Natural Ways to Address the Complexities of Fibromyalgia
Do you suffer from chronic or severe pain throughout your body? Have your traditional physicians concluded that your symptoms are psychosomatic after tests ruled out other chronic conditions? If so, you may have fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), the physical and psychological challenges of which can vary among patients but are very real. Though you should not attempt to diagnose or treat yourself, you can begin to heal by learning about your condition’s symptoms, potential causes, and available natural treatments.
Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) Defined and Potential Causes
FMS is often described as a musculoskeletal disorder similar to chronic fatigue syndrome that predominantly affects middle-aged women. Unlike chronic fatigue, however, an FMS diagnosis includes chronic pain or stiffness in three body locations for at least three months, in addition to at least four other symptoms, including chronic fatigue, chronic headache/facial pain, sleep disturbance, neurological and psychological ailments, joint swelling, irritable bowel syndrome/abdominal discomfort, irritable bladder, chest pain, cognitive disorders, depression, anxiety, and/or variance in symptoms due to physical activity, stress, or weather/environmental sensitivity. FMS pain generally affects the fibrous tissues, muscles, tendons, or ligaments, and the 18 “trigger points” throughout the body that can be abnormally sensitive to the touch tend to cluster around the neck, shoulders, chest, knees, elbows, and hips. Since there is no specific FMS diagnostic or lab test, practitioners diagnose it by ruling out other conditions whose symptoms can mimic those of FMS (candidiasis, chemical sensitivity, viral and bacterial infections [hepatitis C, Lyme disease], and various autoimmune diseases [lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis]).
While there is no known cause of FMS, onset may be initiated by mitochondrial dysfunction (inability of cellular powerhouses to produce adequate energy, called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP), obesity, physical or mental stress, elevated inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-8, TNF), inflammation from co-occurring health conditions, nonrestorative sleep, injury, and/or or infections (including respiratory mycoplasmal infection). Current research suggests that hormonal imbalances may also play a role. FMS patients may thus suffer from deficient levels of serotonin, melatonin, or growth hormone, or a dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (primarily responsible for the stress response). No genetic component of FMS has been identified.
~ Dr. Dorothy Martin-Neville, PhD
In treating FMS, practitioners generally incorporate both drug and non-drug therapies, including education, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. To address the individual symptoms, they frequently prescribe pain relievers, sleep aids, NSAIDs, antidepressants (Cymbalta®, Savella®), muscle relaxants, Botox®, and anticonvulsants (Lyrica®). Unfortunately, all of these have potential side effects and none address the complete scope of FMS symptoms. Buprenorphine is one largely unknown, minimally addictive narcotic that has shown some promise in treating chronic or severe symptoms, especially pain, insomnia, and depression.
Diminishing Symptoms Through Lifestyle Changes
As with all chronic conditions, wellness must begin with dietary and lifestyle changes. Both vegetarian and candida diets have demonstrated effectiveness against FMS symptoms. With the introduction of large amounts of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits and reduced intake of potentially cell-damaging animal proteins, a plant-based diet can promote weight loss and reduce oxidative damage to cells. The immune-enhancing candida diet, with its focus on eliminating energy-zapping sugar and other foods that feed a yeast-like fungus, has proven able to combat the chronic fatigue that many FMS patients experience. Helpful therapies include:
- physical therapy (massage, craniosacral therapy,
- gentle exercise to increase blood flow and range of motion (swimming in a heated pool, yoga, tai chi, Pilates)
- hot baths
- nutrition counseling
Nutritional and Other Holistic Therapies
There are multiple non-traditional approaches to addressing FMS, both those that are somewhat controversial and those that are more widely known and accepted among holistic healers. Dorothy Martin-Neville, PhD, who received an NIH Frontier Medicine Grant to research the psychological and spiritual causes or correlates of fibromyalgia, maintains that this debilitating condition is curable, “[b]ut only if you are willing to change your beliefs, understand how you do relationships, and see a whole new way of doing your life with all of who are meant to be in it.” R. Paul St. Amand, MD, developed the Guaifenesin Protocol (fibromyalgiatreatment.com) to treat and manage FMS. Unfortunately, by his own admission, “tightly controlled and credible research is required for full acceptance” of his approach, though his Fibromyalgia Treatment Center has ample clinical evidence and testimonials proving its success.
Following are some of the more frequently recommended targeted therapies for FMS symptoms. A comprehensive nutritional approach should ideally address: (1) reduction of pain and inflammation; (2) adrenal fatigue; (3) immunity; and (4) depression.
- 5-HTP: The body uses this metabolite of the amino acid L-tryptophan to make serotonin, the hormone associated with healthy sleep and mood elevation. Clinical studies have indicated that supplementation with 5-HTP in FMS patients may relieve insomnia, fatigue, pain intensity, anxiety, and tender point count (TPC).
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine: This well-absorbed amino acid, found in mitochondrial membranes, supports energy production and protects cells against oxidative damage. In a 2007 study of 102 subjects, researchers noted that FMS may be associated with a carnitine deficit and found that supplementation significantly improved pain and mental health compared to placebo.
- Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinol): An essential nutrient for proper mitochondrial function, this antioxidant has been found lacking in the blood cells of many FMS patients.
- D-Ribose: The body requires this sugar to make ATP. Small studies have shown that the correct dose taken multiple times during the day can improve energy and exercise capacity, sleep, mental clarity and outlook, and vitality.
- Magnesium: This macromineral is involved in over 300 metabolic processes in the body, and its deficiency is widespread. Some research has implicated low blood levels in the development of FMS in certain patients. In exploring natural FMS remedies, a red blood cell magnesium test is recommended, and supplementation with magnesium malate or citrate may prove most effective.
- Melatonin: The body uses serotonin from the pineal gland to make this sleep hormone, which is frequently deficient in FMS patients.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids (ideally from fish oil) combat inflammation, and supplementation has proven to improve FMS pain, TPC, fatigue, and depression. They should be balanced with appropriate intake of omega-6 fatty acids.
- SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine): Studies have proven that supplementation with this natural compound, made from the amino acid L-methionine and ATP, can improve morning stiffness, fatigue, sleep quality, and depression in some FMS patients.
- Vitamin D3: FMS patients are frequently deficient in this hormone, and a blood level greater than 30–50 ng/mL could greatly relieve pain and depression. However, clinical results are mixed; researchers generally call for additional studies on the impact of vitamin D3 on symptoms and treatment should be based on an individual’s regularly checked blood level.
Many disorders can cause FMS symptoms. If you suffer chronic muscular pain for a prolonged period, a holistic healthcare professional can provide you with a diagnosis and nutritional treatment regimen.
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.
Submitted by Erika Dworkin, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®, owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe (860.646.8178), 378 Middle Turnpike West, Manchester, CT, www.cthealthshop.com, nutrition specialists trusted since 1956. Erika is available for consultation and to speak to groups, including on Zoom.
All statements in this article are practice- or scientific evidence-based and references are available upon request.