Fibromyalgia - A Natural Approach
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Symptoms and Causes
Fibromyalgia, often called fibrositis, is a condition in which muscle pain with no obvious cause is often combined with other, apparently unrelated, symptoms. It is distinct from muscular pain caused by injury, and also distinct from cramp.
Fibromyalgia is often associated with tendon and ligament pain which has no obvious cause; this is often worse when pressure is applied to the relevant area.
Fibromyalgia is also often associated with disturbed sleep patterns. This is partly due to constant low-level pain, but the sleep disturbances are often present even if the pain is not constant.
There is a known association between fibromyalgia and the rather controversial chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or M.E. One might say that the two conditions shade into each other; it is probably true that if the main symptom is pain then it’s called fibromyalgia, and if the main symptoms are chronic fatigue and flu-like symptoms then it is called M.E.
The causes of either problem are not known with certainty, but it is probable that the two problems have at least some causes in common, and these are set out below.
Quite frequently, it is possible for the body’s normal acid/alkaline balance to be skewed slightly towards acidity. Causes of this include consumption of large amounts of red meat and other purine-containing foods, which are usually also high in protein. This leads to production of uric acid, which the body does not find it easy to get rid of. Alcoholic drinks, particularly strongly flavoured ones such as port and brandy, also lead to acid accumulation because the various impurities are metabolised to acidic substances. The reason why this causes a problem in this context is that it makes it easier for the lactic acid accumulation normal in heavy exercise to cause pain.
This is probably the major cause of all the problems associated with fibromyalgia. There is a group of problems involving a faulty immune response which is attacking the body’s own tissues; they include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjorgren’s syndrome (which attacks the salivary and tear ducts causing dry mouth and eyes) and of course fibromyalgia. The causes of this sort of problem are somewhat controversial, but most complementary practitioners believe that this group of problems is caused by a long-term overstimulation of the immune system by incompletely digested food proteins (particularly those found in red meat and cows’ milk) getting into the bloodstream through an excessively porous intestinal wall. This is one reason why the pain of fibromyalgia is often associated with low-grade fever and other flu-like symptoms.
Proper muscle and nerve function is dependent on the balance between two pairs of minerals in the body; potassium/sodium and magnesium/calcium. Lack of potassium and/or magnesium can lead to a tendency to cramp, and to muscles that are always under low-level strain and are too tight to start with. Unfortunately, lack of these two minerals is fairly common because many people don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables (which contain potassium and magnesium) and many commonly consumed substances, such as caffeine and alcohol (both of which have diuretic properties) lead to excessive excretion of potassium and magnesium through the kidneys.
Some people have an intolerance to particular foods, the most common being cows’ milk. This is similar to but distinct from the well-known problem of food allergy – the two problems involve different parts of the immune system – but the result is an over-stimulated immune system, which leads to auto-immune problems as described above.
This is where fibromyalgia links with M.E. Although it’s almost certainly more complicated than this, one theory about this problem is that an overstressed immune system (which may also be compromised by less-than-ideal nutrient levels and stress) finds it difficult to deal with weak viruses, mostly in the herpes group. There are dozens of herpes-class viruses (apart from the embarrassing one!) and they have a defence mechanism against the immune system that is rather unfortunate for the people hosting them. These viruses, when under attack from the immune system, hide in the nervous system, particularly the spine, where the immune system can’t get at them. (The immune system’s way of dealing with viruses is to kill the cells hosting them – which it can’t afford to do when those cells are irreplaceable nerves.)
When the immune system is compromised and/or busy dealing with something else, the viruses come back out and cause trouble. This is basically the reason why cold sores have the name they do, for example. The link with stress is that stress, particularly when prolonged, causes release of cortisol – one of whose effects is immune system suppression.
It’s probably true that most people host many different herpes-class viruses, which when they were contracted (usually very early in life) expressed themselves as barely noticeable mild flu symptoms. The approach, therefore, isn’t to avoid exposure, because it’s almost certainly far too late, but to keep these viruses in check by keeping the immune system in good order.
First of all, the title of this section should not be taken as meaning that a serious medical condition can be self-treated. If you are in any doubt, and especially if your health problem has not been professionally diagnosed, then the first step is to see a professional.
However, there are some effective steps you can take yourself to improve a fibromyalgia problem, and they are set out here:
The aim of dietary changes to help with fibromyalgia is twofold; to reduce acidity in the body and to reduce or eliminate the intake of foods that specifically make the problem worse. There is some overlap between the two requirements, in terms of the changes required. Specifically, it is necessary to increase intake of fruit and vegetables and reduce intake of grains, dairy products and red meat. The latter group are all acid-forming, and in addition some grains (particularly wheat) and both dairy products and red meat specifically make food intolerance problems worse. This only applies to cows’ milk dairy products, for most people.
Specific things to avoid or at least reduce in the diet are those that strain the immune system or deplete the body of nutrients or both; these include citrus fruit, sugar, caffeine and any artificial additives.
Also, improving the digestion and putting less strain on it are a good idea. Methods for this include eating smaller meals more often, and sometimes keeping starchy and protein foods apart can help; this approach is sometimes called the Hay system. There are digestive enzyme supplements available, and these can help too.
As previously discussed, lack of potassium and magnesium can lead to sore muscles. Therefore, adding these two minerals often helps muscular problems. Some other minerals also help in various other ways, so a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement along with extra potassium and magnesium could work even better.
This nutrient is needed in very large amounts for the maintenance of muscle tissue, and is also needed by the immune system and the lining of the intestines. Extra L-glutamine is therefore useful; because it is a component of all proteins a very large amount is needed to make much difference and this means using powdered L-glutamine (which doesn’t taste too bad!) in amounts of 10-15 grams per day is desirable.
Malic acid, a natural substance used in many metabolic cycles in the body, has several functions. One is transport of minerals through the intestinal wall; another is production of ATP which is the energy currency of the body used in any processes that consume energy. Supplemental malic acid can therefore help mineral absorption and energy production in the muscles, both of which can help relieve the pain of fibromyalgia.
Immune Boosting Herbs
There are many herbs, notably cat’s claw and Siberian ginseng, which mildly boost the immune system. This can help when the problem is at least partly caused by virus infections, and a lot of them are anti-inflammatory as well; so this group of herbals can help fibromyalgia.
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