- Dr. Nancy
5 Lifestyle Changes to Help Fibromyalgia
Too often people with fibromyalgia face many barriers when trying to relieve their symptoms, or even get a firm diagnosis. The lack of agreement on best practices for symptom relief makes this condition difficult to navigate, and the frustration is often made worse by the wide range of possible symptoms, often without a predictable pattern. But Functional Medicine has a lot to offer.
Fibromyalgia doesn't have to hold you back, read on to learn about holistic approaches that are showing a lot of promise.
Roadblocks in Diagnosing Fibromyalgia
A 2010 study looking at the journey to diagnosis study found that fibromyalgia patients waited an average of about one year before even seeing a healthcare practitioner, and many had to see multiple practitioners with an average of 2.3 years before concluding they in fact had fibromyalgia.
In recent years we have seen some promising developments in fibromyalgia research, with particularly exciting developments being made regarding holistic practices that can help ease the severity of symptoms.
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men, and is more likely to appear as menopause begins (as if menopausal women didn’t have enough to deal with!).
For many patients, the most pressing symptom is unexplained widespread pain in the soft tissues, the areas between the bones like fat, muscle, fibrous tissue and blood vessels. People with fibromyalgia describe the sensation as a dull, constant pain, which is often triggered by touch, and can become progressively more debilitating. Most often, this pain occurs at multiple points, called regions of pain, on both sides of the body and above and below the waist.
Other symptoms can include:
Stiffness in the morning
Tingling hands or feet
Irritable bowel syndrome
Many patients also report mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating - a symptom often described as “brain fog.”
That’s quite an extensive list of symptoms, and to further complicate matters, patients can experience combinations of different symptoms at different times.
How is fibromyalgia diagnosed?
The wide range of symptoms and their unpredictable nature make diagnosis a challenge. A definitive diagnostic test isn’t yet available, and as a result, many people struggle with symptoms for months or years before arriving at a solution. If you suspect you may have fibromyalgia, always work with a medical practitioner who doesn’t dismiss how you feel. Your concerns deserve to be heard.
A Process of Elimination
Arriving at a fibromyalgia diagnosis is partly a process of elimination, since other health issues, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis or Sjogren’s disease can cause many of the same symptoms. A thorough physical and mental health exam can help narrow down the cause.
More Common in Women
Because fibromyalgia is much more common in women, men may face additional barriers to diagnosis. It’s important to note that this condition does occur in men, and that the symptoms can greatly impact their quality of life. Men who are experiencing the symptoms above may need to be even more persistent in pursuing a diagnosis.
What causes fibromyalgia?
This is another difficult element of fibromyalgia, since studies haven’t yet identified a specific trigger. However, many medical practitioners have noticed that it often begins after a patient has experienced a physically or emotionally traumatic event, like a car accident, relationship breakdown, or injury. This connection is further supported by the fact that people who have post-traumatic stress disorder are more prone to fibromyalgia.
Some evidence points to a genetic component for a person’s susceptibility. If you’re experiencing symptoms, think about your relatives’ health history. Conventional medicine has been slow to recognize fibromyalgia, so even if a relative wasn’t diagnosed officially, having a history of fibromyalgia symptoms could be a red flag.
What are Some Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia?
To date, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. However, there are numerous natural ways to help relieve symptoms and restore quality of life, including:
1 - Supplementation
Magnesium citrate supplements have been found to reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Melatonin can improve sleep quality, important in coping with the many symptoms.
The anti-inflammatory properties of Omega 3 and fish oil can also help reduce pain.
Studies have found a possible connection between Vitamin D deficiency and fibromyalgia, so make sure you are getting enough, particularly during the winter.
D-ribose helps relieve pain and depression, and can prevent insomnia in fibromyalgia patients.
2 - Herbal supplements
One promising study on Ginseng found that it helped to relieve fibromyalgia pain and insomnia.
Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties that can also help to relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Some patients experience an improvement in mood with the use of St. John’s Wort.
3 - Acupuncture
Acupuncture can help increase blood flow to the affected areas, helping to reduce pain and tension. It may also boost production of endorphins, which can have a positive impact on mood.
4 - Exercise
When you’re tired and sore, exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do, but numerous studies have linked exercise with good outcomes for people with fibromyalgia. Yoga has been found to be especially useful in easing both physical and psychological symptoms. Other effective activities include walking, any exercise in water, and strength training. Be sure to always work with a professional trainer to get acquainted with strength work, preferably one who has treated fibromyalgia patients before.
Remember that consistency is more important than intensity. Don’t push yourself, small amounts of exercise help but you don’t want to overdo it and cause more pain.
5 - Diet
Many patients find an anti-inflammatory diet helps ease their symptoms. In particular, a diet that is low in FODMAPs is often effective. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, but in simpler terms, FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates which may cause inflammation or digestive upsets.
Common high-FODMAP foods include:
Many fruits, including apples, figs, mangos, peaches, and nectarines, are high in FODMAPs, and should be avoided.
Some vegetables, particularly asparagus, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
Many sweeteners, particularly honey, high-fructose corn syrup, and agave nectar.
Dairy products that contain lactose.
As you can see, FODMAPs are found in a lot of foods, so it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients by swapping for nutritious foods low in FODMAPs. The goal isn’t to eliminate FODMAPs forever, but to find an amount that works for you.
Implementing these lifestyle changes can reduce the debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia and restore your quality of life. Starting a new diet or supplement regime without support is not recommended.
Please consult your physician before making any radical changes to your personal health program, especially if you have been diagnosed with a disease and are on prescription medication.
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