Fibromyalgia is a horrible syndrome, but understanding more about it and the fibromyalgia symptom triggers that incapacitate patients gives some hope for remission and recovery.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
The basis for diagnosis is similar to the fibromyalgia definition, which requires that you have pain in more than 19 parts of the body and have fatigue, memory or thought problems. To complete the diagnosis, the symptoms have to have lasted at least 3 months, and cannot be explained by anything else. Fibromyalgia affects 2-8 percent of the worldwide population, most of whom are living with chronic pain.
“Fibromyalgia has been described as Central Pain Amplification Disorder, meaning the volume of pain sensation in the brain is turned up too high.”
Unfortunately, there is not yet a definitive test for this syndrome, although there is hope for one within five years. It is currently defined to a large extent by what it is not – by eliminating other possible explanations for the patient’s symptoms. It is not an autoimmune, inflammation, joint, or muscle disorder.
Fibromyalgia is most common in women, though fibromyalgia in men also occurs. It most often starts in middle adulthood, but can occur in the teen years and in old age. In other words, it can happen to anyone at any time, and it can’t be tested for because we know what it is not, rather than what it is. You have to be in pain for at least 3 months before anyone is willing to give a diagnosis, which is one of the reasons this syndrome is so horrible. Many people suffer for years before receiving a diagnosis or any treatment.
Fibromyalgia Symptom Triggers
We don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, but current research suggests an involvement of the nervous system, particularly the brain and spinal cord. Often some triggering factor that sets off fibromyalgia. It may be spine problems, arthritis, injury, or another kind of physical stress. Emotional stress may also be a trigger. Depression understandably frequently accompanies fibromyalgia and we know that brain chemicals and proteins may change. Since the syndrome can run in families, there seems to be a level of genetic involvement, however, although genes alone do not cause fibromyalgia.
Treating Fibromyalgia in Hong Kong
Here in our Hong Kong clinic, we recently saw a young woman suffering from fibromyalgia. She had been in pain for years. The trigger seemed to be antidepressants given after the adrenal burn out of a high-pressure job. She chose our clinic for the combination of holistic care offered, as a lot of treatment available seems focused on fibromyalgia medication to reduce pain, without trying to address root causes. This can lead to further issues such as opiod addiction, so looking at longer-term outcomes is important.
While waiting for the results of a comprehensive set of tests we addressed some of the irritable bowel issues she was experiencing. We recommended removing gluten and dairy, and gave some supplements to support her detoxification system. Within 4 days she was feeling 30% better and encouraged by how she was feeling. Inspired by an article she read online, she decided to also remove oxalates from her diet. Our next appointment with her, only 2 weeks after the first, saw a significant improvement of 70% in both physical and mental symptoms.
Are Oxalates Fibromyalgia Symptom Triggers?
Many foods we normally consider healthy, such as spinach and berries, are high in oxalates. Click here for information on foods to avoid.
Oxalates can form oxalic acid, which is the most acidic organic acid found in our body. To give you an idea, commercially, oxalic acid is used to clean the rust from a car’s radiator. Most commonly oxalates bind with calcium to form sharp crystals that generally form kidney stones, but can also form in bones, joints, blood vessels, lungs, and the brain. The sharp crystals can cause damage in tissues which can lead to inflammation and an escalation of pain.
We know that some individuals with fibromyalgia and vulval pain syndromes can suffer from excess oxalates. Interestingly, and of concern in Hong Kong, oxalates can also bind with heavy metals such as mercury, but instead of assisting the removal of the toxin, the oxalate complex becomes trapped in the tissues. Oxalate toxicity has been noticed in significant numbers of autistic children. Possibly this combination with increased heavy metal toxicity may be a factor in increased pain sensitivity in those on the autistic spectrum.
While our main source of oxalates come from our diet, another source is from yeast and fungal overgrowth, especially the black mold Aspergillus, so common in Hong Kong. Candida can also be a culprit. In certain individuals, too much Vitamin C (in excess of 4 grams per day) can be converted to oxalates in the body. Once we know the problem exists, there are many supplements and strategies we can use to support the reabsorption and excretion of oxalate crystals.
In the meanwhile, our patient continues to improve. The only way we will know if oxalates play a part in our patient’s pain will be for her to add them back into her diet, but her experience has encouraged us to test for oxalates in managing chronic pain cases in the future. If you are struggling with chronic pain and you fit the profile we described above, removing oxalates from your diet to see if they are fibromyalgia symptom triggers might be worth a trial. Please call the clinic at (+852) 2523 8044 if you are in Hong Kong and believe you may be dealing with fibromyalgia.