This blog post originally appeared on Further Food.
Fibromyalgia consists of a complex array of symptoms, which include widespread muscle and joint pain along with overwhelming fatigue. It is often a diagnosis with higher prevalence rates in women and has been described as one of the “most controversial conditions in the history of medicine.” To many medical critics, fibromyalgia is one of several “somatic syndromes” driven by sensationalized media coverage, self-interest, and litigation. For these critics, chronic pain syndromes are believed to reside in the minds of the sufferers.
A variety of social and medical critics view chronic pain as a post-modern illness sharing a lineage with nineteenth-century pseudo-maladies like hysteria. These illnesses, they contend, originate in vulnerable human psyches. Central to these suspicions is the seemingly unshakable belief that chronic pain is a psychosomatic disorder, with the implication that the sufferer’s pain is not medically “real.”
Psychosomatic explanations ultimately reduce chronic pain to mental factors, the consequences of which are significant.
One consequence is that psychosomatic pain is inevitably devalued and the credibility of its sufferers is questioned. Another consequence is that accepted treatments for “physical” pain, like analgesics, may be discouraged even when they may be necessary. Often, being invalidated triggers depression and anxiety, which increases the burden of the disease, adds to the pain, and results in more stigmatization.
A lot is at stake, then, if chronic pain is conceived as psychogenic.
When it comes to fibromyalgia, there is a lot that Western Medicine continues to ignore. There is still no certain cause or recognized treatment that works for everyone. Many things, however, have become, at least anecdotally speaking, crystal clear:
1. People who suffer with symptoms can find relief by making certain lifestyle choices.
2. The expression and manifestation of Fibromyalgia is diverse and what works for one person might not work for another.
3. Fibromyalgia symptoms can have a significant impact on your life—your work, relationships with family members and friends, and your overall outlook.
4. A combination of treatment modalities is very beneficial.
Many people who suffer with fibromyalgia turn to their diets when making lifestyle choices that will offer relief and improve their overall functioning. The fibromyalgia-diet connection has in part emerged from the idea that people with fibromyalgia have mitochondria dysfunction, and therefore they need to increase levels of certain nutrients in order to produce enough energy.
While research hasn’t indicated specific foods that all fibromyalgia patients should add or avoid, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports eliminating and adding certain nutrients to the diet for relief. For example, caffeine and highly processed foods are often linked to exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms. The relief that comes through this kind of mindful eating is buttressed by other healthy lifestyle choices, such as adding an exercise regimen to your day, getting enough sleep, and reaching out to a mental health professional.
Since fibromyalgia is so diverse in its symptom presentation, what works for one person might not work for you. There will most likely be trials and errors as one finds relief, and a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach will likely work best. This might include dietary changes, psychological support, and perhaps medications and/or herbal supplements.
Whatever your journey entails, I know and trust it is worth the hope of a healthier and happier life. You can and will come to thrive, one step at a time!