Underlying Causes of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Dr. Wendy Rogers

Our guest speaker for the April 16th meeting of the Fibromyalgia-ME/CFS Support Center, Inc. was Dr. Wendy Rogers, naturopath and acupuncturist (left), from True Health Medicine, PC. In an effort to limit her talk to a reasonable length — there’s so much she could tell us! — she decided to focus on some of the underlying causes of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Rogers also gave a specific emphasis to some of the testing that can be done to uncover these underlying issues.

The first area Dr. Rogers discussed was thyroid. Most MDs check only TSH numbers when checking thyroid levels. As a naturopath, Dr. Rogers looks at much more than just your TSH numbers; she checks your T3, T4, and antibody levels. All of these can indicate different underlying issues, including fatigue, lower body pain, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — something I was diagnosed with back in 2009. While this expanded thyroid panel can usually be covered under insurance, it’s important to find someone who really understands how to read all the numbers — and then treat you appropriately. A great resource I’ve found for educating yourself about undiagnosed thyroid disorders is Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s book, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?

Second, Dr. Rogers addressed adrenal fatigue and function. We typically think of our adrenals as providing adrenalin for the “fight or flight” response, but Dr. Rogers pointed out that the adrenals also provide a calming hormone. This would be like the cortisone shots we might get to fight inflammation in allergies or injury. Since fibromyalgia has an inflammatory component, you can see where adrenals functioning properly in this area would be nice to have!

Another thing that can happen with many of us is that we can burn out our adrenals, ending up with adrenal fatigue. After years of being stuck in a “fight or flight” mode of pushing out adrenalin, eventually our adrenals just get tired and don’t work as well. I know that in my case, it was a very stressful job, poor quality sleep, poor diet, and simply not taking care of myself that really burned me out. When this happens, Dr. Rogers explained, our circadian rhythm can get confused, and our adrenals can pump out cortisol at the wrong times of the day. When cortisol is released during the nighttime, it will keep you from getting quality sleep — something we have enough trouble getting anyway!

My Cortisol Charts

A simple saliva test, taken four times in one day, can test your cortisol levels. When I first had my test done, Scott said, “Well that explains everything!” My cortisol was the lowest in the morning, then went up all day instead of down. At the time this test was taken (2009, at right), I was almost never able to get up before noon — which was the first time my cortisol reached a normal level. It is also fun to note that the “midnight” test was actually done at close to 2 AM… and my cortisol was high even by midnight standards! No wonder I couldn’t sleep!

In the evening, Scott and I would often have… discussions. *grin* I’d be just finally waking up all the way as he was winding down for the day. I’d want to talk about finances, plans for tomorrow, hopes, dreams, etc.; he would want to sleep. We ended up instituting a rule that we don’t talk about anything important after 9 PM because of this!

The saliva test is something that your MD might not be able to help you with, unfortunately; nor will it be covered under insurance. The good news is that the test itself isn’t all that expensive; there are several labs that can perform it for around $140. If you want to read more about adrenal fatigue, I recommend Dr. James L. Wilson’s book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.

There’s lots of things that can be done to help heal your adrenals; most of them fall under the category of simply taking good care of yourself, so they’re free! To help with out-of-sync cortisol levels, there’s supplements that can be taken to either boost your cortisol levels when they need to be boosted or to shut down your cortisol production so you can sleep at night. I take a supplement at night that has made a tremendous difference in whether or not I can sleep.

Food Allergies
Dr. Rogers talked about the difference testing for food allergies can make. She only uses US BioTek Laboratories for her allergy testing, due to a 2010 study showing them to be the only type of testing to be truly accurate. She also discussed the difference between the IgA, IgE, and IgG testing and reactions.

When most of us think of allergies, we think of the IgE reaction. This is the immediate reaction we have to something — like the person who is allergic to peanuts going into anaphylactic shock. The IgG reaction is a delayed reaction (2-72 hours) and much harder to track down. The IgA reaction primarily takes place in your digestive tract. For me, it’s the IgA and IgE reactions that come into play when I eat gluten. I don’t have an immediate reaction; rather, hours or even days later, I’ll be in pain, my scalp will be itchy, and I’ll be more fatigued. When I was eating gluten all the time, I was fatigued all the time and didn’t know it wasn’t “normal.” Now that I don’t eat gluten, I sure can notice it when I DO eat it!

One of the questions I asked Dr. Rogers was about a food allergy test I had done about 10 years ago. It didn’t show any reaction to wheat or gluten. However, when I had my adrenals tested, they tested for gluten intolerance and I was off the chart! She said that I should get my food allergies tested again, since it has been so long. It’s definitely possible that something new could have developed in that long of a time. It’s also possible that it’s an IgA reaction (the saliva test I did with my adrenal test) instead of an IgG reaction (the blood test I’d done years ago). This test runs around $140 and they test a bunch of foods from just a little finger prick.

Nutritional Deficiencies
One of my favorite tests that Dr. Rogers offers is the Micronutrient Testing, offered through SpectraCell Laboratories. This test shows your levels of a bunch of different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and other micronutrients; 33 in all, I think. The test costs $140-160 with or without insurance.

When you get your test results, you’ll get a cool chart that shows exactly where you stand with each micronutrient, as well as recommendations on what you can do to reach optimal levels of each one. For example, you may already be taking a calcium supplement, but your levels may still be low. You may need to take more calcium, switch to a brand with better bioavailability, or adjust other supplements you’re taking. Magnesium, for instance, can interfere with calcium levels. Only by seeing the whole picture can you really make wise choices on how to supplement your body. Plus, you can wisely choose where to spend your money on the supplements you really need.


Tami Stackelhouse


Books, FibroME Support Center, Gluten, Naturopathic, Thyroid

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  1. Thank you, a really useful and interesting post. I’m keen to know more about adrenal fatigue so I’ll look up the book you recommend.

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