Imagine waking up every morning feeling worn out, achy, and depressed. The fatigue never seems to go away, and anxiety is a constant companion because you just don’t understand what is wrong with you. You’re scared and confused. If it’s this bad now, what will tomorrow bring? This is the experience many people describe who now know that the mysterious symptoms they were suffering from have a name: Fibromyalgia (FM). Once you can put a name to it and begin to understand it, there are always ways to manage it and get your life back.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia literally means “pain of the tissues and muscles.” It is also known as Fibrositis and Fibromyositis. It is characterized by inflammation, fatigue, and pain primarily in the body’s connective tissues, such as the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The pain is usually consistent, but it moves around the body. It is a relatively newly discovered disease, in fact, a formal diagnosis for Fibromyalgia didn’t exist until 1990, and estimates vary as to how prevalent it is. Some say that 3 to 6 million Americans have Fibromyalgia, while others put it as high as 10 million, which afflicts about 5 million people a year in the United States. It is mostly found in adults and is much more common in women than in men, especially women of childbearing age. Women suffer from FM more than men at a ratio of 7:1. Unfortunately, Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis that many doctors miss altogether, or patients are dismissed as hypochondriacs.
Fibromyalgia is considered to be in the family of rheumatoid diseases, a relative of arthritis. In 1990, the first standards of diagnosis were established for Fibromyalgia by the American College of Rheumatology. To be definitively diagnosed, a subject must have widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 identified tender points or trigger points, usually found in pairs. These points include the base of the neck, the spine, hips, pelvis, elbows, knees, and shoulders. For the diagnosis to hold true, pain must be experienced for at least 90 consecutive days.
What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia has been described as an “energy crisis in the body.” It has many common symptoms:
- Widespread pain that moves around
- The “Wind Up”: snowballing pain that comes from repetitive, minor physical contact
- Significant fatigue
- Difficulty getting enough quality sleep
- Depression and anxiety
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Poor memory
- Over-sensitivity to heat or cold
- Tension headaches
- Abdominal pain
- Painful menstrual cycles
- Difficulty swallowing
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Symptoms tend to worsen with increased physical or mental stress, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and even changes in the weather.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
The exact cause is not known. There seems to be a connection between family history of the illness and risk; thus, heredity is considered a possible factor. People who have another rheumatic disease such as arthritis are at increased risk as well. Low serotonin levels and low magnesium levels in the body are also a clue. Fibromyalgia patients often have both of these deficiencies.
Physical or Emotional Trauma
One trend that interests researchers are that many patients seem to experience the onset of the disease after a physical or emotional trauma in their lives, such as an injury, or a traumatic event like an automobile accident, or a physical assault. These kinds of stress are thought to trigger the onset of Fibromyalgia in some cases. Other contributing factors could be infections (such as a bad bout with the flu) or changes in brain chemistry.
Some evidence suggests a role of hormone imbalance since Fibromyalgia predominantly affects middle-aged women, a population whose hormones have begun to decline or fall out of youthful balance (Lawrence 2008; Terhorst 2011). Fluctuating hormone levels caused by endocrine dysfunction commonly produce symptoms that are similar to those of Fibromyalgia (muscle pain/tenderness, exhaustion, and reduced exercise capacity) (Geenen 2002). I highly suggest saliva testing sex hormones and the adrenal hormone cortisol to check for hormone imbalances. Also, according to Dr. John Lowe, thyroid hormone is the missing ingredient in the treatment of Fibromyalgia that is almost universally overlooked. Conventional testing for thyroid issues can prove useless to many that actually need thyroid hormone. For tests and lab work to ask your doctor to see Hypothyroidism Symptoms and Solutions.
The relationship between obesity and chronic pain has been common knowledge for many years, but more recent research suggests that this association is particularly true for those with Fibromyalgia. In 2010, a study of 215 Fibromyalgia patients suggested that nearly 80% of participants were either overweight or obese. These same patients exhibited greater tender point sensitivity, reduced physical strength, reduced lower-body flexibility, shorter sleep duration, and greater restlessness during sleep (Okifuji 2010). A 2011 review article concluded that Fibromyalgia patients are 40% more likely to be obese and 30% more likely to be overweight (Ursini 2011).
Depression and Anxiety
The frequency of depression and anxiety in Fibromyalgia patients has caused some health professionals and loved ones to suspect that the illness was primarily psychological and not a “real” condition. This has generally been dismissed in the last decade or so as more information has been gleaned about fibromyalgia. However, the ambiguity of this illness still haunts some of its own victims and causes them to doubt if it is not all “in my head.” Some patients report that their own guilt exacerbates their anxiety about not doing what they used to do. But as more hard evidence on Fibromyalgia comes out, the legitimacy of the disease becomes more and more confirmed both in the eyes of its sufferers and the general public.
Yeast, Fungus, Mold
Yeast, Fungus, and Mold. There is a mold called Deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as Vomitoxin that is one of several mycotoxins produced by certain Fusarium (fungi) that frequently infect corn, wheat, oats, barley, rice, and other grains in the field or during storage. The exposure risk to humans is directly through foods of plant origin (cereal grains) or indirectly through foods of animal origin (kidney, liver, milk, eggs). It has been detected in buckwheat popcorn and other food products, including flour, bread, breakfast cereals, noodles, infant foods, pancakes, malt, and beer. DON affects animal and human health, causing acute temporary nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, and fever (PubMed.com), many of the same symptoms of Fibromyalgia. The fungal quotient of Fibromyalgia is, has your doctor asked you the following questions: 1) Have you taken many rounds of antibiotics? 2) Do you crave pasta, bread, sugar, and/or alcohol? Fungi is a parasite, and they get in your body and crave sugar. 3) Sinus infections? 96% of all chronic sinus infections are ultimately linked to mold. (Mayo Clinic) 4) Does heat worsen symptoms? Fungus gravitates to not areas inside or outside the body. 5) Nail fungus or dandruff? All of these can predispose a person to have Fibromyalgia. It could be fungus inside of your body…for instance, in your joints.
Pain is not uncommon in those with fungal disease. “The symptoms of blastomycosis are similar to flu symptoms, and include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, joint pain, and chest pain.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Myositis is a rare disease in which the muscle fibers and skin are inflamed and damaged, resulting in muscle weakness (sound like Fibromyalgia?). “Infectious myositis may be caused by a broad range of…fungal and parasitic agents. The most commonly reported cause of fungal myositis is Candida species. The triad of fever, rash, and muscle tenderness among candidemic patients suggest myositis.” American Society for Microbiology. Talk to your practitioner and do your own research to see if your symptoms might have a fungus link.
One more consideration. Lyme disease is the number one vector-borne spreading epidemic worldwide. It mimics common diseases such as Fibromyalgia (FM), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis), autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, and psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety. In 2013 the CDC released new statistics showing that ten times more individuals have been affected with Lyme than previously suspected. Since the blood tests for diagnosing Lyme disease are unreliable, we would expect that a certain percentage of those diagnosed with FM are suffering from Lyme disease. Talk with your healthcare provider about the possibility of Lyme disease.
Treatments Available for Fibromyalgia
There is no known 100% cure for Fibromyalgia. The goal of conventional therapy is to manage and lessen symptoms. The FDA has only approved three specific drugs for fibromyalgia. In June 2007, pregabalin (Lyrica®), an anticonvulsant drug, became the first to be approved. A year later, duloxetine (Cymbalta®), an antidepressant, became the second. The most recent addition to this list is the antidepressant milnacipran (Savella®), which was FDA approved in January 2009. Unfortunately, none of these medications are effective for the entire scope of symptoms and disabilities associated with Fibromyalgia (Argoff 2002). Many patients either fail to respond or develop significant side effects to these drugs, especially since they must be on them long-term (Braz 2011).
The best course of action for most with Fibromyalgia seems to be a combination of detoxification, healthy diet, exercise, dietary supplements/herbs, and quality sleep.
Exercise. Many have found swimming or water exercises to be especially helpful. Stretching is key, as well as proper warm-up and cool-down periods. Everyone is different, so try several different types of exercise and use what works best for you. Just remember to pace yourself and be consistent. Exercise should not be painful. If you are experiencing pain, try changing the type, intensity, or duration of your activity.
Adequate restful sleep is critical in the fight against Fibromyalgia. Sleeplessness is a typical characteristic of the disease. Research seems to indicate that many patients suffer worse symptoms when they don’t get enough sleep. A pattern of poor sleep over time may even make the risk of developing Fibromyalgia greater. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, especially in the evening or before bed. Regular exercise is known to help stabilize sleep patterns as well. Some find it beneficial to go to bed and get up at approximately the same time every day. Also, try to make your bedroom as sleep-friendly as possible. Dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable are the buzz words here. Bedrooms should be bedrooms, not offices, conference rooms, or entertainment centers.
Food allergies can undermine anyone’s health and well-being. Eliminating foods that you are sensitive to is an appropriate beginning step. Some of the more popular offending foods are gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, red meat, hydrogenated oils, and foods high in yeast. A healthy diet of organic vegetables, berries, green drinks, cold-water fish, pasture-raised poultry, organic rice, and healthy oils such as olive oil and coconut oil can be beneficial.
Inflammation is always present in some form or another in those with chronic pain. In Fibromyalgia, inflammation may not be systemic but rather happens deep within the nervous system and the brain’s microglia. Eliminating foods that usually cause inflammation can help reduce pain. Eat organic, fresh, unprocessed foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables. Make sure you get enough omega-3 fats. Shoot for 1,000 to 2,000 mg EPA and DHA per day. Four ounces of wild Alaskan salmon contains 1,300 mg. Ground flax and hemp seed are also good sources. Some foods that cause inflammation are dairy, gluten, sugar, and soy. Some people may also need to remove grains. If you decide to add these foods back into your diet, do it one at a time and write down how you feel. An anti-inflammatory diet may also help you lose weight. People who get to a healthy weight often find that chronic pain goes away. Intermittent fasting may also help ease inflammation and the pain of Fibromyalgia.
When the lymph system gets sluggish (due to illness, surgery, toxic overload, or lack of activity), lymph fluid begins to back up. The results can be swelling, joint pain, nausea, and fatigue. Stagnant lymph may be stored in lymph nodes for a long period of time but eventually becomes too toxic for the body to handle well. A sluggish lymphatic system not only affects the building, repair, and waste disposal systems, but the body’s defenses against foreign substances are also impaired. Effective ways to keep the lymph moving are rebounding, dry skin brushing, and deep breathing exercises.
Adrenals & Stress Reduction
The adrenals also play an important role in the immune system and are responsible for balancing hormones throughout the body. Strong, efficient adrenal glands are vital to both genders in all cycles of life: for young people, through the child-bearing years, into menopause, and beyond. Many suffering from Fibromyalgia usually experience high-stress levels in dealing with a health concern that seemingly has no definitive answers. High stress levels can result in adrenal malfunction, which results in hormone imbalance. See Stressed and Fatigued? Check Your Adrenals.
Gut Health, Cleansing & Detoxification Help for Fibromyalgia
There is very little available in the way of mainstream medical treatments available for Fibromyalgia that are successful. This is possibly a good thing since it has motivated both patients and health providers to look for natural alternatives. A recent study from Mayo Clinic stated that approximately 98% of Fibromyalgia patients polled used some form of alternative or complementary therapy to ease their symptoms.
Detoxification, Cleansing, Digestion
The importance of gut health — detoxification, removal of toxins, and working on the digestive tract — in my opinion, is imperative. This is often overlooked even by natural health practitioners, but something that can prove very successful in Fibromyalgia treatment.
Gut health determines what nutrients are absorbed and what toxins, allergens, and microbes are kept out. It is also directly linked to the health of the entire body. In fact, good intestinal health can be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption, utilization, and assimilation of food.
Your gut’s nervous system has been termed the “second brain.” The gut contains more neurotransmitters than your brain and actually contains a brain of its own. Called the “enteric nervous system,” it is a very complex piece of your body’s biology that is wired to your brain in intricate ways. Your gut-brain and your head-brain continually send messages to each other, and if this message system is interfered with, your health may become impaired.
Most with Fibromyalgia report digestive difficulties. Irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, bloating, and gas are often reported. Using an oxygen-based cleanser along with an herbal liver cleanse can be very effective. I recommend doing several oxygen digestive tract cleanses and liver cleanses back-to-back and then at least three times yearly. Repopulating your gut with a spore-bearing probiotic such as Floratrex probiotic is very helpful in improving immune system function. Taking a digestive enzyme with every meal usually helps with bloating and gas.
Harmful Organism Cleansing
Tests for Candida overgrowth and parasites will usually indicate positive in most people and especially those with Fibromyalgia. Candida overgrowth and parasites can be addressed with an effective Harmful Organism Cleanse that includes a combination of anti-fungal and antibacterial botanicals.
More Natural Health Suggestions for Fibromyalgia
- Boosting Serotonin Levels seems to be beneficial to most patients. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a supplement that, when ingested, converts into serotonin in the body. One study indicated that most patients experienced significant improvement in pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, and fatigue after taking 100 mg. three times per day for 30 days. Results were even better after 90 days.
- Magnesium is another big player in supplemental remedies. Since magnesium is so important to the Fibromyalgia patient, I would like to park here and talk a bit more about this mineral and how to get more of it in your diet. Magnesium is involved in over 600 enzymatic reactions in the body. It is particularly critical to the proper production and metabolism of energy (ATP) and muscle functions. Most Fibromyalgia patients are deficient in magnesium. This creates fatigue and a lack of energy, as well as muscle pain. In review, magnesium makes such a difference in the lives of fibro patients because it is so critical in the metabolism of energy and proper muscle function. It can be found in high concentrations in many foods, including beans, nuts, grains, fish, grass-fed meat, and dark green vegetables such as avocados, broccoli, and spinach. Deficiency can also lead to irregular heartbeat, nerve disorders, and circulation problems. Magnesium also works with calcium and enables it to be absorbed properly into the body. Make sure that your calcium to magnesium ratio is optimum by taking an absorbable calcium and magnesium supplement.
- Vitamin B6 should also be taken along with any magnesium supplements, as B6 works to allow greater magnesium absorption into the cells. I use and recommend magnesium orotate taken orally, and magnesium oil applied transdermally. People with fibromyalgia should consider having a red blood cell magnesium test to ensure that they are not deficient in this important nutrient.
- Vitamin D – Since those with Fibromyalgia syndrome have impaired mobility, they usually get less exposure to sunlight. This contributes to the vitamin D deficiency frequently observed in this population (Bhatty 2010, Olama 2013). In one trial involving 100 women with Fibromyalgia, 61% were found to be vitamin D deficient (blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D).
- B-vitamins – B-vitamins were reported in a survey to be used by a quarter of Fibromyalgia patients (Wahner-Roedler 2005). Homocysteine levels are kept in check by adequate B-vitamin intake. In one study, women with Fibromyalgia were shown to have higher homocysteine levels in their cerebrospinal fluid than healthy controls (Regland 1997). Other evidence indicates that a Myers’ Cocktail, which consists of an intravenous infusion of several vitamins (i.e., B-complex vitamins), may be useful in Fibromyalgia (Gaby 2002; Ali 2009). Also, B-vitamins are essential for maintaining optimal mitochondrial function (Depeint 2006).
- Malic Acid is a substance found in many fruits, with especially high levels in apples. It is involved in the production of energy in the body. When malic acid levels are low, the body turns to less efficient ways of making energy, and this causes lactic acid to accumulate. Lactic acid causes muscle pain and fatigue. Supplementation with a combination of magnesium orotate and malic acid is especially effective.
- Increasing Nitric Oxide Levels. Researchers from Washington State University were successful in decreasing Fibromyalgia pain by increasing nitric oxide production (NO) from endothelial cells. NO delivers nutrients to muscles by dilating blood vessels. Patients with Fibromyalgia have low levels of nitric oxide. This deprives their muscles of oxygen-rich blood and nutrients. Eventually, harmful toxins build up and cause debilitating pain. Supplements found to increase nitric oxide are pomegranate extract, cocoa polyphenols, and Super-Oxide Dismutase (SOD).
- Coenzyme Q10 and Ginkgo Biloba combined show great promise. One study found that 64% of subjects experienced significant relief from symptoms after taking these supplements together.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine is a substance that is important to energy production as well. Many fibromyalgia patients are deficient in this. Supplementation of 500-1000 mg. daily for 12 weeks has proven useful.
- Oregano Oil can help to address SIBO, which stands for small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. SIBO leads to systemic overproduction and absorption of toxins that impair brain/nerve and muscle mitochondrial functions. Bacterial overgrowth produces D-lactic acid, a neurotoxin, and a metabolic poison in abnormal amounts. It can cause fatigue, muscle pain, and issues with cognition. Bacterial overgrowth can produce hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is also a neurotoxin / metabolic poison and can also cause fatigue, muscle pain, and dyscognition. Bacterial overgrowth can produce tryptophanase. Tryptophanase digests tryptophan which is the main building block for serotonin and, ultimately, melatonin. The literature shows that “Fibromyalgia patients are low in tryptophan, which means poor sleep and increases in pain, fatigue, carbohydrate cravings, and depression. Tryptophan depletion leads to melatonin deficiency which in turn leads to sleep disturbances, mitochondrial impairment, and oxidative stress as well as muscle fatigue.” Migraine Headaches, Hypothyroidism and Fibromyalgia: Assessments and Therapeutic Approaches using Integrative Chiropractic, Naturopathic, Osteopathic and Functional Medicine by Dr. Alex Vasquez.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) are helpful too. Clean fish oil, flaxseed oil, and primrose oil are good sources for EFA’s. These fatty acids aid in producing series 1 and 3 prostaglandins, which help reduce inflammation. Stay away from animal fats in the diet, as these spawn series 2 prostaglandins, which increase inflammation.
- Ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps with muscle and joint pain. Researchers have also discovered that one of the most important health benefits of ginger is that it can stymie the growth of “Substance P,” a pain mediator found at elevated levels in many patients.
- St. John’s Wort helps many patients with both depression and sleeplessness. It also works well in conjunction with 5-HTP and magnesium.
- Apple Cider Vinegar has anti-fungal properties. Inherent in apple cider vinegar is a nutrient known as malic acid. Malic acid exhibits anti-fungal activity both topically and internally. Malic acid has been shown to have benefits for skin health and may reduce pain associated with Fibromyalgia. Taking apple cider vinegar (organic and raw) can actually be an aid in ridding the body of potentially pathogenic fungi.
- Massage Therapy is a therapy that is helpful in many cases. Some love it, but others complain that it is painful for them at times. Everyone is different, and as is the nature of Fibromyalgia, one’s levels and locations of pain vary. A massage therapist must be sensitive to this when working on a subject. Short sessions are usually best. Some have even taught family members what works best for them. A form called “deep muscle massage” is preferred by many. It’s wonderful to have a masseuse right on the premises! (That would be nice for all of us, fibro or not). Heat therapy, cold therapy, sauna therapy, and hydrotherapy (warm baths) are often used either standing alone or in combination with massage.
- Chiropractic. Chiropractors aim to correct misalignments of the spine and pelvis through the use of hands-on adjustments. As joint motion improves, fibromyalgia patients often discover that the excruciating pain can be reduced or, in some cases, eliminated. Once this pain is under control, other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia such as fatigue, sleep deprivation, and depression may diminish. Chiropractic care has helped thousands of patients return to their normal lives. Retired Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead, the first woman General in the U.S. Army to command in Iraq, suffered from Fibromyalgia during her service. She states: “The adjustments and nutritional advice I received from my chiropractor helped in treating the Fibromyalgia and made me feel better on a day-to-day basis.”
- Aromatherapy is also found useful by some patients. A soak in a hot tub with essential oils of lavender, frankincense, juniper, or chamomile can be soothing to both the body and the spirit.
Before embarking on any of the above recommendations, I highly recommend consulting with a knowledgeable Naturopath, Functional Medicine Doctor, or Chiropractor. Discuss your symptoms and this article with your practitioner and ask for help and guidance in monitoring your path to wellness. Often the success or failure of any protocol can be partially linked to knowledgeable guidance, high amounts of encouragement, and frequent accountability.
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