Over the years of working with fibromyalgia (FM) sufferers and writing about FM stress always bobs up as a key associated factor closely followed by the inevitable cause and effect argument that tends to ensue with no one really coming out any the wiser! Naturally, suffering from a disabling, medically unexplained and often untreatable condition brings inherent stresses of its own with it, but there is some compelling data suggesting that a pre-FM state of being may exist in many sufferers that is stress sensitive and may possibly form the basis of their system breakdown that ultimately leads on to the clinical picture we know as FM.
It is not uncommon for me to hear how a FM suffer is finding it so hard to get use to a reduced level of activity after being “so busy” or “driven” in work or sports. Many FM sufferers can recall how well they use to multi-task juggling work, family life and the gym without a second thought and how they needed that ‘burn’ at the gym to feel energised and on top of life and if they missed their routine fix of exercise how flat they felt, and this was before they developed FM. The interesting thing with all these stories if just how similar they are; active, driven often very successful individuals now living lives they could never imagine; lives of pain, fatigue, loss of motivation and in many cases social isolation. Naturally, depression and stress are more than likely to develop in such circumstances but what is even more intriguing is the idea that a pre-FM state existed that actually required all the stimuli of multi-tasking, the work-buzz and the physical burn of the gym just to keep that person feeling normal. The key tipping point is when it all stopped… that’s when the system crashed and burned.
Within the FM community, how many times do we hear the story of how well everything was going before that ‘virus’ hit and confined the person to bed for some time or that ‘injury’ took the person out of circulation for a good while as it healed. Alternatively, someone’s entire life and routine could be blown out of the water by a bereavement or redundancy at work. A virus, an injury, loss/bereavement, redundancy… there are all very common triggers for FM but are they actually to blame or were they simply the catalyst that broke the behaviours that simply kept the person going? Data to support this theory does exist and revolves around exercise-based research. We now know that within a group of healthy individuals who are exposed to regular exercise some develop widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue and mood disturbances (the same or very similar profile to that of FM) after a brief period of the exercise withdrawal while some don’t. Even more profound was the fact that the symptomatic individuals, who appeared to suffer so badly following the withdrawal of their exercise, also displayed other typical features of FM such as altered autonomic function, reduced immune (especially NK-cell) responsiveness and other bodily reactions typical of hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) dysfunction. In essence, they appeared to develop all or many of the clinical features of FM!
The authors of the study suggested that, in some, there exists a pre-existing hypo-functioning stress system that requires regular stimulus just to remain normally stimulated. This mechanism follows the principles of what is known as ‘allostasis’, in which the body seeks to maintain balance, and may explain why so many FM sufferers report living very active, stimulating and to onlookers stressful lives prior to developing FM. It appears that while they were unknowingly self-medicating with stimulus from all angles they were doing so simply to feel normal; it was the only way they could kick their hypo-functioning stress systems into life. However, with this theory comes further questions such as why do some people have hypo-functioning stress system to start with? The possible answers to this part of the puzzle may lie in the long accepted association between early life stress and a dysfunctional stress regulating systems. It is known that early life stress is strongly linked to the development of FM with the pivotal trigger being an over or under active stress regulating system; it is known that early life stress can trigger one or the other. In the case of an under active stress regulating system, having a life full of stimulus and arousal not only distracts from us from dwelling on negative life events it also stimulates the body and maintains a normal level of being. Anything that interferes with this will tip the body into a negative spiral both emotionally and physically as the full effects of the underactive HPA system kicks in. With prolonged removal from life events and routines that enhance arousal a chronic state of low HPA activity becomes the normal and the clinical picture of chronic fatigue syndrome with FM (CFS/FM) becomes established.
While this will not offer a universal explanation to the development of CFS/FM it does put forward a provocative argument for many cases and should assist in managing stress or a system that needs a bit of stress to feel normal. May be this helps to explain why some CFS/FM sufferers do so well on natural agents such as TriAdren (a special blend of standardised adrenal supporting ingredients; ginseng liquorice root and vitamin C) while others feel such a benefit from agents designed to calm an over active HPA system such as Zen-Time with Lactium. In the case of the low functioning HPA system enhancement with graded exercise and carefully balanced adrenal stimulants such as those in TriAdren help to give the lift this subset of CFS/FM sufferers need while the central nervous system calming effects of the Lactium ingredient contained in the Zen-Time formula eases the agitation and stress related symptoms that typify an over active HPA system. Either way, managing CFS/FM is an ever evolving science and art but the basic science that underpins the simple act of withdrawing exercise and observing the effects on healthy individuals has open many new angles for further study.
Learn more about TriAdren at www.supersupps.com
Learn more about Zen-Time with Lactium (and take the FREE online stress test) at www.zen-time.co.uk