Almost 16 million North Americans suffer from fibromyalgia (FM), a multi-system disorder and common rheumatic syndrome that has also been referred to as the “invisible illness” because of the difficulty in diagnosing it. The name fibromyalgia is rooted in Latin: fibro, meaning supportive tissue; myo, for muscle; and algia, for pain. The hallmark of fibromyalgia is widespread pain throughout the muscles, stiffness and chronic aching. It affects women more than men, and usually strikes between the ages of 30 and 60 years. It accounts for 15 to 30 percent of all visits to rheumatologists.
The pain of FM is thought to be caused by a tightening and thickening of the thin film of tissue that holds muscles together. A diagnosis of FM will be confirmed if your doctor finds pain or tenderness in 11 out of 18 trigger points located in the knees, hips, rib cage, shoulder and neck.
Many of the symptoms of FM overlap with those of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The main symptom difference between the two is profound fatigue in CFS and muscle pain in FM. Treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome focus on the elimination of viruses that may be causing the fatigue whereas FM treatments look at reducing the inflammatory factors that cause the pain and swelling of joints and muscles. Due to the many symptoms of FM and CFS, a combination of therapies may be required to get the conditions under control.
The symptoms of FM are varied and no two sufferers are the same. Symptoms can include: allergies; anxiety; mental confusion; fatigue; dysmenorrhea; ridged fingernails; stiffness; inability to exercise; gastrointestinal problems; depression; mood swings; headaches; irritation by light, sound or odors; dizziness; heart palpitations; sleep disturbances; carpal tunnel syndrome; skin is tender to the touch; swollen joints; total body aches; and pain. Non-restorative sleep is a major symptom; those who are affected sleep but never feel rested.
When people describe their muscle fatigue, they liken it to shoveling snow or gardening for days without a break, or say that it feels like the muscles are being stretched and torn.
The unique nature of each person’s collection of symptoms makes FM difficult to diagnose. Many tests, including urine, blood, CAT scan, magnetic resonance imaging, X-ray and more, may be conducted without any clear indication of what is wrong with the person, and often sufferers are referred to psychiatrists. Life becomes unbearable for those living with FM. It can also be difficult for family and friends to understand this shadowy disease.
No one cause can be pinpointed, but it is believed that multiple stressors, a traumatic emotional or physical event and depressive episodes that upset the functioning of the immune system contribute to the disorder. It is suspected that there is a connection between FM and CFS as those with FM usually have a history of extreme, relentless fatigue. Viruses may have a hand in it, such as Epstein-Barr virus or fungus like Candida albicans. New research is showing that undetected Lyme disease may be the root cause. Heavy metal and chemical toxicity, as well as nutritional deficiencies, are major players in the progression of FM. Allergies are also thought to play a role in FM, and they must be diagnosed and addressed to allow healing. Low serotonin levels and low DHEA are also seen in those with FM. Physicians must peel away the causal layers of each symptom and treat each symptom individually in order to eliminate this disorder.
The Inflammation Factor: The immune cytokine interleukin-6 is one factor responsible for causing pain and inflammation. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol cause the immune system to secrete inflammatory factors and high cortisol also causes DHEA levels to drop. FM sufferers generally have very low DHEA levels. DHEA is an important anti-inflammatory hormone, reducing pain symptoms effectively. Many FM sufferers have found that none of the supplements they try work. There is a good reason for this. FM is made worse by the release of interleukin-6, and, unless we turn off this powerful inflammatory immune factor, we are not getting to the root of the problem.
Strengthens immune system, enhances T cells and natural killer (NK) cells
HEALTH TIPS TO ENHANCE HEALING
Eat a balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, nuts and seeds, whole grains and fresh wild fish to fight FM. Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels.
Avoid processed, refined foods; they are high in sugar, salt and hydrogenated fat.
Include MULTIsmart to ensure adequate nutrient status.
If struggling with poor digestion, include DIGESTsmart and Regular Girl to help aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
Drink plenty of pure, filtered water – eight to ten glasses daily. For every beverage (other than herbal tea) that you consume, drink another glass of water.
Eliminate alcohol, smoking and caffeine.
Get regular exercise, but don’t overexert yourself. Gentle, moderate exercise improves your circulation and enhances your mood and overall well-being. Even walking to your mailbox or sitting in a chair and raising your arms and legs can be beneficial.
Laugh! Rent videos, see a stand-up comic and hang around funny friends. Laughter as well as exercise can improve mood. Keep a positive frame of mind.
Ensure adequate rest. If experiencing insomnia or poor sleep, include SLEEPsmart
Practice deep breathing exercises to ensure sufficient oxygen intake.
Detoxification is extremely important. Saunas allow toxins to excrete through the skin; dry brushing before a shower or bath will increase circulation and stimulate lymph flow; and internal herbal cleanses combined with fiber will eliminate waste from the intestines and support the liver and kidneys. Have an Epsom salts and baking soda bath every night. Pour one cup of each into a bath. Run the water through your shower filter rather than the tap to ensure you are not soaking in chlorinated water.
Start a diet diary and write down everything you eat and see if there is any increase in symptoms or their intensity after eating certain foods. Ask for a referral to an allergy specialist and get tested for possible triggers. Once you know what you are allergic to, avoid those allergens. Environmental allergies should be tested for as well.
Have dental amalgams removed to reduce your toxic load.
Massage, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments can help speed healing.
When you are having a bad day, rest. On your good days, enjoy them to their fullest without overexerting yourself.
Since there are multiple causes to this illness, there are multiple cures. What works for one person may not work for another due to biochemical individuality. Do not give up; the most important gift is the power of faith.
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