Fibromyalgia & Natural Treatment in Vermont
Fibromyalgia is a condition that is related to chronic fatigue syndrome. People with fibromyalgia experience a variet of symptoms including fatigue, sleep disorders, and muscle pain which tends to be located at specific points in the neck, shoulders, back, and buttocks.
Causes of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition with many different factors that can to contribute to it in different people. In my experience most people with fibromyalgia will improve when these factors are addressed. The most common factors are as follows:
· Food allergies
· Blood sugar and insulin imbalances
· Methylation problems
· Sleep problems
· Low thyroid
· Adrenal fatigue
Food Allergies in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Natural fibromyalgia treatment, first and foremost, should begin with identifying food allergies. Food allergies are a common condition in which the immune system reacts to certain foods in the same way that it reacts to bacteria and viruses, namely by producing antibodies. Food allergies can be immediate and life threatening, as in the case of someone who eats a strawberry and can't breathe, or they can be delayed and much less severe but nevertheless cause significant problems. The vast majority of people who have food allergies, many of whom don't know it, have the delayed type of reaction.
The reason that many people aren't aware that they have food allergies is because the allergic reaction can take up to two days to occur after eating the allergic food. This makes it very difficult to associate the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a particular food. The other difficulty is that food allergies can cause a wide variety of symptoms such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, ear infections, sinusitis, irritable bowel, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, depression, fatigue, hyperactivity, obesity, and post nasal drip.
There are many different options when it comes to diagnosing food allergies. The best is a blood antibody test, which is more accurate for this type of allergy than a skin prick test. Blood tests are available to check up to 96 or more foods all at once and are covered by most health insurance plans.
Blood Sugar Imbalances in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Blood sugar imbalances, caused by eating too much sugar and flour, are very important to address in natural fibromyalgia treatment. Sugar and flour are high glycemic foods, which mean they cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike after you eat them. This is often followed by a blood sugar drop, known as reactive hypoglycemia. Over time the cells in your body get used to the higher levels of insulin and develop insulin resistance. The insulin resistance prevents the sugar in the blood from getting into the cell where the mitochondria turn them into energy. Fatigue is therefore a very common effect of eating too many of these high glycemic foods, as is depression, weight gain, and hypoglycemia.
In addition to fibromyalgia, sugar and flour can also cause inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, and anxiety. Those who have high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, or are overweight may have metabolic syndrome as well, and are especially likely to benefit from avoiding high glycemic foods. Added sugars such as dessert, soda and other sugar sweetened beverages, honey, and maple syrup should be eliminated, and all grains should be whole grains and limited to once daily.
Methylation Defects in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Methylation is a process the body uses to make and metabolize neurotransmitters. Problems with methylation can therefore trigger neurotransmitter imbalances which lead to fibromyalgia, depression, and/or anxiety. The nutrients B6, B12, methylfolate, and SAMe are crucial to proper methylation, and hence any problems with these nutrients can contribute to fibromyalgia. Unfortunately it is not always as simple as taking a vitamin pill with the above nutrients, because some people don’t absorb or metabolize these vitamins properly.
- Folic acid – a fairly common genetic defect in the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) can result in a reduced ability to convert dietary and supplemental folic acid to its activated form (L-5-methylfolate) which the body requires. Blood testing is available to determine if you have this genetic defect and supplemental L-5-methyfolate is available to bypass this issue. There is now a high potency prescription version of methylfolate that can be particularly effective.
- Vitamin B12 – B12 is absorbed differently than any other vitamin or mineral, and some people are unable to absorb this nutrient properly. Even if you aren’t deficient, giving high levels of this vitamin by injection may help to compensate for other methylation defects and improve fibromyalgia rapidly.
- Vitamin B6 – the levels of this nutrient in most vitamins and even B-complex formulas is too low for most people with fibromyalgia. In addition, some people respond better to the activated form of vitamin B6, which is known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P).
- S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) – an amino acid derivative that has analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant effects. It is relatively free of side effects and has been found to improve depression, anxiety, and fatigue, and to reduce the number and severity of tender points in people with fibromyalgia.
Tryptophan in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Tryptophan is an amino acid (a type of nutrient that is a building block for protein) that has been used for years to treat depression. It is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has potent effects on mood. Many prescription anti-depressants such as Prozac and Zoloft act by modifying the metabolism of serotonin, resulting in increased levels of serotonin in the brain. Vitamin B6 and the other methylators mentioned above are necessary to convert tryptophan into serotonin.
Several studies have found low serum levels and decreased intestinal absorption of tryptophan in people with fibromyalgia. Inadequate levels of tryptophan in the body can lead to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain, whereas supplementation with tryptophan can increase brain levels of serotonin. This is the same thing that many of the antidepressants used in fibromyalgia do. There is also an alternate form of tryptophan known as 5-hydroxy tryptophan that works better for some people with fibromyalgia.
Sleep in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Several studies have demonstrated that many people with fibromyalgia have a sleep disorder known as alpha wave intrusion. This type of sleep disorder prevents the body from getting adequate rest during sleep. Experimental subjects who have had this type of sleep disorder artificially induced experience symptoms similar to that of fibromyalgia. Correcting this disorder has also been shown to help people with fibromyalgia.
Melatonin is a hormone that is crucial for proper sleep. It is made in the brain from serotonin by the pineal gland. This conversion process, however, requires methylation. All of the methylators mentioned above (methylfolate, P5P, B12, and SAMe) can therefore help with sleep, as can tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin.
Other natural therapies that help to normalize sleep include herbs such as valerian and scuttelaria.
Thyroid in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for the proper function of the body’s mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power plants in our cells that produce our energy. Mitochondrial dysfunction is thought to play a central role in fibromyalgia.
Low thyroid function tends to cause fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, and coldness. It can also cause muscle pain. Most of these symptoms also occur in fibromyalgia, at least in part because low thyroid function and mitochondrial dysfunction typically play a role in fibromyalgia. If you have a low body temperature (an oral basal body temperature of less than 97.8 degrees) and you have fibromyalgia, there is a good chance you have a problem with your thyroid system.
Sometimes these thyroid problems will show up on standard thyroid tests, and sometimes they won’t. One of the possible explanations for this is that some people appear to be able to develop a resistance to thyroid hormone. It has been well documented that it is possible to develop resistance to other hormones (insulin resistance, for example, is what causes adult onset diabetes). In the case of thyroid hormone resistance, cells in the body don’t respond properly to the normal levels of thyroid hormone that is present in the blood. This then presents with the symptoms of low thyroid hormone. There is no test that is capable of identifying thyroid hormone resistance. Treatment for this condition is generally a clinical trial of thyroid hormone under the careful guidance of a physician.
Adrenal Fatigue in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Low adrenal gland function is also a common contributor to fibromyalgia. This can occur as a result of chronic stress, excessive caffeine intake, toxic exposure, and other factors. Fatigue is usually the most significant symptom from low adrenal function. There are good tests available for this condition, the best of which is a salivary test to measure the adrenal hormone cortisol. Treatment usually includes taking an adrenal glandular supplement that replaces the missing adrenal hormones in combination with herbal medicines such as licorice, ashwaganda, ginseng, rhodiola, and others that help to protect and restore adrenal function.
Magnesium in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Magnesium is deficient in the red blood cells of many people with fibromyalgia. Oral supplementation of highly absorbable form such as citrates, malates, aspartates, or Kreb’s cycle chelates can help correct this deficiency. Intravenous administration of magnesium is especially helpful. Epsom salt baths (1/2 – 2 cups of Epsom salt and 1/2 cup of baking soda in a hot bath) taken before bed time can also be useful. Epsom salt is high in magnesium.
Other Natural Treatments for Fibromyalgia
Other nutrients which may be of benefit include Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and vitamins B1 and E. CoQ10 is a vitamin like substance which may be deficient in people with fibromyalgia. It is a cofactor in the energy producing pathways in the body, and hence fatigue is a common symptom of deficiency. Some research has also shown abnormalities in the metabolism of vitamins B1, B6, and E in people with fibromyalgia.
Capsaicin is a compound found in the cayenne pepper. Topical creams are now available that have been standardized to contain .025% capsaicin. This cream has been found to decrease tenderness when applied directly to tender points.
There is some belief that the accumulation of acidic and nitrogen containing wastes in the body promote fibromyalgia. Acid wastes tend to aggravate muscle inflammations and spasms, and may eventually lead to arthritic changes in the joints. Acid wastes are produced by the digestion of animal proteins (especially pork, milk, and cheese). Other acid forming foods are wheat, sugar, tea, coffee, alcohol, vinegar, pickles, processed and tinned foods, tomatoes, rhubarb, gooseberries, red and black currants, cooked spinach, margarine and all processed fats, eggs, chocolate, cod liver oil, and peanuts.
A maintenance diet would avoid all of the above foods and concentrate on fresh fruits and vegetables with limited amounts of cereals/grains, occasional fish and chicken, and no processed or artificial foods.
Bottom Line for the Natural Treatment of Fibromyalgia
Natural fibromyalgia treatment should begin with identifying and treating the underlying causes that can contribute to fibromyalgia. Specifically, I recommend:
- Get a blood test for food allergies – Easy and accurate, this can be extraordinarily helpful
- Try a low glycemic diet to control inflammation, blood sugar and insulin levels
- Try methylators such as methylfolate, B12, B6, and SAMe
- Test for and treat adrenal fatigue
- Test for and treat low thyroid
- Improve sleep with methylators, tryptophan, and herbal medicines
- Try magnesium and other selected nutrients
Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To find out which natural treatments are appropriate for you or to be tested for food allergies or other causes of fibromyalgia, schedule an office visit or food allergy test.