first line of investigation. I use an advanced functional test to measure the by-products of microbial metabolism. This test detects the presence of pathogenic microbial overgrowth. Want to know more about Candida specifically, learn more here.
SIBO and Leaky Gut
When colonic bacteria translocate into the upper gut region, or small intestine, and decides to overpopulate it, a phenomenon called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, occurs. SIBO comes with a host of very unpleasant symptoms, as well as pain and inflammation. With SIBO, the walls of the gut become irritated and severely compromised. Eventually, the one-cell-thick gut walls become porous and particles of proteins and bacteria invade the bloodstream. A porous gut-lining, Leaky Gut Syndrome, is one of the initiating factors of all auto-immune disorders, including FM.
Critically, with SIBO, our digestive system struggles to properly absorb key nutrients like vitamin B12 or Zinc. These nutrients are needed daily for optimum immune function and cellular repair. To find a sustainable way out of fibromyalgia, the body requires a bunch of daily nutrients to restore cellular function. This downregulates inflammation and triggers the proper immune response. SIBO, if present, must be eradicated, in order to promote healing of the lining of the gut. Subsequently, the healing of leaky gut syndrome results in a healthy digestive process (digestion, assimilation, excretion). Thus, a proper and faster resolution of FM.
You will be astounded to know that in an important study, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that 100% of fibromyalgia patients they studied (42/42) had SIBO (Pimental et. al, 2004)
Cross-Food Reactivity of Hidden Food Intolerances
You don’t need to have full-blown Celiac disease to be gluten intolerant. A simple so-called ‘gluten sensitivity’ is enough to wreak havoc with your health. I’m sure you’ll find very interesting to know that the majority of symptoms of gluten intolerance do not manifest in the digestive system. In fact, in the neurological system and that they present as pain, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment, behavioural issues, unexplained fatigue, anxiety and depression. Accordingly, I investigate gluten sensitivity with a functional multiple food reactivity (intolerance) test that also allows me to see if your immune system is also reacting to protein particles in other foods that resemble gluten (cross-reactivity). Removal of the offending foods for a given period of time during which I work towards repairing the damaged gut is an essential stage in fully recovering from FM.
Tatiana Mercier, Auto-Immune Disorders Specialist
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