Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million adults in America. But what is fibromyalgia? The condition is characterized primarily by chronic, widespread unexplained pain and tender points throughout the body, as well as profound fatigue and sleep disturbances. Fibromyalgia is most common among women and people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Those with fibromyalgia (FM) may also experience secondary symptoms such as waking unrefreshed, morning stiffness, weakness, brain fog, headaches/migraines, mood complaints (e.g. depression, anxiety), numbness/tingling, joint swelling, balance problems, itchy or burning skin and digestive disorders.
These symptoms often look similar to health conditions such as lyme disease, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or infection. Fibromyalgia also shares many similarities with chronic fatigue syndrome—it’s estimated that 70 percent of people diagnosed with FM also meet the criteria for chronic fatigue—as well as multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (hypersensitivity to chemicals and smells). Because there are no lab tests that can confirm a FM diagnosis, fibromyalgia is often only diagnosed after other conditions have been ruled out.
The cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, but it is thought that a variety of factors may be involved—such as genetics, previous infections/illness, emotional or physical stress, and imbalances with important chemicals such as serotonin, tryptophan and norepinephrine. Ultimately, symptoms of pain may be due to faulty communication between pain signals and the nervous system, which results in an amplified pain sensation.
A variety of treatment options exist to help reduce pain, lessen daytime fatigue and improve sleep. Conventional therapy uses analgesics, sleep aids, muscle relaxers or anti-depressants. Natural and alternative therapies, on the other hand, utilize a whole body approach to treatment that includes diet, nutrition and lifestyle changes, botanicals and bodywork.
Tips for a whole body approach
Many people suffering from fibromyalgia find relief through daily stretching, light exercise, massage, yoga, meditation or acupuncture. People with FM generally experience good days and bad days; it’s important not to overexert yourself on good days as it could exacerbate symptoms.
A good dietary approach includes whole food-based nutrition, identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, and ensuring adequate hydration. Avoiding or significantly decreasing caffeine and alcohol can improve sleep and decrease the body’s toxic burden.
Many supplements can also help to reduce pain and improve fatigue and sleep quality.
D-ribose helps replenish core energy, provides muscles with energy, reduces muscle stiffness, soreness and fatigue, and improves heart function. Try Ribose Muscle Edge from Jarrow Formulas.
Magnesium, which is commonly deficient in those with FM, relaxes muscles, is necessary for proper muscle function and crucial for energy production. Try Pharmaca Magnesium Citrate, Pure Essence’s Ionic-Fizz or Natural Vitality Calm.
Corvalen M is a helpful formula that combines ribose and magnesium and malate (or malic acid), which plays an important role in energy production.
Herbs such as boswellia and turmeric can help alleviate pain.
Licorice (try Herb Pharm’s) can help combat fatigue and boost energy levels.
5-HTP helps improve sleep and mood by raising serotonin levels. Try Pharmaca, Natural Factors or Jarrow Formulas.
Melatonin helps improve sleep (learn more about different sleep supplements that can help). Try melatonin from Pharmaca, Natural Factors or Source Naturals.
Fish oil helps reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Try Metagenics or Nordic Naturals.
Liver support helps address toxic burden. Try New Chapter’s Liver Force or Milk Thistle by Pharmaca, Eclectic Institute or Herb Pharm.
Greens are an important source of minerals, help provide energy, and alkalize the body. Try Health Force Nutritionals, Amazing Grass or Vibrant Health.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia—such as deep muscle pain and fatigue that last longer than a week or two—talk to a qualified health practitioner about treatment options.