What is fibromyalgia? I’ve been diagnosed with this condition, and I want to know why I have it and what I can do to treat it. Are there any natural treatments, or do I have to resort to taking drugs?
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a painful muscle condition characterized by widespread pain and multiple tender points on the body that have lasted for longer than three months. Other common symptoms of FM include disturbed sleep, fatigue, and abnormal pain sensitivity. In many cases people who suffer from this condition can also have morning stiffness, tingling or numbness in their hands and feet, headaches, including migraines, difficulty with memory (which some FM sufferers refer to as “fibro fog”), irritable bowel syndrome, unusual temperature sensitivity, restless legs syndrome, and painful menstrual periods. According to the American Academy of Rheumatology, FM affects between three and six million people in the United States—or roughly about one in 50 Americans—and 80 to 90 percent of those who have the condition are women. FM is most prevalent in women between the ages of 30 and 50.
There is no known cause of FM. According to the National Institutes of Health, many factors seem to be involved in the onset of the condition. The early stages of FM have been associated with stressful or traumatic events such as a car accident or a viral infection. Chronic repetitive injuries have also been linked to the onset of FM.
The conventional Western medicine approach to treating FM includes the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics (pain killers), antidepressants, and sleeping pills or tranquilizers.
If you want to treat FM with natural medicine, you have many alternatives drawing from both Eastern and Western traditions. Many people with FM have been able to manage the pain and other symptoms associated with the condition through acupuncture, spinal adjustments, and shiatsu or other forms of massage therapy.
A number of recent studies have shown promising results in the treatment of FM with nutritional supplementation. In a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2006, FM patients took five grams of D-ribose, a naturally-occurring carbohydrate, three times daily. After 18 days, participants showed significant improvements in well-being, energy, sleep, and mental clarity, and their pain intensity had decreased. In another study, published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology in 2007, FM patients were given the dietary supplement acetyl-L-carnitine for ten weeks. After taking 1,000 mg orally and 500 mg intramuscularly for two weeks, followed by 1,500 mg orally for eight weeks, they showed significant improvements in depression, muscle pain, and tender points compared to the placebo group.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women’s Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns (originally published in the Honolulu Advertiser) at www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.