Fibromyalgia: Unraveling A Mysterious Disorder
Written by: Kathleen DiChiara
According to the American College of Rheumatology, Fibromyalgia affects approximately two percent of the population, or five million adults, with ninety percent of those cases affecting women. It is a condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness to the touch. The pain and tenderness tends to travel around different areas of the body, varying in intensity making day-to-day activities a challenge. People with long-term (chronic) cases of fibromyalgia often experience extreme fatigue, sleep deprivation, non-restorative sleep and memory issues. It is also common for people with fibromyalgia to experience co-existing health conditions, including:
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Digestive issues: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Reflux
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMJ) – jaw pain or clicking, and/or ringing in the ears
The causes of fibromyalgia are different for each person. Some experts suggest there may be certain genes that can predispose someone to getting fibromyalgia and the other conditions that can co-exist with it. However, genes alone do not cause fibromyalgia and there is often an event to “trigger” an onset, or “flare”.
This was certainly the case for me.
In 2007, I developed sudden-onset neuropathy (nerve pain and weakness) in my left leg. After six months of rehabilitative physical therapy, it was recommended that I undergo back surgery to release the nerve compression located at L4/L5 in my spine. It was soon after that surgery that I developed fibromyalgia.
My medical team confirmed that back surgery was the “trigger” event in my case. That is not to suggest that every back surgery will result in a case of fibromyalgia. In fact, there are many potential triggers beyond spine problems, including arthritis, injury, or other type of physical stress. Emotional stress also may trigger this illness. Fibromyalgia appears to be the result of a change in the way the body “talks” with the spinal cord and brain. Often levels of brain chemicals, like serotonin and norepinephrine that help control pain, change. For me, it was as though the “volume control” was turned up too high in my brain’s pain processing center.
What can you do if you have fibromyalgia? The short answer is – a lot!
The best outcomes are achieved by using a multi-prong approach that includes symptom relief with therapies and self-care, anti-inflammatory nutrition and targeted supplementation.
1. Identify dietary triggers. Food allergies and sensitivities can be a primary factor for fibromyalgia. One of the best ways to determine if you are experiencing an inflammatory reaction to any foods is with an elimination diet. For ten days, eliminate gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts and soy. On day eleven, reintroduce one food at a time, waiting two days in between each food. For example, on day eleven you would re-introduce corn (organic only), eating two serving that day, then monitor any reaction for the next two days. If there are no reactions (i.e. symptoms), you would move on to the next food. I recommend reintroduction in this order, using only organic foods so you can avoid the potential of a pesticide reaction, versus a true food sensitivity: 1. Corn, 2. Peanuts, 3. Eggs, 4. Soy, 5. Dairy, 6. Gluten.
2. Identify hormone imbalance. Our hormonal (endocrine) system regulates our body’s metabolism. While hormonal deficiencies can increase pain, more often issues related to the thyroid and adrenals are related to fibromyalgia. When the thyroid produces insufficient amount of thyroid hormones, the metabolism slows down and pain can increase. It is also common for people with fibromyalgia to experience weight gain, fatigue, constipation, intolerance to cold and other symptoms related to the thyroid. Adrenal insufficiency, or low adrenal function, also results in pain and fatigue, low blood pressure, irritability and more. Your healthcare practitioner can order the appropriate lab tests for thyroid and adrenal insufficiency.
3. Meditation, stress relief and alternative therapies. Yoga was my saving grace. There were many days that I just folded into “child’s pose” on my mat. And, in many ways, that was therapeutic. Having the space to shut down my mind was critical to my ability to tolerate the demands of my day. Managing the pain of fibromyalgia felt like a full-time job. Finding a form of stress-relief is an important part of recovery. Yoga, meditation, prayer, music, or deep breathing are just some of the ways to bring yourself relief and strength. Research shows that therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy, are extremely beneficial to improving daily function and reducing pain.
4. Sleep. You must prioritize sleep by creating a sleep routine. Sleep is the foundation of pain relief. Restorative sleep is deficient in people with fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, most sleeping pills promote light (not deep, restorative) sleep. However there are some natural sleep aids that help, like Hydroxy L-Tryptophan (5-HTP), which aids the body in making serotonin. Another is melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes sleep. Lavender oil on the bottoms of your feet before bed is an easy, natural way to induce a state of calm as well.
Other “bedtime routine” recommendations:
- Do not consume caffeine or alcohol after 4:00pm.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and free of electronics.
- Keep a notebook on nightstand to write down any thoughts or ideas that come to mind so you can relax the mind instead of running through your “to do” list.
- Make time to relax. Deep breathing exercises at night can calm the body down. Take an Epsom salt (1-2 cups) bath to relax your muscles and promote better sleep.
- Honor your natural circadian rhythm. Set a regular sleep pattern of going to bed at or before 10:00pm and rising at the same time each day, preferably without an alarm if possible.
5. Supplementation. The following two supplements were highly effective for me and may be for you too.
Magnesium (200-400mg/day) – Probably the single most beneficial nutrient for pain relief, as well as hundreds of other functions of the body is magnesium. Most people are deficient in this vital mineral as a result of food processing and our depleted soil. Chelated magnesium, or magnesium glycinate are best tolerated and will prevent muscles from staying in spasm, reduce headaches and improving energy.
D-Ribose (5 grams, 3x/day) – D-Ribose is a type of sugar that your body produces naturally. It helps produce energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate.) Medicinally, it’s most often used to increase muscle energy and improve exercise performance. Foods do not contain d-ribose supplementation would be necessary to increase your levels. Keep in mind that your body uses vitamin B-12 to produce it, so a B-12 deficiency could contribute to a d-ribose deficiency.
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Speaker, and Author
at Rhode to Health
Kathleen DiChiara is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Speaker and Author of the best-selling book "The Hidden Connection." After years of struggling with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, severe degenerative arthritis and a myriad of other ailments, she made it her personal mission to teach others the power of healthy foods.
Kathleen received specialized training in the biomedical approaches and supplemental interventions to autism and other chronic conditions after her son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. She is a professionally trained raw food chef and board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.
Kathleen resides in Rhode Island, with her husband and three young boys, where she serves as President and Founder of Rhode to Health, Inc.
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