Fibromyalgia is classed as a syndrome - basically that means Medical Science hasn't proved what causes it. It just happens.
Firstly, I'm not denying that people have chronic, unexplained pain in all areas of their body at all. I fully appreciate that there are a lot of people out there with Fibromyalgia who struggle every day because of pain and the cost that that puts on their lives.
Lets dive in to what it is - what are thought to be causes - what we can do about it - how I can help and more in what is likely to be a short series of articles on Fibromyalgia. By the way, I know it's not all in your head.
Is it all your fault? IS it all in your head? What the answer be in the gut?
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
If you're spending your time reading this, you probably know all of this but I need to put the background work in so that you understand the end. Keep going, it won't take too long.
Pain Sufferers have chronic widespread pain that often covers much of your body. It can come and go and you can suffer good days and bad. Particularly with pressure so a nice massage is often not an option to relieve the tension.
Fatigue - possibly due to the pain, you may suffer sleepless nights, bouts of insomnia, restless leg syndrome (yet another syndrome!!)
Or other gut problems. It is common to find, if you have FM, that there will also be some sort of chronic gut/bowel problem like coeliac disease or IBS
Headaches - regular migraine like headaches most likely linked with the muscle tension in the body.
TMJ disorder - Temporo-mandibular Joint dysfunction of disorder is also common - frequent locked jaw and pain in and around the jaw and temple region.
That all sounds like a lot of fun.
The causes of Fibromyalgia
Well, unfortunately medical science hasn't yet defined an answer for that yet.
However, having read a fair amount of research on the topic evidence to point towards it being an over reaction of the Immune System AND also triggered by some large emotional disturbance i.e. giving birth, parents divorcing, your divorce or some other event or stress in your life.
Fibromyalgia rears it's head when there are high amounts of Interleukin's in the blood - Interleukins are an immune response marker.
Your white blood cells attack the nervous system making you respond to pain AND have muscle aches and chronic pain possibly throughout the body. Hypersensitivity to touch and pain could quite easily be caused by an over reaction of the Immune system which can attack our own tissues - this is called auto-immunity.
The immune system can also attack the lining of the gut - it can attach any tissue in the body, between 70 and 80% of our immune tissue lies in and around the intestines so it seems that that is the logical place that could be the starting point for any auto-immune inflammatory condition to begin.
If the layers of the gut wall (which are only one cell thick) are weakened by poor diet, unlucky genetics then they are more susceptible to attack by the immune system.
If you consider the skin as a barrier to the outside world, there are 5 layers of skin (the epidermis) of which there are multiple cell thicknesses - like the great wall of China in comparison to a flimsy fence of the gut.
If there is damage or dysfunction to ANY part of the digestive system we are opening ourselves to a whole new world of infection from the inside. In our guts, however, a thin plasterboard wall in comparison to the skin, there is only 1 cell between the things we have eaten (the outside world) and our blood stream. If things can easily pass through the gut lining, that shouldn't be able to, we can open oursevles up to a whole host of auto-immune conditions including Fibro.
I won't go into too much detail here but here's the headlines:
Gut lining is weakened due to poor diet/stress/environmental or Genetic Factors etc
Mineral and Nutrient absorption reduces
Gaps appear between the cells of the gut
Undigested molecules -macro molecules - of food enter the bloodstream
Inflammation of the gut occurs
Increased Immune response - auto-immunity can occur
Gut lining is weakened further
A vicious circle
No wonder people with FM often have gut problems!
OR no wonder people with gut problems have FM?!
Remember, the gut wall is ONLY one cell thick, it does have protection from other systems like Mucus and acid in the stomach should kill a lot of the bacteria that enter our body too.
BUT if you have a genetic problem, low acid in your stomach, weakened microbiome for whatever reason - i.e. antibiotics, bad diet, high sugar, not enough greens etc you are going to be susceptible to a flare up or to "get" FM.
Maybe the TMJ disorder is linked!
Total Pete theory - bit of a sideways leap here - you are warned
Your body is a pretty clever system, it knows how to fix itself. If the gut is chronically "poisoned" by the food that we eat - well, lets close the front door (the mouth), stop the inflammation by stopping the influx of food that causes the inflammation.
In my book, that's a pretty smart move.
I'll explain more on this later as it gives us a clue about what we could do to help!
When you are stressed cortisol, amongst other hormones, is released from our adrenal glands. Cortisol is an important hormone - it literally gets us up in the morning. It's also an ANTI-INFLAMMATORY
Studies have shown that sufferers of FM have very "topsy turvy" cortisol events during the day. They may suffer a sudden spike of cortisol at a random point in the day.
Could you be releasing high amounts of Cortisol as a natural anti inflammatory response to an immune problem?
To make this clearer, we need to understand cortisol a bit better.
As I mentioned above - cortisol is what gets us up in the morning. We SHOULD have a large spike of cortisol around 30 minutes after waking up in the morning. Levels should then slowly decline for the rest of the day.
However, stress of work, time pressures of running around after your kids, stressful events in your life, (also see above for divorce/moving home/infection etc) can increase the amount of cortisol in your system throughout the day.
If your cortisol levels are high at the end of the day. What are your chances of getting a good night sleep?
When cortisol levels are too high we do NOT turn off.
Then we don't sleep very well,
Then your brain doesn't have the time to rid itself of the toxins that have built up throughout the day.
Arguably one of the main reasons we sleep is to clean the brain of toxic debris accumulated through being awake.
Sleep is your body's way of cleaning, resetting and resting so that you can get up and do it all again the next day.
If you don't get that recovery a whole host of problems can occur.
So, If you are eating food that is high in histamines, that casues an inflammatory reaction to occur you are attacking your gut lining.
In turn, this has a viscous cycle of continually getting worse because when you're stressed you make poor food choices.
We get stressed because you know you are eating the wrong things
Therefore you are in pain, which then keeps you awake
You look up cures for Fibromyalgia on your phone for the millionth time which makes it harder for you to fall asleep AND you're in constant pain.
Your'e grinding your teeth because your so stressed and hungry and end up getting lock jaw.
And to top it all off you get sodding Migraine.
So, What on earth do you do now?
Find out about diet in the next article