How I Conquered Fibromyalgia Without Prescription Drugs
Why do I feel so lousy?
At the age of 38, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was in near-constant pain, my muscles were sore and stiff, my joints ached, and I started every day feeling as exhausted as I did the night before. A headache was my constant companion and I was finding it increasingly difficult to focus at my job and other mental activities such as paying thebills or helping the kids with their homework.
My doctor, after ruling out other illnesses with similars ymptoms, concluded that I had“fibromyalgia,” a condition characterized by tender points in muscles, tendons,joints, and other soft tissues. Other common symptoms include morning stiffness, headaches, fatigue, and depression. According to the National Institute of Health, about 5 million adult Americans have fibromyalgia and 80 to90 percent of the cases occur in women.
My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant for the pain and stiffness and an antidepressant to help promote restful sleep. He explained that the antidepressant would also heighten the effects of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing substances. He instructed me to start with a very small dose of the muscle relaxant only, explaining that a lower dose would allow my body time to adjust to the medication and minimize unpleasant side effects. I was instructed to add a low dose of the anti-depressant once I had been on the muscle relaxant for two weeks.
The results of the muscle relaxant were immediate: I took my first dose that night and awakened the next morning with no muscle pain or stiffness, and I remained pain-free for the entire day. However, I didn’t like the way the drug made me feel: detached, spacey, and emotionless. The doctor had warned that some people cannot tolerate the “drugged”feeling, but suggested I allow at least two weeks for the effect to wearoff. I hated the feeling so much,though, that I quit taking the medication after five days. Upon hearing my experience with the muscle relaxant, the doctor said I probably wouldn’t like the anti-depressant, either,as it had a similar “spacey” effect. So,I chose not to take the antidepressant.
With that, I left the doctor’s office resigned to feeling lousy for the time being, but determined to find a way to feel better. I began reading everything I could find about fibromyalgia. Its association with poor sleep, high stress, and poor nutrition were particularly striking to me, so I set about researching ways to help with each of those areas. I came up with a five-step plan that I knew I could accomplish even with my busy schedule, and within three months I was no longer experiencing headaches, my energy level was back to normal, my body was pain-free, and I was able to focus better at work and at home.
Helpful Sleep Resources
1. Get a good night's sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep might be the single most beneficial thing you can do for your fibromyalgia. Much of the body’s healing work occurs while you sleep. Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with a multitude of problems, including obesity and diabetes,and just one or two nights of too little sleep can cause muscle pain and headaches.
Whether my fibromyalgia caused my sleep problems or my sleep problems contributed to the fibromyalgia, I knew that I had to find a way toget a better night’s sleep. The first thing I did was make sure that I went to bed at the same time every night with plenty of time to get eight hours of sleep. Because I was waking up frequently at night, I searched for ways to make my sleep more restful and began taking Valerian about an hour before bedtime. Valerian is a plant native to Europe and Asia that has been used for hundreds of years for sleeping problems, anxiety, and headaches. I found that it helped me fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. It only took about two weeks for me to establish a consistent good night’s sleep, and after that I was able to discontinue the use of Valerian and still get a good night’s sleep on my own.
2. Make better food choices
Most of us know what is good for us and what isn’t, but it’s easy to develop bad eating habits. I decided to pay more attention to what I was eating and drinking. I didn’t go on a diet or count calories; I merely followed a few simple guidelines and almost immediately I began to feel better.
First, I made sure I drank six to eight glasses of water a day, eliminated soda, limited myself to one cup of coffee per day, and drank one or two cups of green tea each day. Water is an essential nutrient, and dehydration is one of the most common causes of headaches, fatigue, and sore muscles. Green tea is particularly rich in health-promoting flavonoids and has been shown to boost the ability of the immune system to fight off infections. However, both green tea and coffee contain caffeine, so if you’re still having trouble sleeping, remove or limit consumption of both of them.
Second, I ate more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber and essential vitamins and minerals and contain a number of antioxidants that may reduce the risk of certain cancers. These antioxidants help the body become more efficient at recovering from stress and illness. In addition, the higher amount of fiber and water contained in fruits and vegetables make them lower in calories and more filling.
Third, I avoided processed foods, particularly anything
containing white flour or sugar, and increased the amount of whole grains in my diet. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and
other important nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and selenium. Some easy ways to get whole grains into the
diet include substituting whole grain bread for white bread (be sure the label
says “100% whole grain”), having oatmeal for breakfast, and choosing brown rice
instead of white rice. [For a delicious and easy way to cook brown rice, see How to Cook Brown Rice: An Easy, Foolproof Method | Brown Rice Recipe.]
Fourth, I took a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement. Certain deficiencies in vitamins and minerals have been linked to sore muscles, headaches, fatigue and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. In particular, deficiencies in B vitamins, Vitamin D, and magnesium are fairly common and associated with muscle and nerve problems. Taking a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement can help you correct any deficiencies you may have.
3. Move your body
Even though it might feel counterintuitive to exercise when you’re already tired and achey, moderate exercise has repeatedly been shown to increase energy levels and brighten mood. For me, all it took was 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace every day to help me feel happier and more energetic. If you have an office job like I do, use your morning and afternoon breaks to step outside and walk and you will have accomplished your 30 minutes of moving. Also, stretching at your desk is an excellent way to help keep your muscles and joints from stiffening up from too much inactivity.
4. Consider taking some herbal supplements (but check with your doctor first)
Since my doctor had wanted to treat my fibromyalgia with an anti-depressant, I looked for a natural alternative, hoping to find a solution that would not have the side effects of prescription anti-depressant medications. St. John’s wort is a plant with yellow flowers that has been used for centuries for treating multiple ailments, including nerve pain, menstrual cramps and nausea. The most common modern-day use of St. John’s wort is for the treatment of depression. St John’s wort has been repeatedly shown to be an effective treatment for mild-to-moderate depression.
I began taking the smallest suggested dose of 200 mg of 0.3% standardized hypericin content per day. After two weeks, I increased to 300 mg and stayed at that dosage for approximately three months. At the end of three months, I was feeling my normal self again, so I gradually decreased the dosage until I was off of the herb. It is important that you consult your physician before taking St. John’s wort, as it can have serious negative reactions with certain prescription medications.
In addition to St. John’s wort, I began taking Siberian Ginseng , a woody shrub with a carrot-like root that is native to East Asia, China, Japan, and Russia. It is sometimes referred to as eleuthero Siberian ginseng and belongs to a different genus than Chinese or American (panax) ginseng, although they share similar properties.
Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen, a term for herbs that maintain health by increasing the body's ability to adapt to stress, both environmental and internal. Adaptogens work by strengthening the immune system, nervous system, and glandular systems. Research indicates it may alleviate symptoms of sore muscles, adrenal exhaustion, and dark under-eye circles.
I chose Siberian ginseng for its abilities to help the body properly adapt to stress, as well as its documented ability to improve cognitive and physical performance. I began taking 300 mg per day. It is recommended that a treatment period last six to eight weeks at a time, with period of breaks lasting one to two weeks. Dosage can be started again after the break, if needed.
5. Clear your mind
As part of my overall goal of reducing stress, I incorporated15 minutes per day of simple meditation. There are many ways to meditate, and I encourage you to do some researchto find what best suits you. Theimportant thing is that you quiet your mind and remain focused. The regular practice of meditation provides anumber of well-documented health benefits, including reduced anxiety, increasedconcentration, and a general feeling of well being. I found that meditating before bedtime helpedme sleep better, and doing it first thing in the morning helped me stay calmand centered throughout the day.
Causes and Prevention of Fibromyalgia
Just as there is no definitive diagnostic test for fibromyalgia, there is no definitive cause. Researchers are still looking at possible explanations for its occurrence, and it is likely that fibromyalgia results from a combination of physical and emotional stressors such as heredity, trauma, chemical imbalances, and hormonal disturbances.
I hesitate to say that I “cured” my fibromyalgia, but I do believe that the steps I took were instrumental in correcting an imbalance of nutrients in my body. The widespread nature of the symptoms of fibromyalgia may be the result of too much stress, not enough sleep, and poor eating habits. While the steps I took helped me eliminate the symptoms of muscle and joint pain, fatigue, headaches, and stiffness, it is important to consult your physician if you have these symptoms to rule out other causes. Also, always check with your doctor before taking any herbal remedies, especially if you are taking prescription medications, as many herbs negatively interact with some medications.