Pain All Over. Fibromyalgia – can it be helped?

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a condition, not a disease, and there is general consensus that it is a stress related condition without a specifically identifiable cause. However, we have to remember that stress is cumulative over your lifetime and over the years it affects you on physical (eg illness and trauma), mental and emotional (eg relationships, financial, work-related) levels. But, I can’t write a lengthy piece discussing what it is and how it may happen so I’m going to highlight some hormone health areas that are likely to be closely associated and can certainly contribute to the experience of this painful and debilitating condition.

Adrenal Function – it’s all about stress

The experience of stress impacts adrenal function and as we go through life our threshold, or tolerance, may start to diminish. This, in turn, means that our resilience in life is depleted and tension (physical and mental) will start to increase and this process can manifest with the development of depression, anxiety, sleep problems and muscular aches or pain. All of these problems will contribute to the experience of stress (physical, mental and emotional) and all of which will form a downward spiral unless it can be addressed effectively. Please don’t think that I am advocating a solution of anti-depressants and sleeping tablets because I’m not. These drugs do not resolve the issues, they merely mask them but perhaps can sometimes make day-to-day life more tolerable.

I advocate adrenal function support as an essential part of any recovery program and this has to address the underlying dysfunction as well as the stress and its symptoms, depression and anxiety, disturbed sleep and the manifestation of muscular pain.

Thyroid Hormone Form & Function

Another key area is whether the thyroid hormones are at a good level and are able to function effectively. The functional aspect is not one addressed by medicine because medicine views health from the reductionist level of individual biomarkers: hormones, enzymes, proteins, etc and their levels. We have to stand back and view the bigger picture so that we can assess how hormones may be able to function, not just as a level in a test result!

If you have adrenal dysfunction and sex hormone imbalances (FMS is known to impact women much more frequently than men), your thyroid hormones may not be able to convert properly and/or may not be able to connect with tissue effectively. This will essentially produce a functional hypothyroid state that your doctor will not identify through TSH and fT4 testing and levels may well be completely normal. However, low cortisol and/or sex hormones will result in poor tissue responses. In other words your thyroid hormone is unable to connect with its receptors to do its work. What are symptoms of low thyroid function?   … trouble sleeping, fatigue, depression, anxiety, joint and muscle pain, to name a few. The problem of chronic generalised muscular pain being related to thyroid system dysfunction is well documented – there is a journal article as far back as 1959 (1) as well as more recent research in 2008 (2).

Another hormone area that is worth briefly reviewing is the serotonin pathway. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter (type of hormone) and Russell has been a dedicated researcher of its relationship with FMS publishing a number of papers. It was in 1992 that he published specifically on low serotonin levels being closely related to increased perception of pain (3).

So, this too makes interesting reading as low serotonin can also contribute to low mood, or depression and anxiety. Good serotonin levels can also be supportive of better sleep quality too! If you go into the evening time of the day feeling more centred and less depressed or anxious, it will contribute to feeling less stressed (stress increases cortisol and keeps the mind active and will suppress the secretion of melatonin, your sleep hormone). Serotonin also converts to melatonin to support better quality sleep. It’s a much more rounded, or systems-based approach to supporting sleep, rather than using a benzo-based drug. A useful, more naturally way of boosting serotonin and melatonin level is to work with 5-HTP, a plant based amino acid that converts to serotonin with results that can be seen within a week if used properly.  (Do not use this if you are on antidepressants.)

In my opinion, having a multi-pronged approach to FMS, that naturally and safely supports your body’s systems, has a much higher chance of success than simply ‘pressing’ individual hormone ‘buttons’ that often, in themselves, will never provide an effective solution.

Wishing you well







1 Wilson, J, Walton, JN. Some muscular manifestations of hypothyroidism. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1959 Nov;22:3204

2 Sbrocchi AM, Chédeville G, Scuccimarri R, Duffy CM, Krishnamoorthy P. Pediatric hypothyroidism presenting with a polymyositislike syndrome and increased creatinine: report of three cases. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;21(1):8992

3 Russell IJ, Michalek JE, Vipraio GA, et al. Platelet 3H-imipramine uptake receptor density and serum serotonin levels in patients with fibromyalgia/fibrositis syndrome. J Rheumatol 1992;19:104-109. 

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