Fibromyalgia - An integrative approach

By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath

Fibromyalgia is a complex and confusing condition. If you have it, chances are you have gotten a few blank looks when you have told other people. In writing about it, I’m reminded exactly how much we still don’t understand about this condition. So let’s cover some basics.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder, characterised by long-term widespread musculoskeletal pain. It may involve your joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissue.

Causes of fibromyalgia

Unfortunately, the cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown. A number of factors are thought to be possible triggers, and its likely that multiple triggers work together. These may include genetics, infections, physical or emotional trauma, chronic sleep disturbances, and abnormal pain responses.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

The three main features of fibromyalgia are widespread musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. Other symptoms and comorbidities commonly associated with fibromyalgia include depression, anxiety, poor concentration, headaches, shortness of breath, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, and hypersensitivity to bright lights and noise.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia can be very similar to sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. It is important that a correct diagnosis is made to ensure correct treatment.

Fibromyalgia treatment

Treatment of fibromyalgia is largely focused on managing pain and other symptoms. Early intervention is very important in management of fibromyalgia. Many people with fibromyalgia use both conventional medicine and complementary therapies in managing their condition. At The Health Lodge, we recommend a multidisciplinary program that integrates the best of medical and complementary therapies to address pain management, psychological wellbeing, sleep quality, and management of other symptoms.

Naturopathic approach to fibromyalgia

I’m going to talk about some of the naturopathic approaches to management of fibromyalgia. Please consult your health care provider before considering commencing any of these therapies.

Food allergies and intolerances I always consider food allergies and intolerances in chronic pain issues, and fibromyalgia is no exception. This can be a tricky path to navigate by yourself, so I recommend you seek advice from a health professional.

Diet

Whilst there is no specific diet for fibromyalgia, a nutritious diet can maintain energy levels, improve mood, and decrease aches and pains. Here are some simple principles of nutritious eating that are extremely beneficial: • Eat a variety of foods including fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, and nuts and seeds. • Include high-fibre foods. These include vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. • Try to limit refined sugar. • Avoid rancid and trans fats. While very small amount of trans fats are naturally found in animal meat and dairy, the largest amounts of trans fats are found in processed snack food, commercial baked goods, fast food, and fried food. • Aim to drink two litres of water per day.

Lifestyle

Stress management techniques and relaxation activities including yoga, meditation, and gentle massage, may be used to help manage stress levels and improve mood.

Aerobic exercise may be particularly beneficial in managing fibromyalgia. Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce pain and fatigue, and improve mood, health-related quality of life, and physical fitness. These improvements are seen when slight to moderate intensity aerobic exercises are practiced two to three times per week for at least four weeks. Regular exercise is needed to maintain these benefits, and so we recommend an ongoing exercise programme. Exercise intolerance is common in fibromyalgia, and so it is important to work within your limits, and consult your health care provider before commencing new exercise programmes.

Specific nutrients

Magnesium Serum and red blood cell magnesium levels have been found to be lower in fibromyalgia patients. Supplementation with magnesium citrate may decrease both the number of tender points on your body, and the amount of pain experienced at the points. There is some evidence to suggest combination supplementation of magnesium with malic acid may further decrease the amount of pain experienced at tender points.

Boosting serotonin SAMe and B6 help boost levels of an important chemical messenger called serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate mood, sleep, and pain perception. Dysfunction of the serotonin pathway may lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and heightened pain perception, all of which are commonly present in fibromyalgia. As a result, serotonin deficiency has been implicated in many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. SAMe should not be taken in conjunction with SSRI antidepressants, and it is very important to consult you health care provider before considering taking any supplements.

Your integrative team of health care specialists

At The Health Lodge, we believe a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of fibromyalgia. Your multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, naturopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, kinesiologists, and psychologists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to suit your individual needs, and support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.