Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
One woman's fight against pain
by Michael Braunstein
When it's time for a change in our life, we can usually rely on some simple signs to tell us. Many times we don't listen. Many times we miss rather obvious signs. Sometimes we simply refuse to change, no matter how obvious the signs become. In Alcoholics Anonymous, a common phrase heard in meetings is "Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?" It's also common in AA circles to note that when a person finally makes major lifestyle changes such as becoming sober and ending a period of self-destructive drinking that it usually happens when they have "hit the bottom of the barrel," their lowest point. All that simply means is that the signs became so obvious that they had to make a change. The handwriting was on the wall. Of course it's always possible to ignore the obvious. Foolishness is always an option. The result is that change becomes more and more difficult to initiate and we may become trapped in our reality and eventually forget that we have the power to do something about it.
It wasn't alcoholism that was the writing on the wall for Mary Moeller. It was something different, something that was with her for every minute of every day -- and night-- for nearly 30 years. Mary Moeller lived with the constant pain of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. What really brought it home for her was that her 8 year-old daughter was beginning to show the symptoms too. Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, Moeller helped herself and helped her daughter by developing a program of lifestyle changes that left both her and her daughter symptom-free. That was four years ago. Since then, she has changed careers and changed focus, started doing workshops and has written a book to help others with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS.)
Many Americans are not exactly sure what FMS is. That's understandable. The medical community was pretty confused about it for decades. As it is now, it's still not considered a disease but a conglomerate of symptoms. The American Medical Association does consider it a disease for clarification purposes, but like lupus, it is a syndrome. CFS and FMS are generally considered to be one and the same and the symptoms are varied.
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is systemic pain. The entire body aches. Sufferers describe it like having the flu at its worst -- all the time -- and never getting better. Because there is so much pain associated with movement and muscles, it was originally thought that FMS involved an inflammation of the fascia and the fibrous tissues. That would be the ligaments, the tendons, muscles and the sheath of fascia that contain the entire system. Current understanding is that there is no inflammation present. But though pain is the most pervasive symptom, there is more.
Sufferers of FMS invariably are poor sleepers. The lack of sleep makes the symptoms even more intolerable and the symptoms make sleeping difficult. Research points out that insomnia is actually part of the syndrome, not merely present because of the pain associated with it. People with FMS have a disrupted circadian cycle, the natural process that tells our body when to sleep.
Up to 70% of FMS cases show symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well. That in itself is another complex of symptoms that includes poor digestion, abdominal cramps. diarrhea and constipation, gas and nausea.
In many cases, chronic headaches are also experienced. Fatigue may be present in varying degrees, from incapacitating to mild. Tenderness in the face and jaw muscles appears as a type of tempero-mandibular symptom (TMJ.) And to top everything off, with this type of chronic ailment for which there is no set or effective medical or pharmaceutical intervention, there is the specter of clinical depression plaguing those who face day after day of unrelieved pain.
A RECIPE FOR HEALTH
"When three friends of mine with fibromyalgia became so hopeless that they committed suicide, that's when I knew I had to do something to help others," Moeller said in a phone interview recently. "I quit my job in July of 1997 and started doing what I'm doing now full time -- devoting myself to it."
Moeller's devotion is to the program that gave her and her daughter relief when all else failed. Combining a change in diet, lifestyle and attitude, both Moeller and her daughter have remained without symptoms for almost four years.
"It was bad enough the years I spent enduring the pain, but it really got to me when my daughter started showing symptoms. That really shook me up and I made a commitment," Moeller said.
Moeller had started looking at nutrition and alternative therapies with the encouragement of her brother-in-law, a chiropractor and acupuncturist in Iowa. What she found with her dietary changes was an immediate improvement. But it wasn't enough to just help herself and her daughter. She wanted to help others too. So she took the show on the road.
"I had actually been involved in teaching and public speaking before this so it wasn't a huge change," she noted. "In fact, my background was in nursing and health-related areas already. This was a natural shift."
Out of her workshops came a concise program that she developed to share with others and then came the book. She called it The Fibromyalgia Cookbook. The title may be a little misleading, because it's not a cookbook like the ordinary ones you might see. In fact, it doesn't really have recipes for meals. It has a recipe for health. It is a day-by-day tutorial that gently guides the reader through the lifestyle and dietary changes that can help lead away from the constant symptoms of FMS.
A FUNGUS AMONG US
The cause of FMS is still debated in medical circles. Many consider it to be a type of auto-immune system syndrome like lupus. There are similarities with Lyme Disease and many believe the two are misdiagnosed back and forth. What is generally agreed is that there is no definitive conventional therapy. Antibiotics are usually irrelevant, according to most sources. Anti-inflammatory drugs don't really give much relief as Moeller describes. For decades, the medical community insisted that FMS was psychogenic, or a psychosomatic syndrome. Current theories range from the auto-immune idea of the body literally attacking itself to the possibility of MFS being a remnant of Epstein-Barr virus. However, according to James Duke, Ph.D. and author of The Green Pharmacy, nearly every expert agrees that the first thing to be done is to try a whole food, vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet and make major adjustments in nutritional intake. Removing allergens is also important. This is very much in keeping with the program outlined in Moeller's book.
Yeast-like fungus infections are often suspected in alternative medicine circles as the culprit in many conditions. In a yeast infection, the human host is literally a feeding ground for the parasitical microorganism. The yeast live on food that we eat and often determine the cravings we have. Yeast requirements for nutrition are different than our body's. Sugar is fuel food for yeast. Complex carbohydrates, alcohol and fats feed yeast more than they feed our body.
Alternative therapists and supporters of natural food diets have found that curtailing sugar intake and avoiding processed foods can bring yeast infections under control. Avoiding the overuse of antibiotics is also recommended because they deplete the natural bacterial flora that are essential for digestion. This natural approach is just the type Moeller outlines in her book.
Moeller's book provides a 120-day program that guides the reader through making the lifestyle changes that can relieve the FMS symptoms. Moeller considers herbal supplements, nutritional supplements, avoiding sugars and food additives, minimizing tobacco and alcohol use and light exercise programs. Stress reduction and journaling are also part of the process.
Sleep disorder is almost always a major part of FMS. Recent studies show that melatonin, the hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, demonstrates a relationship with FMS. Some researchers recommend light therapy, such as that discussed in an earlier Heartland Healing column to help reset the circadian clock and aid in promoting better sleep.
ON THE ROAD
"I'm working on a second book but going out to reach the people is so natural to me. Public speaking is something I've been doing for a long time and now I can tell people about this program in person," Moeller said. Three or four times a week Moeller is somewhere bringing the message of hope to sufferers of FMS.
"I've been fortunate to work with a number of medical specialists who understand what I'm doing and their work has helped me a lot. For example, Dr. Joe Elrod, who wrote the book Reversing Fibromyalgia, told me that every person he has tested with CFS in seven years, it started with a trauma of some sort," Moeller said.
With a debilitating syndrome like fibromyalgia, people who have attended Moeller's programs have come away inspired; knowing they have a natural way of coping with a disease for which conventional medicine offers little hope.
Moeller has recently authored a fibromyalgia nutrition book.