t’s a fact. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as many autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, affect millions of women. In a disproportionate ratio, they affect women more than men.
“Of the estimated 50 million Americans living and coping with autoimmune disease, more than 75% of them are women.” (1)
Does this make you say, “Tell me something I didn’t already know?”
Over the years, I’ve read lots of articles on the subject and the most common answer as to why this is true is that it’s related to hormones. So let’s dig in a bit and see if we can shed more light on the matter.
Is fibromyalgia an autoimmune disease?
To be honest, I’m so tired of this question I’d rather skip it. But, I know there’s always someone who’s unaware of the debate and it’s helpful to provide clarification. No, fibromyalgia isn’t – at this time – considered an autoimmune disease. It’s designated as a syndrome rather than a disease because it lacks a specific, definable etiology, meaning its origin can’t be pinpointed at this time.
The causes of syndromes are unknown. You may be interested to know that along with fibromyalgia, restless leg, myofascial pain, irritable bowel, and some migraine conditions are considered syndromes as well.
Some conditions shift from one category to the other as research continues and more is learned about their causes.
Because fibromyalgia is known to frequently co-exist with various autoimmune conditions, it’s observed to behave like autoimmune conditions. It has flares and is reactive to the same factors that affect autoimmune conditions including gut health, insulin levels, stress, and more.
There’s a large contingent of experts who believe that it’s a matter of time before fibromyalgia will be reclassified as an autoimmune condition. One Pubmed abstract refers to the classification this way, “FM is postulated to be an autoimmune disorder.” (2)
In the past 15 years, I’ve seen it classified as a rheumatological condition and then re-classified as a neurological or central-nervous system disorder. My take on the topic is probably not popular, but it’s mine, nonetheless.
I don’t really care.
At least, I don’t care as it relates to my specific work with individual clients. I understand that classification matters for further study, etc., but as far as my day-in day-out work with people, the classification is irrelevant.
What I care about most is what causes fibromyalgia and what makes it better or worse. Here’s how I share my view on classification. We often hear the old phrase, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s likely a duck.” To me, when it comes to fibromyalgia, I don’t focus on whether or not it’s a duck. I focus on how it walks and how it quacks!
Fibromyalgia walks and quacks like autoimmune conditions. For that reason, I study them both, find treatments and protocols that work for both, and will continue to look for solutions that positively impact both challenges.
The vital difference between genetics and gene expression
Have you been told that your health challenges are all in your genes? Have any of your family members been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and/or other co-existing autoimmune conditions?
The study of genes – and more importantly, gene expression – is a vital component in the gender question regarding fibromyalgia.
We are more than just our genes.
Our body’s signals (hormones) have the ability to literally tell our genes when and how to act. Some genes are static while others turn on and off like switches. (3) It’s this switching process (gene expression) which provides the most hope for a healthy future.