Several weeks ago, I talked about the fact that fibromyalgia is indeed a very real condition that can significantly impact the quality of life for its millions of sufferers due to the fatigue and body pain associated with the disease. After writing that article, a question still nagged at me: What can you do from the inside out to help ease the pain and perhaps overcome the condition? To learn about natural approaches to relieving the symptoms of fibromyalgia, I spoke with Ray Sahelian, MD, a physician in private practice in Marina del Rey, California, and author of numerous books. You can learn more about Dr. Sahelian's work at www.raysahelian.com
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what causes fibromyalgia, and there is no one magic pill you can take to cure it. According to Dr. Sahelian, your best bet is to mix and match a variety of approaches to control your symptoms. An empathetic health-care practitioner with experience in treating fibromyalgia can help you sort through the many conventional and natural treatment alternatives to determine the combination that works best for you. Starting from the inside out...
*Supplementation. A number of herbal and mineral supplements can be helpful for fibromyalgia sufferers. Talk to a trained health-care provider about what might be best for you. Options include...
#Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This popular supplement increases energy levels, enhances the immune system and provides disease-fighting antioxidant activity. Although CoQ10 is available in a variety of dosages, Dr. Sahelian says that high dosages may not be necessary and even may be detrimental. Except for temporary treatment of medical conditions, he generally recommends 50 mg to 100 mg daily.
#Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo extract is widely used in Europe for conditions such as memory and concentration problems, confusion, depression, anxiety and headache. In an open, uncontrolled study, volunteers with fibromyalgia were given both 200 mg CoQ10 and 200 mg ginkgo biloba extract daily for 84 days. The individual effects are not clear, but the volunteers recorded progressive improvement on quality-of-life questionnaires. At the close of the study, 64% reported that they felt better. These research results appeared in the March-April 2002 issue of Journal of International Medical Research. Note: Do not take ginkgo if you have a bleeding disorder, plan to undergo surgery or are taking drugs such as warfarin.
#Fish oil capsules. If you don't regularly include enough cold water fish, such as salmon and halibut, in your diet, Dr. Sahelian recommends three to five fish oil capsules a day or one teaspoon of flaxseed oil per day. Fish and fish oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide fluidity to cell membranes and improve communication between brain cells.
#SAM-e. This natural antidepressant lifts mood within hours in some individuals, says Dr. Sahelian. The daily dose is best kept to below 200 mg, preferably half a tablet (100 mg). It is always best to take the lowest possible effective dose. According to Dr. Sahelian, SAM-e has a stimulating nature, and even 200 mg daily can be a lot for some people. Possible side effects at high doses include anxiety, restlessness, headache and insomnia. Take SAM-e in the morning a few minutes before breakfast.
#L-tryptophan. Sleep difficulties and frequent waking are a common problem for people with fibromyalgia. This amino acid is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a role in how your brain regulates sleep, mood and behavior. Take one 500-mg capsule of L-tryptophan in the evening on an empty stomach an hour or two before sleep.
#B complex vitamins and L-carnitine to boost flagging energy levels... and calcium/magnesium, melatonin or 5-HTP to help you get a good night's sleep. At a minimum, you should consider a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
*Check for food allergies. Dr. Sahelian cites a study in which 17 people with fibromyalgia eliminated foods such as corn, wheat, dairy, citrus and sugar from their diets. After two weeks, nearly half reported a significant reduction in pain. Most also noted relief from headache, fatigue, bloating and breathing difficulties. When foods were reintroduced, some participants once again experienced pain, headache and gastrointestinal distress.
HELP FROM THE OUTSIDE
In addition to diet changes and supplements, Dr. Sahelian is a big believer in the value of lifestyle changes for fibromyalgia. Specifically, he suggests...
*Keep moving. Although this is not likely to be your first inclination when you are feeling achy and tired, Dr. Sahelian emphasizes that exercise is more effective than medication in easing symptoms. Consistent, gentle, low-impact activity such as walking is best for relieving pain and stiffness. Avoid the temptation to overdo, which can backfire. In particular, Dr. Sahelian recommends yoga.
*Try acupuncture. In 1997, a National Institutes of Health panel determined that this ancient Chinese practice may provide relief from pain associated with fibromyalgia. A list of accredited acupuncturists is available at the Web site of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org).
*Use muscular manipulation. Some fibromyalgia sufferers benefit from modalities such as chiropractic... osteopathy... massage such as lymphatic drainage (a technique that drains excess fluid from the tissues throughout the body) and Swedish techniques... or physical therapy.
*Get focused. Hypnosis, a focused state of concentration, is another alternative for pain relief. Options include self-hypnosis (in which you repeat a positive statement or mantra over and over) and guided imagery (in which you create relaxing images in your mind). Other relaxation methods include biofeedback, meditation and deep breathing exercises.
*Change your ways. Stress can aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy or other stress management techniques to gain control of the stressors in your life.
TRIED AND TRUE
Before taking any supplement, always check with your health-care provider. Remember, no supplement is a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. To cope best with fibromyalgia, the tried-and-true advice still holds: Follow a balanced diet, get a good balance of rest and exercise, practice effective stress management techniques and avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking and excessive caffeine intake. There may be no cure, but there are plenty of steps you can take to control symptoms and live a full life with fibromyalgia.