Fibromyalgia is a complex syndrome with a myriad of symptoms, including anxiety. What drives this angst and why to do about it is the subject of our latest TyH blog post.
Fibromyalgia is often linked to depression and anxiety, but should it be? If you are one of many with fibro who feel anxious and a bit wired, there’s a reason for those symptoms. Learn why you feel that way and how to tame the anxiety beast.
What is anxiety anyway? A medical definition calls anxiety “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear”. This feeling may be accompanied by physical signs of sweating, fast heart rate and shortness of breath. Anxiety is made worse if you feel you may not have the ability to cope with whatever is making you fearful.
For fibromyalgia, anxiety may be a central nervous system dysfunction. Brain scans of subjects who were clinically diagnosed with depression were compared to brains of fibromyalgia subjects. Their brain scans were not the same. But since fibro folks are anxious according to the medical definition, there are several reasons why and most of those reasons are linked to the many, many areas of known dysfunction in the nervous system.
The first and a hallmark of fibromyalgia (FM) is sensory overload. Think of what you feel, touch, hear, smell and see. Like Goldilocks, those with FM find their environment too hot, too cold, too hard, too soft and have difficulty making it “just right”. The touch of clothes on their skin. Cold drafts. Strong smells. Loud noises. Name your annoyance!
This phenomenon is known as central sensitization. It occurs when the central nervous system amplifies sensory input across many organ systems. As you can guess, this results in a multitude of symptoms body wide. For example, FM is often called an “amplified pain syndrome”. If you have FM, your pain signals are 3-4x “louder” (hurt more) than those of a “normal” person. Triple ouch!
A second known disruption adds to the problem. The chemical messengers of the nervous system – neurotransmitters or NTs– aren’t doing their jobs. Three chemicals in particular that are involved in modulating pain and pleasure signals are low in FM: serotonin, GABA and dopamine.
In one way or another, these NTs help mood, pain and sleep (serotonin), calm the brain, emotions and muscles (GABA), and motivate and make you feel good (dopamine). When you are low in all three, imagine the consequences! Increased pain. Irritability or nervous tension. Feeling stressed even when there is no clear stressor. An inability to relax and sleep well. An overwhelming angst that you cannot cope physically or mentally without really knowing why.
A third reason. Dopamine also triggers the release of endorphins, When you feel stress or pain, your body releases endorphins to make you “feel better” via your opioid system. Endorphins are also released during times of pleasurable activities. Unfortunately, fibro folks have fewer opioid receptors in the brain, especially those involved in releasing those feel-good chemicals. A double anxiety whammy for FM!
So now you understand when they say fibromyalgia is all in your head, it appears “they” were right. The brain and its biochemistry have a lot to do with FM anxiety and symptoms.
If you have FM, you may not be able to move or think quickly, perform physically challenging activities or sit and stand for prolonged periods of time. Part of your inability to focus and think (cognition) is tied into the NT dysfunction, too. Physical symptoms wax and wane. Flare-ups are unpredictable. You wonder if you will get worse with time, and can you handle whatever comes next? The very nature of fibro keeps you on “alert’.
Look at the many symptoms Fibro folks already have in common with anxiety:
- shortness of breath
- aches & pains
- poor sleep
- difficulty concentrating
- tense or “short-wired” irritability
- thoughts that are hard to control
- panic attacks
Thankfully there is help. Even if multiple biochemicals make you feel tense and anxious, you have options to help your brain and body out.
Extracts from valerian root, specifically valerenic acid, seems to soothe the mind and nerves. While the mechanism of action is not fully understood, valerenic acid appears to influence GABA receptors and tap into calming effects. Valerenic acid also affects receptors for serotonin, adding benefits for pain, mood and sleep.
An interesting trait of valerian root is the gentle way it performs a dual action. You can take it during the day to tame the tension of muscles and nerves without it “knocking” you out, yet it is remarkable in its ability to help you sleep at night without next day grogginess. It takes the edge off pain (especially when combined with calming magnesium) and jagged nerves and allows you to still function mentally.
Another thing you should know about valerenic acid is that the effective form used in studies was standardized to 0.8%. You’ll find it in TyH’s original formula of Valerian Rest™, which includes another herbal bonus. Lemon balm that also quiets stress and anxiety, aids sleep and adds a synergistic boost to the blend.
We’d be remiss if we did not also include the role of magnesium as a causative trigger, too. Magnesium has the ability to calm tense nerves, blood vessels and muscles if you have optimal levels in the red blood cells. Low levels of magnesium have an opposite effect. Muscles feel tight and hard, your heart works less efficiently and blood vessels constrict, with can raise blood pressure. Magnesium is also required for serotonin synthesis, the NT we mentioned earlier that is low in FM. Government food studies have shown that 76% or more of Americans do not get enough of this essential mineral. TyH offers an organic magnesium mineral (Fibro-Care™) that is bioavailable and easy to absorb so you reap its relaxing benefits. In fact, many of our customers take the Valerian Rest
™ and Fibro-Care
™ during the day to help them relax and at nighttime to help with sleep. The dual combination is better than either one alone. Quite probably the reason why is because valerian root, lemon balm and magnesium all influence GABA receptors to get you into a calm state.
You may also want to take a look at supplementing with 5-HTP
as it is a precursor to serotonin. Since we cannot put everything in one blog, we’ll include the links below for more reading.
We hope you have a better understanding now what lies behind your anxious feelings and what you can do to help relax the tension. Remember too that natural therapies take longer than the quicker acting pharmaceuticals. It may take a couple of weeks or longer to start noticing the calm but it will come!
More helpful reads in the TyH Health Library
©TyH Publications (M. Squires)
For informational purposes only. Not intended to treat, prevent, cure or diagnose any medical condition, nor replace your health professional’s advice.