Dear Dr. Mom,
Does your tiredness have a fancy name? It may be more than just tiredness. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that is composed of many different symptoms. The primary symptom is pain and tenderness in multiple areas of the body. This is often linked to fatigue, sleep disorders, digestive problems, and depression. Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are considered to be overlapping disorders which many consider to actually be the same illness.
Many people consider these conditions to be psychosomatic in origin because people suffering from these conditions can look healthy and normal from the outside, and yet complain of so many different symptoms. These symptoms can include mental symptoms such as brain fog, forgetfulness, spaciness, depression, moodswings, anger, and extremes in behavior. Unfortunately, as a result many people with this disease are viewed with skepticism by medical practitioners and lay people alike and are often branded as hypochondriacs.
Another view of CFS and fibromyalgia is that the conditions are auto-immune diseases which are triggered by an infection. Most doctors take the view that Epstein-Barr virus, which is the virus that causes mononucleosis, is the primary culprit. This is rather doubtful, in my opinion, since most of the population is exposed to this virus early on in life without this virus triggering any serious long-term complications.
Then there is a new theory emerging among doctors who have used long-term antibiotic therapy to treat these conditions that fibromyalgia and CFS are not simply auto-immune diseases that are triggered by infections, but that the symptoms are signs of a chronic ongoing infectious disease process in the body. These doctors claim to have had excellent results in the treatment of these syndromes using long-term antibiotics, often in very high dosages. They have also had very good results with treating other so called “auto-immune diseases” with long term antibiotic therapy. Often, patients suffering from fibromyalgia, CFS, and other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis experience complete remissions after a long course of antibiotics.
The positive results that these patients are experiencing implies that many auto-immune diseases may actually be chronic undiagnosed bacterial infections. There are a number of pathogens that are not easily detected in the body through standard diagnostic procedures and that are not easily killed off through a short course of treatment. These pathogens may be involved in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. There is a new theory that chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia may be related to chronic mycobacterial infections.
It is also possible that many of these people actually suffer from Lyme Disease which has never been diagnosed due to the lack of proper testing. Lyme Disease is the fastest growing infectious disease in this country next to AIDS. Cases have been found in all of the lower forty-eight states. Lyme Disease is cause by a spirochetal bacteria called borellia burgdorferi. Borellia burgdorferi is a very resilient and adaptable organism. Doctors with clinical experience in the treatment of this disease have noted that certain antibiotics work for certain forms that the bacteria can take, but not for others. The spirochete can take a cyst form where most antibiotics cannot reach it. It also hides in the joints of the body, in areas of poor circulation, and it may hide within the cells of the immune system.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that only one in ten Lyme Disease patients are ever properly diagnosed. The CDC also estimates that it takes an average of thirteen doctors and an average of two years for these people to be properly diagnosed. By the time the diagnosis is made, the disease can be quite entrenched in the body. There are also often many co-infections in Lyme Disease patients that may cause a host of other complications. Nevertheless, since the disease and its associated co-infections are caused by bacterial organisms, and these organisms can be killed, there is hope for recovery.
Lyme Disease can cause all of the many symptoms that people with fibromyalgia and CFS suffer from. It can cause achy muscles and joints, depression, fatigue, migraine headaches, tingling nerve sensations, insomnia, sleepiness, digestive problems, poor circulation, blurry vision, hearing irregularities, mental problems, weak limbs, pain in the rib cage, liver enzyme irregularities, hypothyroidism, an increased tendency for red blood cells to clump together, swollen lymph nodes, and much more. The irregularities in liver function may be responsible for the chemical sensitivities that many people with fibromyalgia and CFS experience. Because the organism that causes the disease is often not in the bloodstream, it is difficult to diagnose the disease through testing. Doctors who are familiar with the disease tend to base their diagnosis mainly on the clinical symptoms the patient presents and the risk factors that the patient has had exposure to, using testing as only a secondary measure for making a diagnosis.
According to the doctors who use it, long-term antibiotic therapy may help people who suffer from fibromyalgia, CFS, Lyme Disease, and many other “auto-immune diseases”. Nevertheless, there can be serious side effects from this type of therapy. Antibiotics used a long period of time can cause kidney and liver damage. They can cause gallbladder problems. Many people also cannot tolerate oral antibiotics well because of the strain on their digestive system.
There are many alternative health options that can complement treatment with antibiotics and which may reduce side effects, and there are many natural remedies that have antibiotic and immune-enhancing properties of their own.
Acupuncture may help to improve blood circulation and oxygenation to various areas of the body, enhancing the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. The increase in oxygenation can also create an inhospitable situation for bacteria that prefer a low oxygen environment. It also can stimulate the body to release natural pain relieving opiates into the body. The improvement in blood circulation may also help to increase body temperature in hands and feet and other areas of the body that tend to get cold easily. These are often areas of the body where some bacteria which prefer a low body temperature, may tend to congregate. Massage and aerobics can also be used in conjunction with antibiotic therapy. It may help to improve the efficacy of antibiotic therapy by improving circulation.
According to Chinese research, there are many Chinese herbs that have immune enhancing and antibacterial properties. There are also many Chinese herbs that can help the various symptomatic aspects of fibromyalgia and CFS. Some herbs such as astragalus and schizandra can improve the body’s ability to handle stress and can boost immunity. Other herbs such as coptis and scutellaria have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Zyzyphus seed may help with sleep problems and anxiety. Bupleurum root may help relieve the moodswings and emotional aspects of fibromyalgia. The various types of ginseng can help to improve one’s energy level. Pseudoginseng, frankincense, and myrrh can help stimulate blood circulation and may help with symptoms of muscle weakness due to poor circulation. Walnuts, gingko biloba, frankincense, gotu kola, and fo-ti may all help with the brain fog and cognitive difficulties that many people with fibromyalgia and CFS experience. Codonopsis, atractylodes, mint, and citrus peel may all help with digestive problems. Chinese herbs are used together in herbal formulas that are individualized to address the pattern of disharmony that the person presents. They are generally not used separately on a symptom by symptom basis.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been used to treat people with Lyme Disease. Many have experienced good results and there is ongoing scientific research regarding its effectiveness. The bacteria that causes Lyme Disease prefers an oxygen deprived environment. Its presence in the body appears to increase coagulation of blood and decrease circulation. It may thereby create the oxygen deprived environment that it prefers. This is great for the bacteria but can be the source of much of the difficulty that a person with this disease experiences. Many of the symptoms that people with Lyme disease, CFS, or fibromyalgia complain of are similar to symptoms that people experience from altitude sickness, which is caused by oxygen deprivation at high altitudes. The fatigue, the mental difficulties, the sleepiness, the feeling of having a ton of bricks attached to one’s limbs are all similar to symptoms that people with altitude sickness experience. It makes sense that creating an oxygen-rich environment could potentially be very helpful. It is important to test for co-infections, because there are other bacteria that may be found that prefer a high oxygen environment, complicating the picture. There are potential side effects as well such as nearsightedness.
Colloidal silver is supplement that may have broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. Its proponents claim that it can aid all sorts of conditions from asthma to rheumatoid arthritis. It did appear to help my fatigue quite a bit at the early stages of my Lyme disease. There is the possibility that excessive use can cause a condition called argyria, which is a permanent bluish discoloration of the skin, although many people have huge quantities of colloidal silver with no problems at all. It is also helpful to take an acidophilus supplement while using this supplement in order to replace the good bacteria in your intestines and prevent problems with candida. Large amounts may be required to have an impact on Lyme Disease. It is possible to buy a colloidal silver generator and make your own colloidal silver at home. This is much cheaper than buying it on a regular basis at the health food store, but care must be taken to make it properly.
Aromatherapy is one of the most promising holistic therapies for conditions such as fibromyalgia, CFS, and Lyme Disease, in my opinion. The essential oils are concentrated versions of the volatile components found in herbs. It can take many pounds of plant matter to make an ounce of essential oil. For the most precious oil, made from the Bulgarian rose, it can take a ton of rose petals to make a pound of oil. Most of the oils have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Many of them stimulate the immune system and trigger increased production of white blood cells. The oils also improve oxygenation of the body’s tissues and promote detoxification. They may have a chelating effect, which means that they may assist in carrying toxins such as heavy metals out of the body. Some oils such as lavender can be sedative and aid with sleep and reduce anxiety. Oil of oregano, which is a popular supplement found in health food stores is essential oil of oregano diluted in vegetable oil. It is almost always necessary to dilute the oils before using them because they are so concentrated. Interestingly, many people with CFS, Lyme Disease, and fibromyalgia are likely to find that some of their symptoms worsen when inhaling the fragrance of the oils. This is often a detoxification reaction. People with Lyme Disease generally seem to derive greatest benefits from stronger dilutions of essential oil than most aromatherapists typically use. It is important to use care when the oils are utilized in this manner. The oils are processed by the liver and kidneys and may cause liver and kidney problems in extremely high amounts. One should reduce the amount used if there is nausea, or discontinue use if there is any allergic reaction. People with these diseases may discover that much of their fatigue, muscle weakness, mental fogginess, and pain can be significantly reduced with regular application of the oils. The oils can be used diluted in vegetable oil for massage of affected areas of the body, and they can be used by the drop in one’s bath water. They can also be absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs simply by inhaling their fragrance. The oils also penetrate the blood-brain barrier and may be helpful for neurological issues due to infections or other reasons. Some of the oils can trigger seizures in people prone to them. Some other oils, such as jasmine and ylang-ylang may help people to control seizures. Oil of oregano taken internally as directed can also be helpful in the treatment of Lyme Disease.
Massage can improve oxygenation of body tissues and improve blood circulation as well as reduce pain. If a person has fibromyalgia or CFS due to an infectious disease process, or a person has Lyme Disease, massage should only be used in combination with a therapy that is antibacterial in nature. Otherwise, it is likely to stir up dormant bacteria and stir up symptoms instead of providing symptom relief. When massage is used in combination with a therapy that is antibiotic in nature, it may improve the efficacy of that therapy by bringing bacteria out of hiding in order to be killed. Deep tissue massage may improve the efficacy of treatment with antibiotics, with herbs, with aromatherapy, or with heat. Used on its own, though, it may stir up latent problems in people with these conditions.
Heat can be helpful for treating Lyme Disease because the bacteria appears to prefer a low body temperature and is vulnerable to high heat. There are many different sources of heat that can be used to treat this condition. Heat can also be helpful for people with fibromyalgia and CFS who may actually have undiagnosed cases of Lyme Disease. People usually feel a worsening of symptoms before they feel an improvement with the use of heat. Perhaps this is because the heat stirs up the bacteria before it kills it off or triggers the immune system to kill the bacteria off. This is speculative. The use of saunas can be very useful. A far infrared heat lamp can be used on problem areas. Hot baths taken for forty minutes at 102-104 degrees Fahrenheit have been shown to enhance immune system response in people with infectious diseases and auto-immune disorders in a research study done at Bastyr University. A Chinese therapy called moxibustion can also be useful in warming problem areas. I do not recommend the use of cold packs or ice for pain in people with Lyme Disease, fibromyalgia, or CFS as these therapies reduce circulation to areas where circulation is likely to already be compromised. Also, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease appears to prefer a cool environment, so cold therapy may cause real problems in people with this condition.
In spite of the fatigue that people with fibromyalgia, CFS, and Lyme Disease may feel, a certain amount of exercise can be very beneficial if they are up to the challenge. It is important not to overexert oneself, but a brisk walk or other exercise that gets one’s heart pumping can be helpful. Again, exercise can be helpful because it can improve circulation in the body, and improve oxygenation of the body’s tissues. Exercises such as stretching and yoga that help to improve flexibility and loosen muscles can also be helpful. Hot yoga, where yoga is done in a room where the heat is cranked up can be particularly helpful because it combines exercise with heat therapy. It is important not to push too hard when doing exercise. The point is to improve your health, and not to wipe yourself out more.
Magnesium appears to be a useful supplement for people with these conditions. Many people report an improvement in their muscle pain when taking a magnesium supplement on a regular basis. It is important to reduce intake of sugar, dairy products and bread while increasing intake of green vegetables. Spirulina can be a useful addition to your health regimen as it is both nourishing and detoxifying. It may also be helpful to reduce consumption of tomatoes as they seem to encourage acidity in the body. Flax seed oil has an anti-inflammatory effect that can be very helpful. Alpha-lipoic acid is a helpful anti-oxidant. It may help nerve function and improve liver function.
As you can see, fibromyalgia, CFS, and Lyme Disease are complex ailments, but there are many promising therapies that people with these conditions are likely to find helpful.