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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 14, 2009

Bitter Divisions and Murky Motives: Fibromyalgia Treatments

By Worker Bee
42 Comments

In yet another display of their unlimited zeal for the treatment (not prevention, mind you) of mysterious and “murky” illnesses (usually, believe it or not, with the aid of expensive pills), pharmaceutical companies last year spent hundreds of millions of dollars (including $6 million in grants to “non profit” medical conferences and “education campaigns”) to establish the controversial fibromyalgia as a legitimate, serious illness requiring the kind of treatment only Big Pharma could possibly provide. On the surface, this seems like a relatively selfless act of goodwill and honest research – just a couple of multinational pharmaceutical companies tossing their money around and savin’ lives… right?

You know it’s not that simple. When we look a little deeper (and we stress “little”; we’re talking barely skimming the surface), the facts don’t seem to add up.

For one, fibromyalgia is still a hotly contested topic in the medical community. Critics point to the lack of diagnostic testing, the fact that there’s no clear cause, and the overlap the symptoms have with other, more accepted diseases as reasons to question its status as a “curable” illness. There’s no question that patients are obviously in pain, but experts are unclear whether pumping them full of drug cocktails is the best treatment.

Secondly, those “non profit” conferences dedicated to “education” about fibromyalgia don’t look so honorable when you realize they’re meant to promote the use of their own drugs; and that $6 million in grant money starts to look like a pretty sound investment in light of the enormous bump in sales Pfizer’s Lyrica and Lilly’s Cymbalta enjoyed between the first quarter of 2007 and the last quarter of 2008: a combined increase of almost $600 million. With sales like that, it’s no wonder they give more money to fibromyalgia than they do to diabetes and Alzheimer’s research (maybe they’ve tapped out the insulin drug well?).

We’re not saying it’s all a huge scam. There’s definitely a significant amount of patients suffering from the chronic muscle pain, depression, fatigue, and headaches that are associated with fibromyalgia. Numerous doctors who prescribe Cymbalta and Lyrica (among other drugs) to their patients report improvements and reductions in these symptoms. While these doctors undoubtedly care about their patients – one notable physician doesn’t “care how you categorize this – it’s a legitimate condition and these people are suffering” – it is a little curious that they sometimes receive training and funding from the drug companies. Dr. Daniel Clauw of the Univeristy of Michigan has done promising research on the brain scans of fibromyalgia patients, but he’s also done paid consulting work for pharmaceutical companies and works with the National Fibromyalgia Research Association, which receives funding from the companies.

Other doctors have stopped diagnosing the illness altogether, worrying that they were simply giving an arbitrary name to the mysterious pain in order to quell patients’ fears. Dr. Nortin Hadler even suspects fibromyalgia is a psychological condition and suggests therapy, rather than drugs (which carry some nasty side effects).

While we really don’t have a dog in this fight, we are naturally suspicious of Big Pharma spending money and using medical research to effectively market their exclusive treatments for an (heavily disputed) illness. And when you consider that the drugs in question – Cymbalta and Lyrica – were originally designed to treat depression and epileptic seizures, we gotta wonder if Pfizer and Lilly are simply broadening the scope of “one size fits all.” That works great with clothing, but we’re not sure it’s suitable for people’s health and wellness.

Further Reading:

Off-Label Cosmetic Prescriptions

Statin Insanity!

Off-Label Pharmaceutical Promotion

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42 Comments on "Bitter Divisions and Murky Motives: Fibromyalgia Treatments"

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new_me
new_me
7 years 7 months ago
Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This began an exhausting journey to many specialists who put me through many diagnostics and prescribed various drugs. All along the way I was continually told that we don’t know what causes this condition and we don’t know what will help it, yet there was a lot of money exchanging hands every time I saw another dr. hhhmmmm….? When I was at my lowest point, feeling exhausted and hopeless beyond wanting to live, I discovered that we were expecting baby #4. I seriously lost my mind and fell into the deepest depression… Read more »
spinninginca
spinninginca
5 years 11 months ago
I’m glad you are better. I sincerely am. I know that many women with Fibromyalgia feel better during pregnancy and some continue that after their pregnancy is over. But many women, such as myself, experience worse Fibromyalgia symptoms during pregnancy and some, myself included, remain worse after their pregnancy is over. Again, I am so happy for you that you are better but please don’t pass your experience with it off as how it is for everyone just as my experience it not the same for everyone with this illness. They don’t know what causes Fibromyalgia and there is no… Read more »
Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago
As someone who has been dealing with fibromyalsia for the last 20+ years I find your implications insulting. I eat a healthy diet, force myself to exercise (with a specialized personal trainer), meditate, I have a loving and supportive circle of family and friends, have fortunate circumstances which allow me to have weekly and biweekly massage, accupuncture, and pretty much whatever else I want or need. Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m one of the most positive people they know. But I’ve been sick with fibromyalgia,been in horrible pain from head to toe that sometimes causes me… Read more »
Chris Emerson
Chris Emerson
7 years 7 months ago

Few years back i had glandular fever and never ever got back to feeling 100%, they said i had some kinda chronic fatigue syndrome, bit like fibro. But after eating right, exercising and getting sun i feel great, still not 100% but 95%! Hopefully all symptms will pass, but if i stop eating right, and dont excercise much i feel rubbish again

Rodney
Rodney
7 years 7 months ago

I was just reading how many times symptoms of fibromyalgia, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome and others are relieved or eliminated through supplementing with magnesium among other minerals. The theory being that our soils today don’t provide the nutrition they used to, and many minerals are deficient in the diets of many people, especially those who eat our nations finest processed goodies. I suspect magnesium is more effective, cheaper and safer than anything Big Pharma can create and constantly find new “uses” for.

Riayn
7 years 7 months ago
Two years ago without any warning I went from being able to walk at the beginning of the week to being unable to walk or hold objects at the end of that week. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and then promptly told that I was in pain because I was depressed and sent off to seek treatment for my so-called “depression”. I dumped that rheumatologist and when I got over the damage he did, I found a new one. My current rheumatologist does not believe in fibromyalgia, she thinks it is lovely term doctors like to use for “we have… Read more »
MzEllen
7 years 7 months ago

Just a thought (for those who have been diagnosed) – my sister has been diagnosed with fibro…her son with mitro valve prolapse. Same symptoms – and I’ve read that up to 75% of people with fibro also have MVP.

Is fibro a misdiagnosis of MPV, or does MPV cause fibro? Dunno, but I’ve also seen a couple of studies that show magnesium helps MVP symptoms in most patients.

Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago

I have fibro, I do not have MVP. Magnesium is tricky; you can also have too much. Find a good doctor and a CERTIFIED & LICENSED dietician (not nutritionist)

Jaime
7 years 7 months ago

My best friend as fibro, and the only thing that has seriously helped is medication. She’s been through numerous treatments, but sometimes chemicals in little pill form really do help. I’m as suspicious of big pharma as anyone, and made-up syndromes (restless leg, anyone?), but I worry for my friend and other fibro sufferers that stigmatizing the disease as “murky” doesn’t help them. (The fact that it’s largely a women’s disease I’m sure is not unrelated – hysteria, anyone?)

mbridget
mbridget
4 years 3 months ago

I freaking WISH restless leg was a made up syndrome! Imagine a a tickle on your foot inside your shoe that you can’t get to. Now imagine 2-3 hours of that.

Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago

90% of fibro patients are women, 10% men

Kim
Kim
7 years 7 months ago
I know a couple of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and what always disturbs me about it is that it sounds like (in these specific cases) the doctors never took a really thorough history or thought through the system as a whole. No slight on the good primary care doctors, but there seems to be a real shortage of troubleshooting skills (not to mention the will and time to use them) at that level, and it seems to lead to a lot of junky diagnoses. Not to say there aren’t people with real fibromyalgia or other unexplained pain syndromes…but I think… Read more »
Nathan
Nathan
7 years 7 months ago
The following is just one data point … The previous two winters I had developed an inexplicable pain going up the left side of my neck that really made sleeping uncomfortable. Each year the pain started around Thanksgiving, peaked in January, and went away gradually as spring came (I live in the Denver area). A few weeks ago, on Nov 8, I woke up with the same pain again. It was only then, the third time around, that I was struck by the seasonality of the pain and made the leap to it possibly being a sign of sunlight and… Read more »
Rambodoc
7 years 7 months ago

I use Lyrica regularly for certain patients (I am a surgeon). It works very well, IMO. It is true that Big Pharma is pushing their own agenda, and it is also true that they are giving relief to people. Our skepticism is healthy and part of the checks and balances of a free thinking society.
I suspect one thing about fibromyalgia, which is that it occurs mostly in people who don’t exercise. I have no evidence to support my suspicion.

Elenor
Elenor
5 years 8 months ago

Yeah, but which comes first? “I HURT so I stop exercising”; or “I don’t exercise, so I start to hurt”?

Over in the (non-mainstream, experiential) thyroid world (see: Stop the Thyroid Madness: sttm.com), many many people with fibro have found relief/cure through treating their thyroid problems — but, of course, you cannot rely on your doctor — and most esp. on your endocrinologist! — to know how to *accurately* diagnose thyroid problem — the TSH test is SOOOOOO not it!

Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago

Dear Doctor
I’ve been exercising for 30 years. I’ve had fibro for 23. Please don’t ‘suspect’ without evidence; people tend to listen and respect their doctors.
thank you

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s a *real illness* but it seems related to not a few other conditions, in exactly the same way that “metabolic syndrome” is a cluster of symptoms mostly related to insulin resistance. These “treatment protocols” seem related to symptom control rather than disease control in the same way that hitting a metabolic syndrome patient with statins and ACE/ARB drugs turns down the symptoms and test results without going back and addressing the cause. Treatment For Life is after all rather profitable (I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but that looking for a factor… Read more »
Crystal W.
Crystal W.
7 years 7 months ago

I would bet my last buck that most fibromyalgia pain is almost always low thyroid and low adrenal function. These people have a lot more symptoms than just muscle/joint point…it’s hormones.

Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago

I would love to have your last buck. My thyroid and adrenals function great. My hormones are balanced. When and where may I collect all of your money?

fibrohaven
7 years 7 months ago
I have been suffering from the very real condition Fibromyalgia for 13 years. It amuses me to hear people speculate and give their novice opinions on something that continues to baffle even the most well versed in the medical community. Here are a few facts based on my first hand knowledge, my research, and my experience as a support group organizer. Many of the people in my support group were very fit and active, not suffering from depression, led full lives, worked hard – basically were of sound mind and body when their symptoms began. In fact FM tends to… Read more »
Elenor
Elenor
5 years 8 months ago
“We have all been tested for that” except the TSH test they use — even the docs admit — is often inaccurate. It’s NOT a thyroid test, it’s a pituitary test. This is ({sigh} yet another) health issue where you have to do your OWN research and push your own testing and treatment because almost without exception, your doc just DOES. NOT. KNOW! Did your doc test your for Reverse T3? Bet not. My doc said he only knew it shows up sometimes in intensive care patients. Well hell! It’s actually pretty common in folks with thyroid problems where their… Read more »
Lisa
Lisa
3 years 11 months ago

Yes! and Thank you!

Crystal
Crystal
7 years 7 months ago
Hi there fibrohaven I understand your feelings, I am suffering too. There is NOTHING simple about thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary problems. I know from personal experience and the experience of many others that the Dx of fibromyalgia is one symptom of low thyroid and either primary or adrenal insufficiency. I’ve seen quite a few blood tests where the doc. says they are fine, end of story, when clearly thyroid/adrenal tests are not. The proper tests, in most cases, are not ordered or not properly diagnosed. We have a serious problem here and people are suffering. I don’t know the cause… Read more »
Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
There are somewhere between 50 and 100 chemicals which act as, or modify the effects of, neurotransmitters (maybe more now, I haven’t been keeping up). Neurotransmitters are interlinked with the endocrine system via the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and the endocrine system is a whole chemistry set in itself. Some of the symptoms of depression relate to reduced levels of certain neurotransmitters. Some of them relate to cortisol. Some “treatment resistant” depression resolves with thyroxine, even if thyroid levels do not *appear* to be far out of range (some hypothyroid patients don’t do well until TSH is around unity, others have TSH… Read more »
Crystal
Crystal
7 years 7 months ago
It’s very interesting that many people with untreated or undertreated thyroid and or/adrenals have insulin resistance despite a very low carb diet–some overweight and some not at all. It is important to remember that TSH is a pituitary hormone, not a thyroid hormone. TSH may help determine pituitary function but it is a lousy test to determine thyroid function. Always test free t4 and free t3…make sure it’s free. You need to always test both antibodies since hashimottos is the most common and fastest growing autoimmune disease. If you have not checked your frees and antibodies and know where you’re… Read more »
Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
“Since “chemical imbalances” are actually hormones, I think it’s a good idea to check, don’t you?” If you can! In many parts of the UK only TSH is available and even then they won’t act on results unless they are 5 or even 10 or more. A friend with private health insurance can get T3 and T4 but NOT CRP or VLDL, the labs simply do not have the kit for the tests. Here they are very proactive with thyroid and find hypothyroid regularly (and treat it aggressively) but the GP I asked stated she had no clue if this… Read more »
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[…] unknown posted a noteworthy aricle today onHere’s a small snippetPrescription Pill Peddling In yet another display of their unlimited zeal for the treatment (not prevention, mind you) of mysterious and “murky” […]

Sally Camm
Sally Camm
6 years 7 months ago
Hi Mark, I just picked up your book and already feel much better digestion-wise just 3 days in. I’ve had fibro symptoms for years but only recognized them as that when they got so bad that I had to miss a couple days of work. (For those out there looking for help I have found some relief with D-Ribose.) I work in a warehouse on my feet for about 6hrs a day (am in my office for the other 2hrs), lifting and packing boxes up to 60lbs and hauling pallets around. I used to use sugar and caffeine to get… Read more »
Marie42
Marie42
6 years 4 months ago
I have fibro and I’m convinced that it’s a symptom, not a disease in and of itself. For those of you who’ve been fortunate not to have experienced this yourself, let me take just a moment to tell you what you’re missing. Imagine the worst viral infection you’ve ever had. Severe dehydration, muscle aches, neck pain, kidney and back pain, leg cramps, spasms in your ribcage, etc. That’s what fibro feels like. At times, I feel like very cell in my body is screaming. Every inch of my skin becomes so sensitive that a small poke can set off a… Read more »
Trbobitch
10 days 6 hours ago

Did Gluten Free help your Fibro? I’ve read it’s one of the main treatments for Fibro and my husband has been having horrible flair ups (notably after drinking larger than usual quantities of beer. Wondering if this is his *cure* and how long it takes off the gluten to have relief?

Sally
Sally
6 years 4 months ago
I wish I had paid closer attention to the comments above because I would have insisted on in-depth thyroid testing sooner. After only a month on a low dose of thyroxine I am 1) no longer depressed and 2) almost completely pain-free. To think I suffered for about 20 years because my TSH labs were “normal” – jeez! Not to mention all the money I spent and the horrid side effects I endured from trying every anti-depressant out there just hoping to feel better. My suggestion: if you believe you may have a thyroid issue and your doc won’t test… Read more »
Nanner
Nanner
6 years 3 months ago
I have spent 4 years in Fibromyalgia HELL and I just cannot believe how people that do NOT have fibro try to play dr based on what their friend of a friend of a friends’ sisters’ cousins’ aunts’ friend supposedly went through or WAS CURED BY! What the hell? When I first started exhibiting the mysterious symptoms of fibro, my doctor did all sorts of tests – all inconclusive. But then a year and a half later I had total knee replacement surgery (5th knee surgery after falling down the stairs at home) and now the symptoms are every single… Read more »
Nanner
Nanner
5 years 11 months ago

UPDATE: In September I finally heard back from Social Security regarding my disability application I filed back in April. I was approved!! And they based it on Fibromyalgia. So what does that say about Fibro being a “murky” diagnoses??? If the federal government believes it is an actual medical illness, then why cant the rest of you believe it?

I finally ordered Primal Blueprint and the cookbook and look forward to trying it out and making a permanent lifestyle change.

Nancy Pease
Nancy Pease
4 years 5 months ago
I know two years have passed since you posted these comments but it seems that the flouride in our water has been poisoning us. My sister was living in Fibromyalgia Hell and I found an article that addressed Fibromyalgia and other symptoms that get lumped in with it but could be other diseases or problems. When my sister switched to Flouride free water or distilled water, after two weeks her level of pain was down significantly, additionally she has also been able to stop taking Cymbalta. She was so excited that she went shopping the other day and truly expected… Read more »
Leizer
Leizer
6 years 1 month ago
I just received a preliminary (in lieu of eliminating any other possibilities) diagnosis of fibromyalgia this week…and, I have to say, it came as a bit of a shock. Since I had previously associated the condition with pain of the severity Nanner decribed, I never thought of my (comparatively mild) symptoms as something in need of treatment, except maybe for a seriously prolonged course of massage therapy. But now I’m seeing so many things that I dismissed as “normal” (because they were normal to me) in a new light–how disproportionately painful were things like a simple poke in the arm,… Read more »
Sim1
Sim1
5 years 10 months ago
I had fibro for more than 20 years before I finally got a diagnosis. I chose drug free for lots of reasons (including a very keen interest in nutrition and the fertility aspects of most drug approaches). It’s very difficult to find a medical professional which spans the breadth of nuero-endocrine-immune disorders such as fibro, CFS/ME, gulf war syndrome etc. Most medics tend to focus on one aspect. In my experience diet and exercise only get you so far. I wish I could get shots of the hormones you have during pregnancy. I became painfree for the first time in… Read more »
Stephanie
Stephanie
5 years 10 months ago

Mastering Leptin by Byron Richards has a very interesting chapter on fibromyalgia. I was really interested to read his theories and am going to incorporate some of his suggestions and see what happens. I’ve had a FM diagnosis for about 12 years. It waxes and wanes in intensity but never totally goes away.

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[…] has,” that are “just part of getting old.” Bad lipids, fatty liver, fibromyalgia, constipation, general fatigue throughout the day – these are the new normal. But because […]

Theresa
Theresa
4 years 4 months ago
I suffered from Fibro for many years. I tried lots of different things and let it run my life. One day I said no more. I quit eating/drinking all artifical sweetners (I was a huge diet pop drinker and diet everything I ate) and after about 3 weeks of withdrawals that gave me fibro flares and headaches. I felt soooo much better. I still had flares here and there but they were alot less frequent and mild. Then we started working out which was always a trigger for me. Didn’t have any issues really. Felt it very little during workouts.… Read more »
Shell
Shell
1 year 1 month ago

Theresa,
May I ask you a question? I was wondering when you started Paleo, about how long did it take you to feel better?
I am only asking because I just started a few days ago and plan on continuing for life. But it would be great to have a ballpark idea of when I might start to recover

Thanks so much,
Shell

Carol
Carol
1 year 1 month ago
Shell, I was diagnoses 5 years ago but made the huge mistake of going pharma. Within a year was on 7 medications. Found paleo 2 years ago and began to make the change. 4 months later was off the medication. I do believe my response time was delayed because of the meds, but I began feeling better within a few weeks. Still have flares but when I think about it and listen to my body I can figure out why and work to correct it. I eliminated all grains, legumes, and nightshades at first adding in one nightshade at a… Read more »
Shell
Shell
1 year 1 month ago

Thanks so much!
It’s only been eleven days lol so not sure why I am expecting such sudden changes. I am taking three meds which help me at least go to work, but I can’t say it’s a great quality of life.
I’m hoping to be like people such as yourself who have healed themselves from the inside out = )
I plan on sticking with it!

Thanks again,
Shell

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