Scientists estimate that fibromyalgia (referred to commonly as Fibro) affects five million Americans 18 or older. Of the five million diagnosed with fibromyalgia, between 80 and 90 percent are women. For sufferers, fibromyalgia offers a life jam-packed with frustration, not only when it comes to pain but also regarding shedding pounds.
Many autoimmune specialists claim fibromyalgia is psychosomatic, while patients feel like they’re being judged. Most people don’t understand how a person who looks perfectly healthy can suffer from chronic pain. In fact some call it the “Look Great, Feel Lousy” disease. Achy joints and inflammation persist, which doesn’t help with self-confidence or body image. And how can you remain physically fit when you’re constantly aching?
Sara Mittler, a trained yoga instructor confesses, “When my fibromyalgia symptoms were raging, I quit teaching yoga. It took everything I had to push past the pain and attend a yoga class. And even then, I had to spend half the class in child’s pose. My joints just couldn’t handle it.”
Fibromyalgia patients who push past the pain and regularly workout may find that despite maintaining a healthy diet, it’s impossible to lose weight. Common problem ares like the stomach, only add onto body image issues.
Yet reducing weight holds an elusive promise—the pain itself might be reduced, if they could just manage to cut those excess pounds. But why can’t they just burn off the weight and start living a normal life again? Many patients find themselves stewing in self-repulsion.
But it’s not the patient. It’s the fibromyalgia.
Where Does It All Begin?
Fibromyalgia can often be traced back to four main problems: hormonal imbalances, poor gut health, thyroid imbalances, and toxic build up. These combined health issues can really mess with the metabolism and make it really damn difficult to knock off those extra pounds:
1. Hormone Imbalances
Several studies suggest there may be a link between various hormonal imbalances and fibromyalgia, but whether these imbalances are a cause or an effect of the chronic pain condition is yet to be determined. Studies show that when fibromyalgia patients with specific hormonal imbalances were given supplemental hormone levels, symptoms were not lowered, suggesting that hormonal imbalances are just part of a more complex problem.
Many fibromyalgia patients have low levels of cortisol, a hormone which affects adrenal function and contributes to muscle aches and weakness. Lowered cortisol levels also cause sleep disturbances and cognitive impairments.
You don’t need a scientist to tell you that lowered energy and muscle pains are going to make it really hard for you to be as active as other people. Studies show that sleep deprivation can alter metabolism, affect appetite, cause adrenal fatigue, and decrease energy expenditure, which all contribute to weight gain, while making it extremely difficult to lose weight.
Some studies show that around 30 percent of fibro patients have low levels of the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) growth hormone. IGF-1 promotes the growth of muscle tissue and bones. Common symptoms of those who lack sufficient levels of this hormone include muscle weakness, fatigue, and cold intolerance, as well as muscle, memory, and concentration problems. The inability to use muscles that are constantly in pain and already fatigued, along with concentration problems, make weight loss close to impossible—regardless of a healthy and active lifestyle.
2. Digestive Disorders
Studies show that 73 percent of patients with fibromyalgia report gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. Over half of Irritable Bowel (IBS) patients also suffer from fibromyalgia, and 50 percent of fibromyalgia patients report that their bowel worsens during exacerbations from their joint disease.
As we’ve seen before with issues of pH balances, nearly every type of health issue is related to digestive issues and inflammation in the digestive organs. A U.K. study showed that chronic inflammation is linked to weight gain and the difficulties of losing weight. By healing the inflammation in the gut, balancing their pH, and eating healthy, patients are taking giant steps towards self-healing and weight loss.
3. Thyroid Issues
“The number one issue I see in most of my fibromyalgia patients who are trying to lose weight is a hypothyroid,” notes Dr. Nathan Wei, a board-certified rheumatologist with more than 35 years of practice and clinical research experience, and Director of the Arthritis Treatment Center. “I am surprised how many patients come to me with a fibromyalgia diagnosis without having taken a thyroid test.”
Hypothyroid issues slow the metabolism and make it hard to burn off calories and lose weight. A 2004 study found a link between thyroid autoimmunity and fibromyalgia. Hypothyroidism and other thyroid issues are not so easily detected, and Western doctors don’t always ask for a proper thyroid panel or know how to properly analyze test results. There are also a lot of similarities between thyroid conditions and fibromyalgia.
Thyroid issues are extremely common. According to national estimates, 10 to 40 percent of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function. Alternative health experts say the issue is being exasperated by cell phone usage and other forms of radiation. A recent Israeli study showed a possible connection between the rise in thyroid cancer and the increased exposure to radiation emitted by cell phones.
4. Toxic Buildup
Research shows that chronic digestive issues usually lead to a weakened liver, which can lead to a toxic overload from pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and chemicals.
The EPA conducted a program that analyzed human fat samples from cadavers obtained throughout the USA in both 1982 and 1987. In both cases they found four industrial solvents and one dioxin in 100 percent of the fat samples. Nine more chemicals, including three more dioxins and one furan, were found in more than 90 percent of the fat samples.
In general, 83 percent of the fat samples contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). U.S. researchers have confirmed the presence of multiple toxins in human fat associated with obesity risk. And it doesn’t seem like this is going to change anytime soon, as the EPA has recently confirmed the presence of chemicals in farm soil across America.
Research has uncovered that these toxic chemicals cause weight gain and weight loss issues because they bind to gene signaling within white adipose tissue. They also induce new fat cells to form while increasing inflammation at the same time. The newly formed fat cells are often damaged by the toxins and cannot perform normal metabolic functions, which includes an inability to make leptin. Leptin is a hormone that regulates energy balance by inhibiting hunger. These damaged fat cells only have the option to fill up with excess fat and toxins. The constant toxic buildup in cells, combined with chronic muscle pain and fatigue, continue to make every day a challenge for those with fibromyalgia.
Fibro: What The Bleep You Can Do
Fibromyalgia patients should be tested for thyroid, hormone, and digestive disorders as well as for toxic buildup. Various practitioners such as Dr. Wei and our own advisors here at Honeycolony, naturopath Michelle Corey and Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, author of How to Live 150 Years perform tests to determine very specific issues.
For example, the majority of patients suffering with thyroid issues are unaware, and 90 percent of sufferers have hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Six different blood markers—TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies and Thyroglobulin Antibodies—must be checked in order to measure your thyroid gland’s function.
Dr. Wei reports that not only does he test his patients for thyroid and hormone issues, but he also does a food allergy test on them as well. This helps determine what food sensitivities they have. “Many of our patients have specific food allergies. Once they’re aware of them and cut them out of their diet, they start noticing changes right away.”
As far as toxic buildup, Dr. Wei always checks to see what region of the country his patients have lived or spent time in, as every region has its own specific toxins. Personal life choices are also taken into consideration. “A lot of toxic buildup issues depend on what a patient feels like they were specifically exposed to.”
Exercise is extremely effective at healing all these issues, but so many patients feel too much pain and fatigue to work out. Dr. Wei also finds that too many of his patients are doing the wrong types of exercise. “Running on the treadmill or a stationary bike just isn’t going to do the trick. Cardio isn’t effective unless it’s mixed with strength training.”
Some exercises are simply an ineffective way to spend your time working out. The increasingly popular high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises are extremely effective. Studies show that a pattern of short bursts of vigorous exercise followed by restful interludes is more effective at burning weight than straight cardio workouts. That’s because HIIT workouts build muscle while burning weight, which helps you burn fat even after the workout is over.
Learn more about Benefits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training):
“Many fibro patients who get waves of inspiration to work out, jump into a big workout and then quickly burn out. It’s best to start slow. Dedicate one or two minutes a day to working out and then gradually build up,” Dr. Wei advises.
Be patient and realistic as you optimize your health and slim down. Don’t forget to boost your gut health with probiotics and digestive enzymes. Use these powerful tools that can help in the battle against fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorders.