An Ayurveda Approach to Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects an estimated 10 million people, mostly women, in the United States alone. It is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, concentration issues, fatigue, sleep problems and mood swings. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person.

The problem is not that people who suffer from fibromyalgia are more sensitive than others to general stimulus. Research shows that those with fibromyalgia cannot detect electrical, pressure or thermal stimuli at a lower level than other subjects.What is unique for fibromyalgia sufferers is that they experience pain at a much lower level of stimulation than do most people. Modern medicine explains heightened pain sensitivity through several interesting theories. They are all based on the fact that in order to experience pain, pain must

  1. Be generated in the periphery of the body
  2. Travel through the spinal column and
  3. Activate the brain.

Those diagnosed with fibromyalgia have evidence of neurochemical imbalances in the last two areas of this process, the spinal column and the brain.

  1. In the spinal column, two biochemical, substance P and nerve growth factor, are four times higher in people with symptoms of fibromyalgia. These chemicals heighten the transmission of stimuli to the brain.
  2. Evidence also suggests that the normal inhibitory signals from the brain down the spinal cord are diminished in fibromyalgia, allowing stronger stimulation to flow up the spinal cord to the brain.
  3. There is also abnormal activation of the areas in the brain associated with pain.

These imbalances both amplify the transfer of pain stimulus to the brain and decrease the normal inhibition of these signals, resulting in experience of pain at levels of stimulation that do not normally cause pain.

Ayurveda brings a unique perspective to understanding fibromyalgia.

The most common imbalance seen in Ayurveda is a disturbance of nervous system activity in the physiology. According to Ayurveda, the “Vata” principle controls the overall experience of excitation and activation of the nervous system. Fibromyalgia is a classic Vata-type imbalance. Ayurveda contains more information for treating a Vata imbalance than for any other type of condition.

Ayurveda give extensive descriptions of the types of foods, behaviors and experiences that can cause an imbalance of Vata. This information helps an Ayurveda expert better understand what created the fibromyalgia condition in the first place and what factors could continue to worsen it. By understanding the root causes of fibromyalgia, it is easier to create a program to truly cure the condition.

There is a saying in Ayurveda: “Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need.” There are certain types of foods that result in an imbalance Vata, creating an overly activated and hypersensitive nervous system, and thereby contribute to worsening fibromyalgia symptoms.

For example, while raw vegetables do provide freshness to the body, in excessive quantities they create indigestion and aggravate Vata. Also, heavy foods, especially when eaten at evening meals, are very hard to digest and can create toxins that exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.

On the other hand, fresh, sweet (not unripe or acidic) juicy fruits are very nourishing and balancing to the nervous system. Also, drinking ample quantities of room temperature to warm water throughout the day can aid the body in its natural cleansing and healing process.

One of the most effective Ayurveda approaches to fibromyalgia is the classical series of herbalized oil massage and heat treatments, known as Panchakarma. These therapies help eliminate toxins and impurities from the system and are very helpful in increasing flexibility and often reduce pain. Also, the specific herbs that are used in the massage and heat treatments aid greatly in cleansing, balancing and nourishing the tissues that are most tender and sensitive to pain.

Fibromyalgia often begins after some mental, physical or emotional trauma. In addition, many individuals experience a worsening of their symptoms when they come under extra stress. For this reason, The Raj recommends the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique to guests who are suffering from fibromyalgia.

The body has a very powerful neuroendocrine response to perceived challenges. From a medical point of view, stress in and of itself is not bad for the physiology. The problem comes when the body is unable to restore biochemical balance after the experience of challenge and stays in a hyperarousal state, called a chronic stress response. It is well documented that this chronic stress response can exacerbate many disorders.

Because life by nature will always have some level of challenge, it is important to be able to help the body quickly return to its neuroendocrine baseline after a stressful experience. TM has been shown to normalize the stress response, allowing stress hormones to spike rapidly in response to threat, and then go down quickly, returning to a healthy baseline level.