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Tips for Managing Fibromyalgia

This is a follow-up to our last post, Understanding Fibromyalgia. If you haven’t read it yet, please click here.

 

With no cure, and very little understanding, Fibromyalgia can be difficult to live with. It can take years to get a diagnosis, and even longer to learn how to manage the symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia. The process can often feel hopeless and overwhelming. Even more so when faced with the realization that ‘standard’ treatment from the medical community consists of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and pain killers.

Fibromyalgia can also be cyclical, with periods of feeling good followed by periods of flare ups or relapse. Treatments that have been working all of a sudden stop, and you’re left trying to find something else to help. These tireless cycles can take a toll on your resolve to persevere through it, leaving you feeling defeated and hopeless.

Having lived with Fibromyalgia myself, I am very familiar with the symptoms and feelings surrounding them. For myself, the standard prescriptions for pain killers, sleeping pills, and anti-depressants were not something I was willing to continue long-term. Not only because I don’t like the way I feel when I take these things, but also because I did not notice an improvement in my symptoms that warranted how out of sorts I felt. I was determined to find something that helped that didn’t involve a prescription.

When you live with Fibromyalgia, or any chronic illness for that matter, you are constantly inundated with suggestions from well-meaning friends and relatives who ‘knows someone with Fibromyalgia and this is what worked for them’. These suggestions can be very frustrating, overwhelming, and undermining. For a while, I tried every suggestion that came my way – no matter how costly or ludicrous – desperately trying to find something that would ease my symptoms. What I learned during this process was that what may work for one person, may not work for me because my symptoms are different than theirs; and, if I do manage to find something that helps, it’s a safe bet that at some point in the future, it will stop working and I will need to find something else. Being aware of this is a great help in combatting feelings of despair when one of my current treatments stops working.

With all of this in mind, below I’ve listed some of the strategies I use to help me manage my symptoms. I want to be very clear that the strategies below work for me most of the time, but they also stop working and I have to ‘take a break’ from them from time to time. But while the strategies below are fairly consistent for me, they may or may not work for you.

LED Light

I have a fairly consistent schedule of using my lights for 20 – 60 minutes (1 – 3 sessions) every day. For the most part, I do this at night before bed using the B setting and the Relaxation Pad Placement, with my extra pads placed over my ‘problem’ areas (areas that cause me daily pain). If I am experiencing a flare up, I’ll add a few sessions throughout the day using setting 4, 6 & 7 for 10 minutes each on the areas that are causing me problems.

The lights have made such an enormous improvement in my quality of life and I notice a definite difference in both my physical and emotional symptoms when I don’t use the lights.

Learn more about the benefits of LED Light here.

Essential Oils

I am fairly new to using Essential Oils, and still learning, but I am loving the benefits already. I’ll admit to being pretty skeptical at first, and I’m still pretty amazed when I discover a new use for them. Not only do I use them for effective pain management, I also use them to help improve my mood and help manage the negative emotions that come with Fibromyalgia. Some of the oils I have found most helpful are Basil, Bergamot, Cassia/Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Frankincense, Ginger, Helichrysum, Lavender, Lemon, Marjoram, Peppermint, Wintergreen, and doTerra’s Deep Blue. I am slowly incorporating other oils into my arsenal, but these are my ‘can’t live without’ oils (so far) because their properties help me the most. Here’s a brief run-down:

Basil: Uplifting, energizing, purifying. Good for adrenal fatigue and mental fatigue.

Bergamot: Lively, inspiring, uplifting. Good for insomnia, stress, joint issues & muscle cramps, and self-worth issues.

Cassia/Cinnamon: Warming, stimulating, refreshing. Good for increasing blood flow, calming upset tummies, and blood sugar balance.

Clary Sage: Focusing, stimulating, balancing. Good for insomnia, depression & anxiety, and PMS.

Frankincense: Relaxing, focusing, centering. Good for depression, trauma, immune system health, migraines & headaches, and meditation.

Ginger: Balancing, clarifying, stabilizing. Good for digestive problems, memory & brain support, and spasms & cramps.

Helichrysum: Healing, regenerating, reassuring. Good for pain relief, emotional balance.

Lavender: Soothing, normalizing, balancing. Good for insomnia, stress & anxiety, focus & concentration, pain relief, and migraines.

Lemon: Refreshing, cheerful, uplifting. Good for detoxifying & purifying, stress, and concentration.

Marjoram: Normalizing, comforting, warming. Good for muscle cramps & pain, migraines & headaches, anxiety.

Peppermint: Invigorating, cooling, adaptive. Good for pain, headaches & migraines, digestive discomfort, and alertness.

Wintergreen: Stimulating, refreshing, uplifting. Good for neuralgia & cramps, pain relief, arthritis, and gout & rheumatism.

Deep Blue: Minty, cooling, soothing. Good for muscle, back & joint pain, fibromyalgia & lupus, muscle tension, headaches & neck pain.

I diffuse a lot of different combinations depending on how I feel that day, and I have created my own topical blend for pain with Basil, Frankincense, Ginger, Helichrysum, Lavender, Marjoram, Peppermint, Wintergreen & Deep Blue. I’ve combined them all in a glass spray bottle, (like these ones from Amazon), diluted with fractionated coconut oil. I absolutely LOVE this blend (and so do my friends and family); it takes away my pain almost immediately.

Vitamins & Supplements

When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, the doctor who provided me with the diagnosis handed me two pieces of paper. One had the prescriptions needed for the ‘standard treatment protocol’, (i.e. an anti-depressant, a sleeping pill, and a pain killer); the other sheet of paper contained a list of vitamins and supplements. Upon handing these two sheets to me, the doctor stated that the first sheet was to get me out of the slump of despair I was currently in, but wasn’t a long-term solution. I was also to add the prescribed list of vitamins & supplements to my routine, as I would likely see more long-term relief with them than anything else.

My diagnosing doctor – a specialist in Fibromyalgia – was not the only one to prescribe supplements. When I attended the Pain Clinic in Vancouver, they also had a list of recommended supplements, as did my primary care doctor. All three sources combined created the list below. When I add these to my daily routine, I see a marked reduction in my pain levels, a drastic increase in my ability to cope mentally, and a nominal increase in my energy levels. However, as with everything else, it does become less effective after a time. When this happens, I take a break for a few months before resuming.

Disclaimer: I have worked very closely with my doctors to develop a plan for supplement use that works for me. I have listed the supplements that I use for informational purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or health care practitioner prior to adding any supplements to your daily routine and to determine the correct dosage for you.

 

CoQ10: CoQ10 is an essential component of healthy mitochondrial function, as well as a powerful antioxidant that has been found lacking within the blood cells of many fibromyalgia patients. CoQ10 supplementation has been linked to a significant improvement in symptoms in a small preliminary trial (Cordero 2011). CoQ10 has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties in animals (Jung 2009).

Magnesium: Research has shown that low levels of magnesium may be implicated in the development of fibromyalgia in some individuals (Sendur 2008; Bagis 2012). Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, thus making it a frequently recommended supplement (Holdcraft 2003; Arranz 2011).

B Vitamins, specifically B Complex: B-vitamins are essential for maintaining optimal mitochondrial function and are important cofactors in a variety of metabolic events. Homocysteine is a damaging metabolic by-product whose levels are kept in check by adequate B-vitamin intake. In one study, women with fibromyalgia were shown to have higher levels of homocysteine in their cerebrospinal fluid than healthy controls (Regland 1997).

Vitamin B1:  Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is necessary for cellular energy. It is a required co-factor in several enzymatic processes, including glucose metabolism and myelin production. Thiamine deficiency can elicit a whole host of problems that are consistent with the current definitions of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.  A recent case study suggests that what is currently diagnosed as fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue may be attributable to thiamine deficiency. A very small case study (n =3) from Italian physicians found a significant reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms in patients given high dose thiamine.

Vitamin B12:  B vitamins are essential for energy production, protein metabolism, red blood cell formation, and central nervous system maintenance. B vitamins are water soluble, meaning that your body uses what it can and eliminates the rest through urine.  A few (but limited) studies suggest that low B12 levels may be involved in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. If so, it’s possible that they are, at least in part, responsible for the low energy levels typical of both conditions. Research on B12 supplements for these illness has just begun, but what little we have is promising. A 2015 study (Regland, PLoS One) of B12 injections showed a positive response, especially in those who were also taking daily folic acid supplements.

DMG:  Dimethylglycine (DMG) is a derivative of glycine, which is the simplest of the amino acids.  It is the building block of many important substances including the amino acid methionine, choline, many hormones and neurotransmitters, and DNA.  Research shows DMG to be physiologically active and important to cell metabolism.  Dimethyl glycine (DMG) has been used in the United States as a substitute for B15 because it is believed to increase Pangamic Acid production in the body. Dimethyl glycine combines with gluconic acid to form Pangamic Acid. DMG is considered the active component of Pangamic Acid.  Russian scientists have shown Pangamic Acid supplementation can reduce the buildup of lactic acid in athletes, and, thereby, lessen muscle fatigue and increase endurance. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Russian athletes took high doses of DMG, which resulted in them dominated in the Olympics. Muhammad Ali also called DMG his ‘secret weapon’ in training.

Vitamin D3: Patients with fibromyalgia syndrome have impaired mobility and therefore get less exposure to sunlight. This contributes to the vitamin D deficiency frequently observed in this population (Bhatty 2010, Olama 2013). In one trial involving 100 women with fibromyalgia, 61% were found to be vitamin D deficient (blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D <30 ng/mL) (Matthana 2011). Upon supplementation with vitamin D, 42 (69%) of those women reported significantly improved symptoms when their vitamin D levels reached ≥ 30 ng/mL; the improvement became more significant when their vitamin D levels exceeded 50 ng/mL.  Vitamin D3 works in tandem with K2 to ensure the body absorbs Calcium where it needs it.

Vitamin K2:  Vitamin K is an essential nutrient necessary for responding to injuries because of it’s ability to clot blood. It is also essential to building stong bones and has been shown to help in preventing heart disease. (Beulens JW, Bots ML, Atsma F, et al. High dietary menaquinone intake is associated with reduced coronary calcification. Atherosclerosis. 2008 Jul 19). Vitamin K also has the ability to reduce body stiffness, making it another good remedy for fibromyalgia and osteo issues as well.

Grape Seed Extract:  The grape seed extracts also contain water-soluble bioflavonoids called proanthocyanidins with antioxidant activity 20 to 50 times greater than Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A or Beta-Carotene at dealing with free radicals. Grape seed extract is full of such things as flavonoids, phenolic acids, reversatrol, phytochemicals and antioxidants.  It has anti-inflammatory properties which are beneficial to reducing inflammation throughout the body and the joints. It can also improve blood circulation which is vital in getting nutrients to the muscles and that may be why people report more flexibility and a higher pain threshold. It also has the added benefit of protecting your joints because it helps prevent the breakdown of collagen. Either way it does not have any adverse affects of fibromyalgia and does not aggravate fibromyalgia. It may improve symptoms or help maintain some flexibility in the joints and improve pain tolerance.

Amino Acids:  Amino acids produce enzymes that help to stimulate growth and the development of healthy body tissues. They also help to maintain the body’s blood sugar levels and hormone and chemical balances required in a healthy immune system.

5HTP:  5-HTP is an endogenous precursor to serotonin. It can be derived from the seeds of an African plant (Griffonia simplificolia). The potential utility of 5-HTP – a more direct precursor to serotonin than L-tryptophan – in fibromyalgia is supported by data indicating impaired tryptophan metabolism in fibromyalgia patients (Schwarz 2002). Clinical trials have shown that 5-HTP supplementation in fibromyalgia patients is associated with considerable improvements in anxiety, pain intensity, quality of sleep, fatigue, and the number of tender points (Caruso 1990; Sarzi Puttini 1992).

Melatonin:  Early research on melatonin for fibromyalgia suggested that people with this condition have lower night-time levels of melatonin, which may make it hard to fall asleep and leave you tired the next day. That lead to a belief that melatonin supplements may be an effective treatment.

However, in later research, melatonin levels were normal or even increased compared to healthy controls. It is not surprising then that research on effectiveness of melatonin supplementation is split as to whether it helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.

A 2002 study showed that it improved sleep, pain, and tender-point count while other studies show no significant improvement.

Fibromyalgia research is plagued with this kind of inconsistency, which complicates the treatment process. And it’s not just research – many people with fibromyalgia experiment with melatonin. Some report that it works well for helping them sleep, while others say it has no effect whatsoever.

Food & Diet

Over the years, I’ve noticed that I have developed sensitivities to certain foods. Eating these foods results in flare ups that can last for days. The list is always changing, and a food that affects me mildly or not at all one day, can cause me great pain on another day, or vice versa. Paying attention to what you eat and how it affects you can be a great help in alleviating some symptoms.

My “always” triggers include potatoes, MSG & Nitrites, and aspartame. These always cause an issue, and is almost always severe. But I also have “sometimes” triggers, which, depending on the day, can either have no impact or a moderate to severe reaction. These include certain carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta), sugar, and dairy.   Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is also important, though sometimes difficult.  An elimination diet and a food diary can help you determine your triggers.

 

Detoxification

Sometimes, you can’t avoid a trigger, either because you didn’t know it was a trigger, or because you ‘forgot’ it was a trigger (or wanted to). When this happens, I’ve found that the best course of action is to detoxify as soon as I can. For me, this means increasing my water consumption and taking detoxifying baths. For years, this meant Epsom salts & baking soda, but when I had my recent flare up, I decided it to try Naked Mud Peat bath. The day after my first bath was the best I felt in a long time. After 4 days of baths, I honestly felt back to ‘normal’. Since then, I have made sure to have a Naked Mud bath once a week.

Learn more about Naked Mud here.

 

Living with Fibromyalgia can be a balancing act of finding what works for you. Hopefully, these suggestions will help. Feel free to leave anything else you have found helpful in the comments.

 


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