The Top 5 Underlying Causes Of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia affects millions of people, and mainstream medicine has little to offer in the way of meaningful solutions. This debilitating condition is known for symptoms such as chronic fatigue, depression, painful muscular points, and sleep disorders. In fact, what fibromyalgia is, in the world of conventional medicine, is actually just a cluster of symptoms.
You cannot test for it. You cannot find a gene or a germ that causes it. That is why those struggling with fibromyalgia are typically given pain medication or antidepressants and are told to learn to cope with their symptoms. The problem with this approach is that a fibromyalgia diagnosis tells you nothing more than the symptoms. It says nothing of the cause, and there is no treatment to address the cause. Because of this, a diagnosis is a starting point, not an answer to your problems.
Functional medicine, unlike conventional medicine, takes a different approach. We practitioners seek to uncover the myriad of underlying factors that cause chronic conditions like fibromyalgia. We want to know the symptoms of course, but to us, those symptoms point to origins.
This process begins with running labs that typically aren’t used in the conventional model, because we already know that fibromyalgia drugs do not touch the cause. They are bandaids covering up the clues. Functional medicine is also called “systems medicine” because it looks at all the different systems of your body and their complex interactions. Let’s look at some of the systems I examine in my patients who are suffering with fibromyalgia, to discover where things might be going wrong first, that can spiral into the symptom cluster we call fibromyalgia:
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1. Gut dysfunction
The majority of your immune system resides within your complex and sophisticated gastrointestinal system. The trillions of bacteria that live in your gut comprise a delicate and changeable environment called the microbiome. When this system is thrown off balance – when beneficial bacteria lose out to more pathogenic bacteria – the cascade effects to your entire system can be extreme and may lead to (or just worsen) fibromyalgia symptoms. Many people struggling with fibromyalgia have undetected gut issues such as:
- Chronic yeast or fungal infections, like candida overgrowth
- Bacterial infections or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Food intolerances
- Gut hyperpermeability (leaky gut syndrome)
Many of my fibromyalgia patients have at least one of these gut conditions and addressing these issues directly can help people begin to feel like themselves again.
2. Toxic overload
We’re all inundated with toxins every day – food additives, industrial chemicals, and environmental pollution, even the cleaning and beauty products we willingly expose ourselves to in our own homes. This constant toxic exposure can take a toll on health. Human bodies are resilient and can handle a certain level of the toxic onslaught, but some people are more sensitive to toxins than others and may begin to experience dysfunction sooner rather than later.
That is why toxicity is another potential tipping point. My fibromyalgia patients often have labs that show heavy metals such as mercury and lead or mycotoxins from mold. I also look at detoxification pathways, because even a “normal” toxic exposure can become problematic if the body is sluggish in its attempts to detoxify the system impaired detoxification pathways can be caused by genetic mutations that are quite common, and which make detoxification extra difficult and slow. In turn, toxic buildup can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms.
3. Hormone imbalance
Your endocrine system is a complex and intelligent system of glands and organs that release and use hormones. When this system stops working optimally (many external and internal factors can cause this to happen), hormonal deficiencies or dysregulation may cause fibromyalgia symptoms. Some specific examples include adrenal fatigue, thyroid disorders, (1) DHEA levels, and estrogen and testosterone imbalances. Addressing the hormonal imbalance may go a long way in relieving fibromyalgia symptoms.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
Your body works on nutrients you take in from food, and if you aren’t getting enough of what you need, multiple systems in your body could begin to malfunction. That’s why knowing your body’s nutrient levels is essential to understanding potential causes of fibromyalgia. In particular, deficiencies in magnesium, vitamin D, (2) selenium, and glutathione (3) may all contribute to the development of fibromyalgia.
5. Nervous system problems
Who knew whiplash or bad posture could contribute to fibromyalgia? Since your nervous system supplies energy to all other systems of your body and your neck is sometimes referred to as “the arc of life,” neck injuries or chronic bad posture can actually contribute to chronic inflammation, adding stress to all your body’s systems.
As you can see, no one “magic pill” could possibly resolve a condition with so many potential causes and such a wide array of symptoms. That’s why the best solution to address fibromyalgia is a comprehensive health program that considers all these issues.
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- John C. Lowe MA, DC, Richard L. Garrison MD, Alan J. Reichman MD, Jackie Yellin BA, Mervianna Thompson RN, MSN, APN & Daniel Kaufman MD (1996) Effectiveness and Safety of T3 (Triiodothyronine) Therapy for Euthyroid Fibromyalgia, Clinical Bulletin of Myofascial Therapy, 2:2-3, 31-57, DOI: 10.1300/J425v02n02_04
- Matthana MH. The relation between vitamin D deficiency and fibromyalgia syndrome in women. Saudi Med J. 2011;32(9):925-929.
- Sendur OF, Turan Y, Tastaban E, Yenisey C, Serter M. Serum antioxidants and nitric oxide levels in fibromyalgia: a controlled study. Rheumatol Int. 2009;29(6):629-633. doi:10.1007/s00296-008-0738-x
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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