What is Fibromyalgia?
Also known as fibrosis’s, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyositis
The name fibromyalgia indicates pain in fibrous tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other sites on the body. The neck, shoulders, thorax, low back, and thighs are the most common areas affected.
Fibromyalgia occurs mainly in women aged 30 to 50. Some clinicians believe that fibromyalgia may be induced or intensified by physical or mental stress, poor sleep, trauma, exposure to damp or cold, and occasionally by a systemic and usually rheumatic disorder.
People often report a traumatic event that triggered the initial symptoms, such as severe infectious illness such as Lyme disease, emotional or physical stress, an accident, or a history of childhood physical abuse.
- Pain and tenderness throughout the body
- People often describe neck, shoulder, low back and hip pain that seems to move from place to place.
- Sleep is often disturbed, and people often wake up at night with a feeling of stiffness, fatigue, and achiness.
People with fibromyalgia appear to have abnormal brain waves in stage 4 sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep. Stages 4 sleep in important for tissue repair, antibody production, the formation of growth hormone, and muscle and bone health. People with fibromyalgia wake during this stage, and consequently do not feel they have had a restful sleep.
People with fibromyalgia have been found by researchers to have increased amounts of neurotransmitters that cause pain responses, such as substance P, and depressed levels of natural painkillers, such as serotonin and growth hormone. Lower levels of serotonin are also involved in depression.
The American College of Rheumatologists defines fibromyalgia as the presence of widespread chronic pain and the existence of pain in at least 11 of 18 specific points on the body when pressure is applied.
Other symptoms include:
- Intolerance to cold or heat
- Urinary frequency
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Numbness and tingling
Conventional lab tests and physical exam is often normal, which can be frustrating for the patient.
Use of a single supplement may bring some relief, but a total program is usually necessary to bring true healing to people with fibromyalgia. A naturopathic doctor or other qualified health practitioners can assess the symptoms and develop a customized health plan.
Research has found that switching to a vegetarian diet can improve symptoms of pain, joint stiffness, and sleep disturbances in people with fibromyalgia. Sugar should be avoided. An elimination and challenge diet can help to identify the foods that may be worsening the symptoms.
Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia
Short for S-adenosylmethionine, SAMe is a chemical derived from a combination of the amino acid methionine and the main molecule for energy in the body, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In one preliminary study, people took 800 mg of SAMe or placebo for 6 weeks. Compared to the group taking a placebo, those taking SAMe improved in disease activity, pain at rest, fatigue, and morning stiffness. A number of tender points was the same as placebo. People with bipolar disease (manic depression), who are taking anti-depressants, or who are using the drug levidopa (commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s disease) should not use SAMe.
Short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-HTP is commonly used for depression because it is believed to increase serotonin in the brain. People with fibromyalgia have been found to have lower levels of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps with sleep and prevents depression.
A typical dosage of 5-HTP is 100 to 200 mg three times a day. Once 5-HTP begins to work, the dosage can be reduced significantly while still maintaining the results. People taking prescription antidepressants, the Parkinson’s medication carbidopa, or medications that raise serotonin levels, such as tramadol (Ultram), sumatriptan, and zolipidem (Ambien) should not take 5-HTP unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
People with fibromyalgia have been found to be deficient in magnesium. Although the conventional test for serum magnesium may be normal, magnesium levels are often low when the red blood cell magnesium is checked.
Increase magnesium rich foods such as legumes, tofu, seeds, nuts, whole foods, and green leafy vegetables. Magnesium supplements can be used to improve energy levels and emotional states, while decreasing pain. A typical dose of magnesium is 150 to 250 mg three times per day of magnesium citrate or magnesium malate.
Malic acid is an important substance for producing energy at the cellular level. Apples are one source of malic acid. Clinically, malic acid has been found to reduce the fatigue and pain of fibromyalgia. A typical dosage for fibromyalgia is 1200 to 2000 mg per day, taken in divided doses.
Herbs and nutrients for adrenal support – People with fibromyalgia have low levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. When there is chronic stress, high amounts of cortisol are released. Prolonged stress can “exhaust” the adrenal glands, a functional condition commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue.
Low cortisol secretion is linked to low energy, muscle weakness and pain, thyroid dysfunction, immune system depression, sleep disorders, poor skin regeneration, and decreased growth hormone uptake. Adrenal glandulars, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin C, licorice, rhodiola rosea, and oatstraw are just some of the supplements that can tonify the adrenals.
Vitamin C and E, selenium, CoQ10, cysteine, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) are antioxidant nutrients that may benefit people with fibromyalgia.
Herbal formulas should be customized for a person’s unique symptoms and condition. A typical formula to treat the symptoms, ease the pain, and strengthen the immune system uses equal parts of the following herbs:
An immune tonic
Devils claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Adrenal tonic and anti-inflammatory
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
A liver cleanser
Burdock (Arctium lappa)