Most of us live in a world of stress. Technology carries information to us relentlessly, at lightning speed. We work long hours to pay for a rising cost of living. We try desperately to provide our families with the attention they need. Something has to give, and it’s usually sleep. Meanwhile, we subsist on junk food, caffeine, alcohol and prescription medications. Such a lifestyle isn’t good for anyone. But for an unlucky few, the toll is severe. Perhaps an illness, a trauma, or an emotional crisis pushes you to the breaking point. The result? A debilitating case of fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
FMS and CFS are barometers of the stress we face here in the 21st century. Although these conditions have been around for hundreds of years, today’s faster pace of life seems to trigger them with greater frequency. I have a colleague who describes it this way: We’re all born with a bucket, whose size is genetically determined. And as you go through life, you’re constantly dumping toxins into your bucket. If you accumulate more toxins that your bucket is designed to handle, it will overflow. And that’s when you develop one or both of these syndromes.
FMS and CFS are results of internal biochemical (hormonal, enzymatic, neuronal and chemical) imbalances that manifest themselves as physical symptoms (pain, weakness and mental impairment.) They are syndromes– collections of signs and symptoms, rather than diseases– illnesses with very specific symptoms and reproducible laboratory findings. FMS and CFS are alike enough to be considered the same syndrome. Although they are not precisely identical conditions, 70% of patients diagnosed with FMS also meet all of the diagnostic criteria for CFS.
Two percent of the population is reported to have FMS and/or CFS, although the figure should be much larger. This is primarily because so many individuals have some of the symptoms required to meet the current diagnosis criteria, but not all of them. But for someone so sick and tired that she can’t sweep the floor, get out of bed or even remember her children’s names, not being “sick enough” for official diagnosis is small consolation, indeed.
Who gets CFS/FMS? Most of my patients are either perfectionists or caregivers: Type A “doers” or Type B “givers.” The Type A patients work and work and work until they burn out. Type B patients give and give and give– nurturing spouses, children, family, friends until they break down. Most FMS/CFS sufferers are women, but anyone whose lifestyle includes very little downtime is at risk.
Once your bucket overflows and you develop FMS and/or CFS, you may face more challenges than just your illness. Your family and friends may hold the frustrating belief that your problems are “all in your head.” Even worse, your physician may agree. And if your physician does realize you have FMS or CFS, he or she will probably focus on controlling the symptom by prescribing various medications; muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. They end up masking unwanted symptoms with chemicals, which may be justified in the short-term. But in the long- term, prescription drugs can lead to dependence and further complications. Worse, this treatment doesn’t get at the root of the problem. FMS and CFS are caused by a body’s inability to maintain homeostasis– a healthy balance.
The goal must be to get the body’s innate healing ability to return to normal. An integrated approach that combines the best of traditional and alternative medicine may include the judicious use of prescription medications to temporarily relieve symptoms, but it will focus more on natural, nutritional and physical therapies combined with spiritual wellness techniques.
Here are a few of the many techniques you can use in restoring balance:
• Get eight or more hours of deep, restorative sleep each night. If you don’t do anything else, start here! To regularly get a good night’s sleep, you may need to normalize your level of serotonin. This may require that you make dietary changes, take natural supplements, and begin a regular exercise program.
• Restore optimal adrenal function. Use adrenal extracts and DHEA. Years of poor sleep, fatigue, pain, excessive stimulants, poor diet and relying on prescription medications may have used up the adrenal glands and the hormones they release.
• Find, avoid, and slowly, with a rotation diet, reintroduce any allergic foods. The elimination diet is an important tool in restoring proper digestion and eliminating common and sometimes mysterious symptoms associated with FMS/CFS.
• Take a comprehensive multivitamin and mineral formula. It’s no secret that our food supply is tainted with poisonous chemicals and laden with preservatives that rob the body of needed nutrients. You must take supplements for optimum health.
• Supplement with essential fatty acids (EFAs). It is estimated that at least 25 percent of the population suffers from some amount of EFA deficiency.
• Supplement with an amino acid formula. Amino acids are the building blocks of life. They help regulate our thinking, energy, moods, pain, mental functions, digestion, immunity, and more.
• Eat a healthy diet. A diet built around healthy principles goes a long way towards increasing your chances of being healthy. Avoid simple carbohydrates. Increase your intake of good fats. Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, aspartame, and preservative-rich foods.
• Test for and treat low thyroid with prescription or natural glandular extracts. A study of thyroid function showed that 63 percent of FMS patients studied suffered from some degree of hypothyroidism
• Manage your daily stress. Take time for yourself. Learn to say no. Stretch, exercise regularly. Take vacations. Watch less TV, get more sleep.
• Find your inner self. What is this illness trying to show you? Is God giving you an opportunity to reevaluate your life?