Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyositis and myofascial pain syndrome, refers to a chronic condition of medically unknown cause resulting in pain in the fibrous tissues, muscles, ligaments and tendons. It is characterized by achy pain, tenderness and stiffness, particularly in the muscles of the occiput (the base of the head), neck, shoulders, back and thighs. The pain is aggravated by overuse, straining, and by physical and emotional stress. The condition occurs mainly in women (50:1 ratio of women to men.) Fibromyalgia is often associated with depression, sleeping problems, and chronic fatigue. In fact, most experts consider fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome to be the same condition. It is also sometimes associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
If you think you have fibromyalgia a thorough medical examination is in order. There are several conditions that can mimic the disorder and these should be ruled out. If your doctor diagnoses fibromyalgia he or she will probably recommend pain pills, sleeping pills and possibly antidepressants. These may provide a small amount of temporary relief, but they will do nothing for the underlying condition and in time can even make it worse. Once you receive your diagnosis you always have the option of refusing the doctor's treatment. Most doctors are poorly equipped to treat fibromyalgia so you will probably do better if you can find an alternative practitioner who is well-versed with natural and nutritional treatments for the disorder.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that slowly and insidiously develops over time. The cause is multi-facetedseveral factors, each carrying different weight with different individuals, combine to bring about the disease. Trauma is often the precipitating factor that brings the condition to the surface, but this only occurs after many months, or even years, of chronic mental and physical stress. Stress quickly depletes the body of its nutritional reserves, especially those of magnesium, B vitamins and trace minerals. This is especially damaging when the nutritional reserves are low in the first place. Chronic stress and a nutrient poor diet, the typical American diet of overly-processed and devitalized foods, is the ultimate cause for most individuals.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
Recent medical research indicates that many cases of fibromyalgia may be caused by an underactive thyroid gland, a condition which is frequently missed by routine medical tests because doctors will usually ignore a "borderline" case. I recommend that everyone with fibromyalgia be evaluated for underactive thyroid, and if found, be treated for that condition first. (See my nutritional program for underactive thyroid.)
Since fibromyalgia is a multi-faceted disease, it is necessary to approach it from a wholistic perspective, addressing as many causes as possible. In previous articles we have covered the Five Fundamentals of Healththe five areas of lifestyle that we must attend to in order to achieve our maximum health potential. These are also the five areas that we must address when managing fibromyalgia.
Alternative Management of Fibromyalgia
To help you remember the Five Fundamentals of Health, remember the acronym CLEAN:
The Steps (These are done simultaneously.):All of these steps must be done to get lasting results. The entire program should last for at least six months. Most experts agree that you should allow four months plus one month for every year that you have suffered from the condition. It usually takes four to six weeks before improvement is noticed. After you have completed your program it is highly advisable to continue on a maintenance program.
- Cleansing: Begin with a CleanStart.
- Leisure: Support Natural Sleep.
- Exercise: Engage in Regular Exercise.
- Attitude: Improve Your Mood.
- Nutritional Supplementation
- Essential Oils and Massage
- Lifetime Maintenance
Step 1: Begin with a CleanStart
Begin with a 2-week cleanse with the CleanStart TM cleansing and detoxification program according to the directions on the package. This cleans the intestines, liver, blood and kidneys of waste material and toxins that are hindering the healing process. The second fundamental of health is Leisure, by which we mean rest, relaxation and sleep. Sleep is essential for our well-being, but it isn't just the quantity of sleep that is important, it's the quality.
Step 2: Support Natural Sleep
Studies have shown that fibromyalgia is always associated with a sleeping disorder. It is not clear whether the sleeping disorder comes first, leading to the fibromyalgia, or whether the fibromyalgia comes first, leading to the sleeping disorder. What is clear is that recovery is impossible unless the sleeping problem is addressed. Fibromyalgia sufferers rarely have trouble falling to sleep. It isn't the quantity of sleep that is the problem it is the quality of sleep. This is an important concept to understand because it is the reason why sleeping drugs rarely help and can actually make the problem worse in the long run.
There are four phases of sleep. Once the fourth or deepest phase is attained, the body goes through a sort of sleeping rhythm, alternating between dream sleep and non-dream sleep. Different types of emotional and physical healing and building take place during these two distinct types of sleep. Both are necessary to maintain our health. Researchers have shown that fibromyalgia sufferers for some unknown reason can never reach or maintain the most important level four sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping your doctor will probably prescribe a sleep-inducing drug. Although these drugs may put you to sleep, they interfere with the natural rhythm of sleep and almost never result in quality sleep. Herbs like hops, valerian and passion flower help induce a more natural sleep and are better alternatives for most people who have trouble sleeping. These three herbs are available in a sleep combination appropriately named HVP. Other alternatives are Timed-Released Valerian extract, Melatonin and 5-HTP Power. You might have to experiment a little to find what works best for you. You will also have to experiment with the dosage. Too much melatonin, for example, can make you feel groggy the next day, especially after long term use. Start with 1 mg, 30 minutes before bedtime and increase until optimal results are obtained. Generally about 2 or 3 mg will be necessary but in some cases more is required.
Because of the muscle pain, it is sometimes difficult for fibromyalgia sufferers to exercise. Some exercise is essential to recovery, however, so it is important that you do what you can. Exercise increases circulation, promotes better sleep, and stimulates the body to release endorphins, its natural pain killers. Start slowly and be careful not to exercise to the point of aggravating your symptoms. At first, in severe cases, only gentle stretching exercises should be performed. Even as little as 5 minutes of stretching, every day or every other day, will be beneficial. Beginning Yoga stretches are excellent. Check your local library for books or videos teaching beginning Yoga or easy stretching. Exercises for fibromyalgia are also given in an excellent book on the subject, which is recommended reading, Reversing Fibromyalgia by Dr. Joe M. Elrod, Woodland Publishing.
Step 3: Engage in Regular Exercise
As soon as you are able, vigorous exercise for at least 15 to 20 minutes, three times a week, is recommended. Your exercise program does not necessarily have to include intense activities such as jogging or running. A walk at a comfortable pace is an ideal exercise for most people. Since walking is less vigorous, you should try to build up to at least 40 minutes at a time. Other activities such as bicycling are also excellent as long as they are done on a regular basispreferably every day, but at least three times a week.
Step 4: Improve Your Mood
A positive attitude is extremely important for fibromyalgia. Healing will not take place without it. Unfortunately, depression is often a consequence of chronic pain, and this is particularly the case with this disorder. It has been observed that fibromyalgia sufferers usually do better when they take St. John's Wort herb, a popular mood elevator. It is important to choose a quality St. John's Wort supplement that has been concentrated to the proper strength. I recommend either St. John's Wort concentrate with passion flower, an herb which also helps with sleep, or Time-Released St. John's Wort. It takes a couple of weeks of regular use of St. John's Wort before an improvement in mood is noticed. It is important to take it on a regular basis for best results.
Step 5: Nutrition
There are foods you can eat that will help fibromyalgia, and foods you can eat that will aggravate the condition. Foods that are high in fats, such as fried foods, "junk foods," most processed foods, and many meats and dairy products, have a tendency to increase pain; while foods that are high in vitamins and antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables, have the opposite effect. Plant enzymes also help reduce pain and inflammation.
The Fibromyalgia Diet
Most Americans need to eat far more fruits and vegetables and far fewer of the fatty fried foods. It will also be a great help if you will get into the habit of choosing healthier snacks. Instead of the usual cookies or chips, choose raw carrots or celery instead; or have an apple instead of the dessert before bedtime.
Food additives and chemicals should be avoided. This includes artificial sweetners such as Aspartame (NutriSweet); and artificial fats such as Olestra. For a complete discussion of the fibromyalgia diet I will refer you to the recommended reading.
For the first three weeks, during the two week cleanse and for one week afterward, a strict diet should be followed to detoxify the body and stimulate the healing process. After three weeks this diet can be relaxed somewhat, but the basic principles of healthy eating should be made a life-long habit. It is helpful to eat four to six meals a daybreakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and snack. This will help keep your energy level up. Keep snacks healthy (e.g., apples, carrots, celery, etc.)
Eliminate caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. Herbal teas that contain no caffeine are fine. As much as possible avoid sugar, refined and processed foods. Instead of coffee, caffeine teas, and carbonated beverages, drink eight to ten glasses of purified water (without chlorine) every day flavored with a little liquid chlorophyll. Consumption of red meat and dairy products should be reduced or eliminated. Eat chicken or turkey (without the skin) and fish instead. Your diet should consist mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and raw (not roasted or salted) nuts.
Take the following supplements in addition to the ones mentioned above in the discussions on cleansing, sleep and attitude:
- Take two capsules of Proactazyme plant enzymes with every meal. Take at the beginning of the meal. These replace the plant enzymes that have been removed from our foods due to processing and cooking. Plant enzymes help with digestion of all food types and have an anti-pain and anti-inflammatory affect on the body. They also activate the healing process.
- Take a good quality multi-vitamin/mineral supplement every day, such as Super Supplemental. Take one tablet with every meal. In general, other than the proactazyme, nutritional supplements should be taken during or after meals.
- Take a good quality calcium supplement every day, such as Skeletal Strength. Take one tablet with every meal.
- Vitamin E with Seleniumtake one 400 IU capsule with meals twice a day.
- Take a colloidal trace mineral supplement every day. Choose either Colloidal Minerals or Mineral Chi tonic.
- You must have at least one bowel movement every day, preferably three a day. Take a psyllium fiber supplement every day to keep your bowel movements regular. If you are overweight take your fiber supplement 15 minutes before meals. If underweight take it one hour or longer after meals or at bedtime. Drink plenty of clean pure water with your fiber supplement and throughout the day.
If you wish you may replace all six of the above supplements with one product combination called Ultimate Build. TM
- After the two week cleanse mentioned in step one above, take at least one bottle of Bifidophilus Flora Force "friendly bacteria" to insure the integrity of the natural flora of your digestive tract. Take four capsules a day in divided dosages 15 minutes before meals. This is an essential step for rebuilding a weakened immune system and it must not be omitted. If you have a history of yeast or fungal infections this supplement should be continued for six months or longer.
Direct Aid for Fibromyalgia:(These must be taken for at least six months.)
- Take the malic acid/magnesium supplement Fibralgia according to label directions (three a day.) Malic acid, from apples, along with magnesium, has been medically proven to aid patients suffering from fibromyalgia. It is beneficial for muscle health.
- Flax Seed OilTake according to label directions for at least six months. Continue taking if desired. If you crave fats, fatty foods, fried foods, etc. continue taking Flax Seed Oil for as long as you have these cravings.
- LecithinTake six capsules a day with meals for nervous system health.
- Coenzyme Q-10Take one 30 mg capsule with every meal (three times a day.) This important enzyme is necessary for cellular respiration and energy production helping improve muscle function. It also supports the immune system, the circulatory system, and it is a powerful antioxidant.
- MSM/Glucosamine Cream is absorbed directly into the tissues for maximum effectiveness. It is a significant source of glucosamine sulfate (4%), a component of healthy joints, and the organic sulfur MSM (2%), an important component of the body's soft tissues. This very effective deep penetrating formula provides prolonged release action of both MSM and glucosamine sulfate through a patented liposome delivery system. It also promotes skin health and resilience and is fragrance free. Apply as needed to the skin around painful muscle and joint areas.
Support the Thyroid Gland:As indicated above many, if not most, cases of fibromyalgia are associated with an underactive thyroid gland. Take our Lifestyle Analysis Questionnaire as a screening test to determine if this may be a concern for you. If so, read my article on underactive thyroid and include thyroid support. This is extremely important.
According to a study done by the Touch Research Institute of Miami, fibromyalgia patients who received 30-minute massages twice a week for five weeks reported reduced pain and stiffness, less fatigue, decreased depression and less difficulty sleeping.
Essential Oils and Massage
The best type of massage for fibromyalgia is the light touch kind. A deep pressure massage can aggravate the condition. Adding essential oils such as lavender and geranium to the massage oil can be very helpful. A blend of these two oils seems to work best. They can also be diffused into the air to aid relaxation and added to bath water for a relaxing warm bath. Epson Salts (magnesium sulfate) should also be added to the bath water. The magnesium in the salts and the essential oils are absorbed directly through the skin and into to the muscles where they can be most beneficial.
- Twice a year (in the Spring and again in the Fall), do a two week cleanse with CleanStart.
- After each cleanse take one bottle of Bifidophilus Flora Force "friendly bacteria" according to label directions.
- All of the nutritional products (1-6) mentioned in the general nutrition section above should be taken as part of any good maintenance program. If you wish these can be replaced with one product combination called Ultimate Build.
- Depending on individual needs one or more products can be added to the above. This can include St. John's Wort, sleeping aids, Flax Seed Oil, or any of the direct aid products mentioned above.
- Support any weak body system, according to the Lifestyle Analysis Questionnaire, with the key product for that system. Pay particular attention to the glandular system if the thyroid gland is in need support, even if your medical tests do not indicate an underactive thyroid according to the doctor's criteria.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables avoiding too many sweets, saturated fats and food additives. Avoid "diet" products including those containing aspartame (NutriSweet) or artificial fats such as Olestra. As much as possible avoid junk foods, fast foods, caffeine, sugar, refined foods (white flour and white rice) and processed foods.
- Get regular exercise including daily stretching and vigorous exercise at least three times a week. Walking is an excellent exercise for most people.
Reversing Fibromyalgia by Dr. Joe M. Elrod, Woodland Publishing.
Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Check with your health professional before altering any treatment regimen or if you take prescription drugs.