Fibromyalgia Natural Treatments and Functional Medicine Approach
Fibromyalgia is characterized primarily by widespread pain throughout your body. The diagnosis is increasingly prevalent reaching up to 6 percent of the US population. Unique to fibromyalgia, 75% to 90% of cases are in women. Conventional treatments primarily focus on symptom reduction. If you have tried the traditional route and are ready for fibromyalgia natural treatments to look for the underlying sources of your health problems, then keep reading.
Diagnosing Fibromyalgia – An Unspecific Group of Symptoms
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia used to include checking tender points throughout the body and assessing pain levels. Under the old diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, 11 of 18 trigger points had to be tender when pressed as well as you had to have widespread pain for more than 3 months.
New diagnostic criteria are more vague, both providing benefit to some patients while disabling others, let me explain…
Previously if you had widespread chronic body aches and pains that were unexplained by any other condition, it required the doctor to actually test the 18 trigger points. If the doctor didn’t push very hard, the location of the trigger point was missed or if you only had 10 (instead of 11) tender points out of 18, then it wasn’t diagnosed as fibromyalgia. This could leave many patients with chronic widespread pain, but without a diagnosis.
The new criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia requires that:
- You have widespread pain index score of seven or higher and a symptom severity scale of 5 or higher…OR…if you have a widespread pain index score of 3 to 6 and a symptoms survey score of 9 or higher.
- You have had the symptoms for at least 3 months
- You don’t have any other disorder that could explain your symptoms.
Currently because many people fit into the above criteria, many patients are leaving their doctor’s office with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and no answers as to why.
You see the problem is once you get the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, in conventional medicine, the search for getting you better ends. No longer will anyone ask if there is a metabolic or chemical imbalance creating the pain but rather the prescriptions begin to quickly add up.
Let’s go through some of the medications…
- One of the first medications is an antidepressant. You see, being in constant pain isn’t any fun. But if you are like most patients, if you weren’t in chronic pain, you wouldn’t be depressed at all. So, while the antidepressant seems to mitigate some symptoms, depression is most often a symptom not a cause of fibromyalgia.
- Another common medication is a pain reliever aka analgesic or anti-inflammatory. You may get a fancy prescription only medication like celebrex or meloxicam, but essentially these medications work the same as the over-the-counter medication ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen, blocking the chemical signals that produces inflammation that often results in pain. Once again, these medications can decrease pain symptoms, but if you want a natural treatment for fibromyalgia, you are going to have to ask WHY your body is creating so much inflammation in the first place and it isn’t because your body is missing a prescription drug.
- Another common medication is a muscle relaxant. Flexeril or cyclobenzaprine is by far the most common muscle relaxant that I see patients on. Sometimes this can give significant relief, but almost always the benefits seem to wane. The question we ask here is WHY your muscles won’t relax on their own? Muscles are made to contract and relax all day every day but in injuries, disease or decreased metabolic energy situations, they have difficulty doing so.
- Nerve pain treatments to “calm” nerves are also commonly used. The most common medication prescribed is gabapentin. My personal experience suggests that gabapentin seems to either work great for some people and for other it just doesn’t work at all. Most people I have encountered with fibromyalgia taking gabapentin experience side effects decide that the benefits don’t outweigh the side effects and thus they tend to come off gabapentin by working with their prescribing physician.
Your Individual Fibromyalgia Story
At the root of nearly all fibromyalgia cases there lies some triggering event from which the individual has not fully recovered. Some examples are:
- Auto accident
- Death of loved one
- Financial distress
- Relationship troubles (mother, father, etc.)
- Sexual abuse
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Chronic NSAID use
- Physical injury
- Excessive exercise
- Excessive dieting
- Hospitalization or illness
- Prescription medications (Most common cause)
- Drug abuse (smoking, marijuana, recreational, etc.)
In treating fibromyalgia naturally and effectively, I believe that the original source and/or triggering event at a minimum need to be addressed. If you have a history an auto accident that created long-term neck pain, you will need to find a great practitioner to treat the neck pain in addition to fibromyalgia.
If you have a history of sexual, mental or physical abuse that has never been resolved, I highly recommend you work with a qualified counselor or therapist to improve your overall mental health.
While some people will suggest that fibromyalgia is all emotion or trauma based, my experience suggests otherwise. In fact, while I do recommend people find a local counselor to work with as it provides long-term improvement, support through the healing journey and is essential to one’s overall health, the acute phase of getting out of chronic fibromyalgia pain in most cases can addressed by a comprehensive functional medicine approach to fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia Natural Treatments Address the Root
I want to share few basic premises to fibromyalgia natural treatments that you absolutely have to understand before embarking on a functional approach.
- Fibromyalgia is a symptom of underlying metabolic, chemical and systemic dysfunction that over time has created the symptoms you experience. Your unique story will be different from your neighbors.
- There is no miracle cure for fibromyalgia. You are not going to find, no matter how hard you search, a pill, supplement, nutrient, etc. that will instantly cure your fibromyalgia. Rather it will require specific supplementation, precise lifestyle changes and consistent lifestyle actions in order to be symptom free.
Natural Fibromyalgia Treatments to Optimize Energy Production
Allowing your body to rest is the first step to healing from fibromyalgia. Decreasing daily stress load, whatever it may be and increasing recovery (aka sleep) is the first step. If you are currently unable to sleep, then addressing sleep imbalances should be the first step in a systematic program. Other than sleep there are many root causes that create something called “mitochondrial dysfunction” that often lie at the root of this elusive condition.
If you suffer from fibro, then there is a very high probability that you suffer from a food sensitivity. If you are just getting started on learning about fibromyalgia a grain-free and dairy-free diet is often a good start. If you are that person that has already cut out the majority of “bad foods” then it is highly likely that one of the “good foods”, you are eating is still creating an inflammatory immune response that is perpetuating your pain.
In addition to inflammation, food sensitivities create a histamine response that stimulates the adrenal glands. Each time you consume a food that creates an allergic histamine response, your adrenal glands have to work extra hard to produce cortisol to combat the inflammatory histamine. If you are eating your food sensitivity 3 times a day or even snacking on it throughout the day, your adrenal glands never get a rest and remain stressed and producing high levels of cortisol.
Gluten appears to be the #1 researched sensitivity connected with fibromyalgia, though in my office I find corn and diary sensitivities in almost equal numbers.
Caffeine readily crosses the blood brain barrier. The caffeine acts as a stimulant in an already overstimulated nervous system. Up to 20% of the general population cannot tolerate caffeine. Most of the people who know they can’t tolerate caffeine experience jitters or shaking with high caffeine intake, but the trick is that many others experience symptoms such as digestive pain, headaches, dry mouth, back pain, etc.
In all fibromyalgia cases, caffeine should be kept to an absolute minimum. In any case I treat that is associated with sleep or energy demands, caffeine must be decreased in order to allow the body to relearn to produce its own excitatory chemicals. In 2018, caffeine is the #1 cause of disturbed sleep, inability to go to sleep or waking up during the night.
Functional Thyroid Disorders
Mitochondria are the primary energy producing cells in the body. When your mitochondria underproduce ATP (aka energy), many people will experience pain. Low ATP is when your brain There are many reasons as to why your mitochondria are under functioning, but the most common one I see associated is a functional thyroid disorder.
If you are like most of my patients, you probably have been tested for your thyroid and it came back negative. But if you didn’t get your thyroid peroxidase AND thyroglobulin antibodies tested, you haven’t been adequately tested. Most functional thyroid disorders are developed from estrogen dominance, food sensitivities or heavy metal toxicity.
Heavy Metal Toxicity
While heavy metal toxicity can inhibit the production of thyroid hormones it also distinctly inhibits a specific process for energy production in the mitochondria. The metals not only inhibit energy production specifically in the mitochondria but also can create anything from fatigue and pain to hallucinations an psychosis in other individuals. The question almost always arises regarding where these heavy metals come from and the answer to that is through industrialization. Nearly all manufactured products contain some metal residue and over time, depending on your individual susceptibility can wreak havoc.
Candida and more…
Candida infections, yeast infections and systemic fungal overgrowth is the most common imbalance that I find in my patients with fibromyalgia. The standard American diet of high carbohydrates, highly refined foods and poor blood sugar regulation predispose us constantly to fungal infections. As these difficult to eradicate infections release toxins, their symptoms most commonly present as brain fog, fatigue, digestive bloating and more pain. I would suggest that most if not all cases of fibromyalgia that I see have an underlying fungal issue. In the office we see great success by combining Chinese Coptis with Morinda Citrifolia by AMG Naturals in order to help quickly balance blood sugar and eradicate the fungal infection.
Hormonal imbalance predisposes you to developing fibromyalgia. Estrogen imbalance being the main culprit and thus the reason why we see so many women that experience fibromyalgia. I find estrogen to be one of the largest inhibitors of the thyroid. Because of estrogens large burden on the thyroid, getting off hormone replacement therapy or avoiding it in the first place often provides significant relief to patients with fibromyalgia symptoms related to energy and pain. Whether its estrogen, progesterone or testosterone, all can inhibit optimal energy production while creating additional free radicals from the liver.
Vitamin deficiencies almost ALWAYS exist in the patient with fibromyalgia. The most common pain relieving fibromyalgia vitamin I find in practice is a 5-MTHF vitamin deficiency. Other B vitamins are commonly deficient as well and if you have been on a vegan/vegetarian diet for very long, it is likely that you have many more B vitamin deficiencies.
Magnesium readily gets depleted in many patients as the nervous system utilizes it to decrease nerve inflammation and support adrenal function, but it is less of a root cause and more of a symptomatic reliever. That being said, it is safe for most individuals so adding it to your fibromyalgia protocol is rarely a bad idea. If you feel significant muscle tightness and constriction, magnesium citrate can often help when taken before bed.
Chronic Viral Infections
Other chronic low-grade infections are often what initiate the start into fibromyalgia. These stealth and under-diagnosed infections are common in all chronic conditions and can be one of the factors that keeps you from recovering. Stealth infections should always be managed during a fibromyalgia treatment protocol as other pieces of the puzzle are put together. Neglecting chronic virus, bacteria and parasitic infection often leads to poor clinical results when trying to accomplish the final step of restoration.
The restoration phase of fibromyalgia natural treatments is really based upon optimization of the body in order to avoid future episodes of recurrence. Many patients start to feel better and want to skip this phase because it costs money or requires additional effort, but the farther you get away from fibromyalgia symptoms the less likely they are to return.
Exercise For Fibromyalgia
Proper slow and aerobic exercise is required to develop higher concentrations of mitochondria that then keep you far way from mitochondrial dysfunction. I recommend for individuals that have recovered from fibromyalgia symptoms that they perform 45 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 times per week, always remaining in their aerobic zone as described by Dr. Phil Maffetone. (See the Maffetone 180 Method here.) Even if you think you are ready for high intensity training, 2 to 3 months of Maffetone training will increase mitochondrial production in muscles and thus move your further away from your dreadful past diagnosis.
Once you have abated the fibromyalgia symptoms, now is the time to support your adrenals in a low and slow fashion. Rhodiola is a great adrenal adaptogen that is minimally stimulatory and that will support your adaptation response to stress. Planning on restoring your adrenals over the course of 3 to 6 months is the right approach rather than trying to feel a huge stimulation through caffeine or other nootropic type substances. Chasing adrenal fatigue symptoms before addressing the root, will leave you wanting.
Fibromyalgia Diet Considerations
Lastly, a diet that is moderate to high in protein, moderate to low in carbs and moderate to low in fats will help your body stay in aerobic metabolism more often throughout the day which is critical to keeping mitochondria working without fatigue. Each individual will have different dietary requirements, but focusing on slow absorbing carbohydrates and foods rich in protein will help to balance blood sugar and inflammation.
If you have read this far, then you now have multiple tools and techniques that you can use for either working with a practitioner or addressing fibromyalgia natural treatments on your own. Remember that it is not a single problem going on in your body, but rather a multi-factorial condition that only presents itself as fibromyalgia symptoms and that can only be addressed by looking deeper into your underlying issues.