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Coping with Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex debilitating pain disorder that is estimated to affect approximately 2% of the U.S. population. Women are affected more often than men at a ratio of 9:1, and it is the second most prevalent rheumatic disease with over 10 million sufferers. It is estimated that the cost of fibromyalgia to the U.S. economy is $9.2 billion annually. Due the complexity of this condition, this article will go over the highlights and possible treatment options using natural products.

What is fibromyalgia (FMS)? The term is coined from the Latin words fibro (connective tissue fibers), my (muscles), al (pain), and gia (condition of). FMS is not a new syndrome. William Balfour, a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, first described it in 1816. For many years the medical profession has called it by different names including chronic rheumatism, myalgia, pressure point syndrome, and fibrositis. In 1987 the AMA (American Medical Association) recognized FMS as a true illness and a major cause of debility. It is unfortunate that some physicians still believe it does not exist. Let’s look at some of the symptoms experienced by sufferers and how it is being diagnosed.

Symptoms accompanying this disorder include widespread muscular and joint pain, spasms and diffuse tenderness in many areas of the body, unrefreshed sleep, lack of sleep, fatigue and emotional distress. There are other symptoms that can be present such as chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, TMJ, PMS, panic attack, memory impairment, dizziness and depression. The list is quite extensive when you see how varied each person’s symptoms are being exhibited.

The cause of FMS is unknown and the course that it follows is unpredictable. Diagnosis of FMS is difficult. It is more like diagnosing what it is not. This is done by clinical elimination. However, the following are the criteria for diagnosis: Widespread pain, muscle spasm, and fatigue of greater than three-month duration. Examination of specific sites of the body reveals eleven of the eighteen sites on both sides of the body are painful on palpation. These sites are around the lower vertebrae of the neck, the insertion of the second rib, the upper part of the thigh bone, middle of the knee joint, muscles connected to base of skull, neck and upper back muscles, muscles of the mid back, side of the elbows, and upper and outer muscles of the buttocks.

Many people with FMS also suffer with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and or environmental illnesses (multiple chemical sensitivity). Conventional treatment options are directed more at treating the symptoms and the management of pain. Therefore, management using non-prescription and prescription medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, local anesthetics, physical therapy and exercise are all used to reduce symptoms. Anti-depressants are used to promote deep sleep that does seem to help. This approach is again only helping to maintain and is not directed at treating the cause of the problem. Again, this is difficult to do because of the complexity of each individual’s circumstances.

Let’s look at some dietary, nutritional, and herbal support for FMS. Due to the overlap of multiple system imbalances with these individuals, diet becomes important. Refined sugars, animal products (meat and dairy), caffeine, alcohol, soda pop, and artificial sweeteners, and chemical additives all need to be reduced and or eliminated. A basic protocol would be to improve digestion, assimilation and elimination of all foods, improve liver functions, boost immune activity, reduce stress on the adrenals glands, and aid nervous system rebuilding processes. Let’s look at some of the specifics. A good natural multiple vitamin will provide a wide array of nutrients that can be helpful in ruling out nutrient deficiencies. Some other nutrient considerations would include:

B Complex – Provides necessary components for the nerve system and the efficient utilization of carbohydrate and fat assimilation.
Vitamin C – Boosts the immune system, increases energy levels, and has anti-viral properties.
Calcium – Nourishes the nerves and muscles. Works well with magnesium, potassium, and selenium.
Malic Acid and Magnesium – Has shown to be of benefit with the energy production at the muscle site. Helps to clear muscles of lactic acid buildup. Helpful in sugar metabolism.
Proteolytic Enzymes – Reduce inflammation, aid in food absorption, and are necessary for tissue repair.
EFAs – Essential fatty acids help reduce pain and balance hormonal factors.
Creatine Monohydrate – Appears to help tissue response but has not been clinically tested.
SamE – Has been shown clinically to reduce the number of trigger point sensitivity, reduce morning stiffness, and improve mood.
CO Q10 – Helps to oxygenate the muscle tissues, boost immune functions and increase energy levels.
5-THP – Tryptophane has been shown to improve mood, boost immune functions and improve sleep.
Probiotics – The use of acidophilus helps build digestive functions especially when digestive weakness is part of the condition.
There are many herbals that would fit into a total approach to FMS. They would include:

Olive Leaf – Oleoeuropein has antiviral activity and has shown some benefits.
Grape Seed Extract – Protects the muscles from damage and enhance immunity
Astragalus – Enhances immune function and is tonifying to the entire nervous system.
Echinacea – Specific to boosting immune functions.
St. John’s Wort – Works well with other nervine herbs to promote sleep and acts as an antiviral agent.
Milk Thistle – Improves liver function by aiding detoxification process.
Licorice Root – Supports adrenal functions and rebuilds energy. Helps reduce detriments of stress.
There are many other complementary therapies that can assist a person suffering with FMS. These would include yoga, tai chi, relaxation techniques, massage therapy, aromatherapy, deep heat therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture and acupressure, polarity therapy, and the use of magnet therapy. Due to the complexity of this condition, it is important for one to work closely with their health care professional. Unfortunately there is not an easy solution to FMS. It does take time to improve, and improvements are subject to each individual circumstance.

A good reference book on FMS would be Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofacial Pain Syndrome, A Survival Manual by Devin Starlanyl, MD and Mary Ellen Copeland, M.S., M.A.

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