Don’t Have Time To Read The Full Article? Here Are The Main Points To Know:
- Fibromyalgia (FM) is a multi-syndrome condition that primarily manifests as musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue.
- Although the pain of FM is real, it is triggered by the brain and isn’t due to physical trauma within the body’s tissues.
- There are many factors believed to contribute to FM.
- While there isn’t a set ‘cure’ for FM, there are many natural options which can effectively manage symptoms.
- These natural therapies include gentle exercise, optimizing dietary intake (particularly of anti-inflammatory nutrients), stress-reduction, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, sleep, heat therapies, knowing symptom triggers and applying strategies to work with ‘fibro brain fog’.
It’s been said that you never really appreciate your health until it is gone.
In this vein, it’s difficult to truly grasp how much Fibromyalgia can affect your entire life, unless you actually live with this debilitating condition.
Imagine this: Waking up after ten hours’ sleep feeling utterly exhausted and too tired to face the day. Picture widespread pain throughout your muscles and joints; some days it’s so bad that you can’t do simple tasks like turning a door handle or lacing up your shoes. Think about living with a constant, thick brain fog, where you can’t string two coherent thoughts together and your mood is often low.
Worse yet, imagine being told that it’s all in your head.
Or that there’s nothing you can do about it.
We discovered this firsthand when my Dad was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue about ten years ago. He was essentially bedridden and offered no real hope for recovery by the mainstream medical profession. And despite the medications that my father was prescribed to “help” his symptoms, he simply got sicker and sicker.
This was literally the catalyst that sparked Food Matters. Laurentine and I took my father’s health into our own hands! After studying at the Global College of Natural Medicine, we moved back to Australia and applied everything we’d learned through our studies - and from interviewing health experts around the world - to help my father return to wellness.
And it worked! You can read the full story of how it all unfolded here and why it lead to Food Matters.
So today, I’m going to clear the air once and for all and offer a beacon of hope. Discover why Fibromyalgia is very much a “real” condition. Speaking from personal experience - and the thousands of people who write to us and share their stories too, - there are natural ways we can manage it!
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that manifests with different symptoms in different people. However, there are some “hallmark” symptoms that most people with fibromyalgia experience to some degree:
- Generalized pain, discomfort and tenderness throughout the body (ranging from a dull ache to excruciating nerve pain)
- Chronic fatigue, low energy and tiredness
- Cognitive disturbances, upsetting emotions and low mood
Depending on each individual, these symptoms can range from occasional and mild to chronic and severe. Furthermore, many people with fibromyalgia also may suffer from:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Disrupted sleep
- Weakened bladder control
- A lowered pain threshold
- Intolerance to noise and light
- Memory issues
- Restless leg syndrome
- Painful periods
Given some of these symptoms, it’s easy to see why many experts class Fibromyalgia as an “arthritis-related” condition.
However, this is perhaps a little misleading because unlike arthritis, Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause inflammation or physical damage to the joints or other body tissues. The similarity lies in how the symptoms feel and just like arthritis, the pain from Fibromyalgia can well and truly interfere with our ability to perform daily tasks in life.
Fibromyalgia is believed to affect two to five percent of the total population in Australia. Experts furthermore estimate that at least five million Americans are living with Fibromyalgia. For reasons that aren’t yet clear, this condition mainly occurs in women during their middle years of life.
Given the subjective nature of Fibromyalgia symptoms, it can be a very difficult condition to diagnose. Health professionals can’t test for Fibromyalgia in your blood or via scans – it is based on self-reported symptoms.
Therefore, don’t be discouraged if a diagnosis and answers aren’t immediately forthcoming. Obviously, these symptoms also occur in many other conditions that your health professional may want to investigate first. Also, not all doctors are equally aware about Fibromyalgia, so you may need to seek several opinions before finding a health provider who is familiar with and confident in treating this condition.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
While research is ongoing and hopeful, there is no clearly defined cause of Fibromyalgia.
However, researchers speculate that there are many factors that may contribute towards or trigger this condition including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Virus and infection
- Painful trauma or injury
- Previous history with pain syndromes
- Substance abuse
- Allergies and food intolerance, particularly to gluten, wheat and dairy
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Imbalances in the gut microbiome
Many people with Fibromyalgia commonly report that their condition developed after a traumatic event, albeit physical or psychological.
Many people with Fibromyalgia commonly report that their condition developed after a traumatic event, albeit physical or psychological. In my Dad’s case, he had been working for many years in high-pressure corporate jobs.
One thing is very clear, however.
Regardless of cause, the symptoms of Fibromyalgia are felt because of how the brain processes pain.
Please don’t think that this means that your pain isn’t real. It most certainly is!
However, the pain doesn’t appear to be due to an actual physical trauma in the muscles and joints – this would be objectively visible via inflammation, swelling and tissue damage.
In Fibromyalgia, the affected tissues appear otherwise healthy. This has led experts to believe that the pain isn’t triggered by the body but that it’s triggered in the brain.
Other people have conceptualized Fibromyalgia as a ‘sensitivity syndrome’. Like other syndromes such as IBS, chronic fatigue and chemical sensitivities, the brain of somebody with Fibromyalgia seems to be sensitive to certain stimuli that other people would perceive as normal.
Can Fibromyalgia Be Cured?
Firstly, please be comforted by knowing that Fibromyalgia is not a disease that will progress into something more serious. While this condition is very unpleasant to live with, it isn’t fatal and doesn’t cause damage to your joints and organs. Many people also find that it naturally improves with time.
If you asked a doctor, the general consensus from the medical community is that Fibromyalgia cannot be “cured” per se.
However, my Dad is living proof that Fibromyalgia CAN be overcome! More than ten years later, he is still vibrant, healthy, happy and 100% symptom-free.
So please don’t let this common prognosis discourage you! There are many options to help you manage your symptoms and enjoy a happy, healthy life. Keep reading for my top recommendations.
Natural Ways To Manage Fibromyalgia
The first step is education and knowing more about this condition. So congratulations, you’re already doing Step One by reading this article! Please don’t stop learning either. As new research continues to emerge, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to follow in this space.
The next step is about truly understanding how Fibromyalgia personally affects you and your body. As I said earlier, each case is a little bit different. This puts you in a seat of power to learn more about how your body responds to various treatment options. Not everything listed below will suit everyone, so explore gently, and listen to the feedback that your body provides:
1. Give Your Diet A Super Spring Clean!
Did you know that there is a recognized connection between your gut health, diet and autoimmune disease?
Inflammatory foods can cause tiny ‘leaks’ in the lining of your gut, allowing bacteria and chemicals from your digestive tract to travel into the bloodstream and cause inflammation. This process is known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’ and could be a major contributing factor to conditions such as Fibromyalgia.
With my father, our first step was to eliminate wheat, gluten, dairy and sugar - classic inflammatory foods. Many people find that eliminating these foods can help to heal and seal the gut once more, thus fortifying the immune system and helping your body to heal.
Secondly, we supported our father through a detox. Lots of green juices and plant-based foods! This is vital to flush out any toxins that may be suppressing immunity and impairing the body’s natural healing systems.
Lastly, we also implemented a supplementation program that was specifically tailored to deal with my father’s nutritional imbalances and speed his recovery. We especially focussed on Vitamin B complex, fish oils and probiotics. I would recommend that you try any form of mega-dosing nutritional therapy under the guidance of a qualified naturopath or integrative doctor.
I’d also like to acknowledge that chronic pain can really affect our willingness to eat and appetite for food. Yet ironically, when our body is unwell, we need to optimize our nutrition more than ever.
Having a nutrient-rich, well-rounded diet will ensure that your cells have the best fuel to heal and function optimally. It will also boost your energy.
Here are some other more general tips to consider when managing Fibromyalgia:
- Get enough protein. When our muscles are sore, we may find that our exercise drops off and we lose some muscle mass. This can lead to a spiral of feeling sorer and weaker, sorer and weaker. Getting adequate protein will help to maintain your muscle mass and keep up your strength. This can be through vegan or animal sources, including red meat, fish, chicken, organic eggs, lentils, nuts, split peas and good quality protein powders.
- Some experts suggest that getting enough magnesium, selenium, Vitamin C, Omega-3 fats, Vitamin D, zinc, iodine and B-complex vitamins may also help with Fibromyalgia.
- Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Omega-3 fats, turmeric, ginger and quercetin are all recognized as having anti-inflammatory qualities.
2. Know Your Triggers And Manage Them Accordingly
Many people with Fibromyalgia find that their symptoms are switched on or worsened by different triggers. If you’re not aware of what yours may be just yet, consider some of the common ones below:
- Physical exertion
- Other infections and illness
- Stress and anxiety
- Changes in the weather and seasons
You can try keeping a ‘symptom diary’ and recording what your symptoms are doing at particular times.
3. Move Gently
I know, that’s the last thing you probably want to hear, right?
When getting out of bed is painful, any form of exercise probably feels out of the question.
However, many people do find that a gentle aerobic exercise program does relieve or improve their symptoms.
The key is being gentle. Start softly with something that resonates with you. Good options include tai chi, water-based activities, gentle walking, and stretching. These offer the further benefits of improving sleep and mood; other factors which can also affect Fibromyalgia.
Some studies have also found that yoga can reduce cortisol levels and improve the symptoms of Fibromyalgia.
4. Take Steps To Manage Your Stress
The correlation between stress and disease is well-known. Therefore, the best medication for Fibromyalgia may very well be a chill pill, in the figurative sense!
Stress triggers a cascade of hormonal, chemical and physiological events within our bodies that ultimately leads to inflammation and suppression of the immune system. Stress also lowers our ability to cope with pain and negative emotions.
Reducing your stress will not only benefit your overall health but many people with Fibromyalgia find that it can drastically improve their symptoms too. Stress management tools work differently for everybody. Common, effective options include; meditation, positive affirmations, calming music, soothing aromatherapy, gentle yoga, journaling, counselling/therapy and a daily practice of “feel-good” activities
5. And While We’re Talkin’ Relaxation, How About The ULTIMATE Form…
(I know, OUCH!)
This recommendation definitely isn’t for everyone. But some people do find that regular massage can help with Fibromyalgia in multiple ways.
Like I’ve just mentioned, massage can bliss you out and really help to dial down stress levels.
But there’s an extra benefit. Massage can also help to relieve tense muscles and the associated muscle pain that comes with Fibromyalgia.
Similarly, some studies have found that acupuncture can also be effective in reducing the physical pain symptoms of Fibromyalgia.
6. Get A Good Night's Sleep
Getting plenty of good-quality sleep is marvellously restorative to the human body. Many patients with Fibromyalgia accordingly report that this does assist with their pain and overall condition.
Secondly, sleep also improves our resilience to stress and anxiety, which can also affect symptoms.
7. Experiment With Hot And Cold
The simple application of heat or coldness can make a huge difference to the musculoskeletal symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Heat packs, hot water bottles, saunas or a hot bath can soothe the stiffness out of sore muscles and joints. Other people find that cold helps to relieve their symptoms better. Experiment to find what feels best for you!
8. Keep A 'To-Do' List
We all have those days where our brain feels foggy and it’s hard to think straight. This can be an everyday existence for somebody with Fibromyalgia.
Keep a ‘to do’ list or comparable phone app handy to jot down tasks or things you need to remember. At the start of each day, refer back to your notes and make a fresh ‘to do’ list that you can refer back to and work through. This can give you great peace of mind knowing that things are taken care of and you don’t need to store it all in your mental space.
I hope that you’ve gained a much better understanding of how Fibromyalgia works and the many natural options that can be used to help with it. My Dad is a constant inspiration to me that the healing power of the body is truly incredible when we create the right conditions.