This is the second in a two-part series on
integrative medicine, the combination of conventional and alternative
Mysterious diseases that neither seem to have a single cause
nor a single cure are the most compelling forces behind the rise of integrative
medicine. The diseases, called "complex chronic illnesses," have
confounded doctors, who attempt to treat patients suffering from the conditions
for which one form of medicine doesn't seem to be enough.
By Gretchen Rubin
I'm a real gold-star junkie. One of my worst qualities is my insatiable need for credit; I always want the recognition, the praise, that gold star stuck on my homework. Recently, I was grumbling to my mother about the fact that some extraordinarily praiseworthy effort on my part had gone unremarked upon. My mother wisely responded, "Most people probably don't get the appreciation they deserve." That's right, I realized — for instance, my mother herself! I certainly don't give her...
Complex chronic illnesses affect more than one system in the
body. Because of this, patients recover most successfully with the use of an
amalgam of therapies that involve both conventional and alternative
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are leading
examples of complex chronic illnesses. Both conditions involve the immune,
circulatory, digestive and nervous systems, which interact with each other in
The immune systems of persons afflicted with CFS churn out
abnormally high levels of the hormones normally responsible for stimulating
immune cells into action. But high levels of these hormones can also create a
deep sense of fatigue. Individuals with CFS can also have serious problems with
memory and concentration ("brain fog"), sleep, pain and digestion.
Widespread bodily pain is the most characteristic symptom of
fibromyalgia. While sufferers of the condition perceive the pain they
experience as coming from their muscles, the muscles don't show any signs of
disease. The pain occurs when the brain encounters disturbance while processing
normal nerve impulses. Fibromyalgia sufferers can also experience CFS-like
One Haystack, Many Needles
A labyrinth of factors causes the two illnesses. While each
factor by itself may not be sufficient to cause the illness, a multiplicity of
factors can conspire to establish an insidious pattern of chronic symptoms that
can be difficult to dislodge. With a sudden trauma or injury, extreme or
chronic stress, environmental toxins, possibly certain germs and a person's
genetic vulnerabilities, the factors all join together to wreak havoc, which is
complex chronic illness.
Because conventional medicine is based on disease with a
single cause, mainstream physicians have, for the most part, failed to treat
complex chronic illnesses. Individuals with CFS and fibromyalgia need more than
a single drug, surgery or other high-tech solutions.
Complex chronic illnesses involve a "web of
causality" with many factors that "are not linked to each other in a
linear, predictable manner," explain researchers Pierre Philippe and Omaima
Mansi of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of