Fibromyalgia Syndrome is a medical disorder that consists of widespread musculoskeletal pain, mood issues, sleep problems, fatigue, and memory issues. Individuals suffering from fibromyalgia experience pain differently than other individuals. Research has shown that their pain circuits are more sensitive than those without fibromyalgia. So a given amount of pressure or pain or discomfort will be experienced as more intense and painful, compared to someone without fibromyalgia. There are other abnormalities that may explain this, as discussed below.
It is estimated that approximately ten million American adults are affected by fibromyalgia; however, researchers believe that the exact number of sufferers is much higher. Although 75 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia sufferers are women, it also occurs in men as well as children.
Central Sensitization Explained
Many experts believe that one of the key mechanisms behind fibromyalgia is central sensitization. To help better understand this concept, you need to look at each word of the term central sensitization. This will help you better understand the concept of this term.
Central refers to your central nervous system, which includes the nerves found in the spinal cord and the brain. The central nervous system regulates how the brain responds to signals occurring in different areas of the body.
Sensitization refers to the gradual increase of nerve sensitivity that happens in response to certain substances or stimuli. When the central nervous system is continually exposed to stimuli, it can cause the central nervous system to stay on alert at all times.
Central sensitization is believed to be one of the key mechanisms behind fibromyalgia. Central sensitization can impact the way your body and your brain amplify pain signals. The pain pathways throughout the body can be “turned up” like an stereo amplifier, causing you to feel more intense pain. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine simply states that fibromyalgia is caused by central sensitization, which does not address the underlying causes.
What Causes Central Sensitization?
Central sensitization may be caused by a number of underlying biological imbalances, including a systemic immune imbalance, changes in the microbiome, hormonal imbalances, autonomic imbalances, mitochondrial dysfunction, and nutritional deficiencies. All of these can be connected, creating a vicious cycle. Let’s take a look at each of these imbalances and how functional medicine may help you correct these imbalances and find the fibromyalgia relief you need.
- Systemic Immune Imbalances
Central sensitization is caused by systemic immune imbalances, including inflammation of the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system, which includes the spinal cord, the brain, and the nerves located outside of the central nervous system. When inflammation occurs in the nervous system pro-inflammatory substances are released, which can cause central sensitization, and widespread pain throughout the body.
Inflammation can also stimulate pain in the actual tissues. You have nerves in most of your tissues including the skin, joints, muscles, and visceral organs. Inflammation can cause these tissues to become irritated, and can sensitize the nerves in these tissues. The result is increasing pain levels. Inflammation also causes changes in the vascular system, which prevents life-giving blood and oxygen from reaching nerve endings, resulting in fibromyalgia symptoms, including increased pain levels.
- Changes in the Microbiome
The microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that live on and in the body. The majority of the microbiome is located in the gastrointestinal tract and helps you digest food, absorb nutrients, and influences many different biological processes throughout your body.
In order for you to have optimal health, your microbiome must have a diverse population of healthy bacteria. Unfortunately, many individuals have an unhealthy gut bacteria makeup. That is called “dysbiosis”. Environmental toxins, food additives, processed foods, medications, overconsuming alcoholic beverages, eating too much sugar, herbicides and pesticides on food, and tap water can alter gut bacteria, causing dysbiosis and resulting in a plethora of health problems.
It is known that people with fibromyalgia syndrome are more likely to have alterations in their gut microbiome. This may worsen pain, mood, and energy directly because of the substances that the bacteria produce which alter brain function. And it may worsen pain, mood, and energy indirectly by driving systemic inflammation.
- Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones are chemical messengers that help to keep the body in balance. There are more than 50 hormones in the human body that regulate pretty much all of your biological processes. There is intimate connection among your different hormones. For instance, the hormones and neurological activity of your pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and sex hormones are intimately connected. Various kinds of illnesses, lifestyle choices, and emotional or physical trauma can result in loss of regulation of these hormonal systems.
Many people with fibromyalgia and fatigue have loss of regulation of the adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones. These hormonal imbalances can contribute to increased pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, loss of sexual drive, and other symptoms.
With appropriate guidance, there are a number of things that can bring the hormonal system back toward balance. That includes reduction of inflammation, improved sleep, appropriate exercise, nutritional supplementation, stress reduction, and healing emotional trauma.
- Autonomic Imbalances
The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary actions in all the organs of your body. It has two branches which are often called the “stress response” and “relaxation response”. These two branches have opposite effects on all your functions like blood pressure, heartbeat, digestion, immune function, muscle function, thoughts and emotions, and breathing. In our difficult times, many people are walking around with an overactive stress-response. This is even more true for people who have chronic pain or chronic illness. Autonomic nervous disorders have been associated with complex regional pain syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and fibromyalgia.
Studies have shown that fibromyalgia sufferers have a higher heart rate, increased muscle sympathetic nerve activity, and decreased sleep efficiency. When the autonomic nervous system is not functioning properly, individuals may experience exaggerated pain sensitivity.
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Millions of mitochondria are found in all the cells of your body and are necessary for your survival. Mitochondria produce the energy that the cells need for function. In addition to this, mitochondria store calcium in cells until it is needed, help produce heat in the body, and determine when old or damaged cells should be destroyed and removed from the body.
Mitochondrial functional can be impaired from toxins, chronic inflammation, biochemical stress, overactive hormones, infections, and mental/emotional stress. When mitochondria stop functioning properly, energy is not provided to cells. Mitochondrial dysfunction is found in many chronic pain and illnesses including migraine, fibromyalgia, depression, autoimmune illness, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. There are mechanisms by which mitochondrial dysfunction can contribute to central sensitization and widespread pain, as well as fatigue, brain fog, and other cognitive problems.
- Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies have been associated with increased pain levels. When the body is not receiving the nutrients that it needs for optimal health, bodily functions and processes can be altered. Some of the processes affected include nerve signaling, enzyme functions, metabolism, and digestion. Certain nutritional deficiencies have been associated with disease, including vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium.
Calcium – A calcium deficiency can cause numbness and tingling in the extremities as well as abnormal heart rhythms. Calcium is needed for nerve function and muscle health.
Vitamin D – A vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, and mood changes.
Potassium – When your body does not receive enough potassium, your nerves, heart, and muscles do not work properly, and the body is unable to remove toxins from the body.
Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 deficiencies have been associated with fatigue, weakness, neuropathy, and numbness, and tingling in the extremities. In addition to this, systemic inflammation can occur.
Magnesium – Magnesium is essential to energy production and healthy bones. If you have a magnesium deficiency, you may experience fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, irregular heart rhythm, and numbness and tingling in the extremities.
Functional Medicine Can Help With Fibromyalgia
Functional medicine is designed to determine the root cause of an illness and correct the problem rather than just treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Our functional medicine doctors work to identify biological imbalances and seek to correct them. Once these imbalances have been addressed and remedied, the symptoms of fibromyalgia will be minimized or relieved.
- Diagnosing Nutritional Deficiencies
Our practitioners use a variety of blood tests, discuss your diet, and do a thorough examination of your overall health. These exams and tests will help the doctor determine if a nutritional deficiency may be exacerbating your fibromyalgia symptoms.
Our nutritional intervention protocols will identify key nutrients you need, advise dietary changes, and recommend nutritional supplements to improve your health and reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Our world is filled with toxins. They are found in the air, soil, and water. Many of the foods we eat are filled with pesticides and herbicides. Toxins can build up in the body and cause a plethora of symptoms. Toxic overload can lead to fatigue, systemic inflammation, and increased pain levels.
Functional medicine addresses toxic overload and uses proven detoxification processes to eliminate toxins from the body while restoring health naturally through dietary modifications, daily exercise, and stress relief techniques.
- Heal Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut
When the gastrointestinal tract becomes imbalanced, it can affect every aspect of your health. Your immune system can begin functioning poorly, resulting in systemic inflammation and decreased pain tolerance.
As bad bacteria overwhelm the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, the tight junctions in your GI tract may allow undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream, causing a host of medical complaints. As these food particles enter the bloodstream, inflammation and nutritional deficiencies can occur.
Using the leading protocols, our team of doctors will help correct these imbalances. Recommendations may include a detoxification program, eliminating processed foods and replacing them with whole foods, probiotic supplementation, and prebiotic supplements.
As your gastrointestinal tract begins healing, your nutrient absorption will begin to improve. Our team of doctors will also explain how vitamins and minerals interact with one another. For example, certain vitamins are fat soluble, which means they require a small amount of fat to dissolve and be absorbed by the body. Others are water soluble. Once you understand how vitamins and minerals interact with food and one another, you will know which vitamins should be taken together.
Finally, antioxidant supplementation is key to a healthy body, decreased inflammation, decreased pain, and reduced free radical damage. Some of the top antioxidants to include in your supplementation regimen include vitamin C, vitamin E, and powerful polyphenols found in colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce Inflammatory Issues
Inflammation is one of the key factors in fibromyalgia and central sensitization issues. Systemic inflammation can be caused by a number of things including food sensitivities, toxin exposure, stress, lack of sleep, and processed foods.
Functional medicine discovers the root cause of your inflammation and offers proven therapies and techniques to reduce inflammation and its effects on the body, including correcting autonomic imbalances and improving mitochondrial function. As function is restored to the mitochondria, the symptoms of fibromyalgia will begin to dissipate.
Lifestyle Measures and Mind Body Care Balance the Nervous System and Improve Your Well-Being
Lifestyle changes, including dietary modifications, daily exercise, and stress relief techniques are designed to help balance the body and mind. We work with you to create a program that helps balance your nervous system and relieve your fibromyalgia symptoms.
Some of the most common stress relief techniques we recommend include:
- Deep Breathing Exercises – Focusing on your breathing for a few minutes can almost instantly calm both your body and brain. Inhale deeply through your nose and then purse your lips and blow gently through your lips, feeling the stress leave your body as you exhale.
- Meditation – Meditation is an Eastern practice that helps relieve your stress. There are many different types of meditation, including mantra chanting and mindfulness meditation. Meditation is designed for internal focus, which helps you release stress.
- Yoga – Yoga is a type of exercise that incorporates gentle stretches with breath control. This type of stress relieving exercise not only reduces stress, but also calms the nervous system, helps relieve muscle tension, and reduces painful fibromyalgia flareups.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you focus on releasing tension in each muscle group. Begin at the top of your head, breathe deeply and relax the muscles in your forehead, then cheeks, then jaws. Continue working down through each muscle group until you reach your toes.
Our team of functional and integrative medicine doctors use a variety of tests to determine any underlying issues that may be contributing to your fibromyalgia. Once these issues have been determined, we will develop a health protocol that may include a healthy diet, a supplementation program, a detoxification program, an exercise regimen, and stress relief techniques. You can take control of your health, reduce systemic inflammation, calm your nervous system and relieve the many symptoms of fibromyalgia.