Fibromyalgia In Focus
Ease your pain with a proactive, natural approach

Fibromyalgia—a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tender points throughout the body—puzzles doctors and frustrates patients who suffer from it. My friends who have fibromyalgia have invariably come down with it after periods of intense work and stress. This is why I often refer to fibromyalgia as the "overdoing, under-you-ing" syndrome.

It's estimated that 3 to 6 million Americans suffer from the disorder, which occurs primarily in women of childbearing age. Aches and pains are the most common complaints, but symptoms also include insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, headache, and depression.

Experts postulate a long list of possible causes of fibromyalgia: trauma that brings on the disorder; inadequate sleep; hypothyroidism; cortisol imbalance; impaired circulation or metabolism; stress; or systemic viral infections, such as Lyme disease or herpes.

Conventional treatment usually relies on antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs to manage the muscular pain. Although this approach does offer short-term relief, it doesn't offer a long-term resolution. I prefer to help my patients learn to believe they can be healthy again without medication.

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When you feel tired or achy, try this deep-breathing exercise to promote peace and relaxation: Rest your hands across your belly. Breathe in through your nose slowly, allowing your belly to be filled with this breath. Slowly exhale. Repeat several times throughout the day. Some people with fibromyalgia appear to benefit from vegetarian or hypoallergenic diets. I recommend eliminating red meat, caffeine, dairy products (organic yogurt and cottage cheese are exceptions), processed foods, sugars, saturated fats, and all food additives. Foods to embrace include antioxidant-rich prunes and squash; brown rice and oats for fiber; yogurt and raw nuts for calcium and magnesium; nutrient-rich sea vegetables; and cold-water fish, such as salmon and mackerel, for essential fatty acids. It's important to supplement with key nutrients often depleted in persons with fibromyalgia, including B vitamins and magnesium.

Herbs can also help. Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), turmeric (Curcuma domestica), and ginger (Zingiber officinale) are best for easing inflammation. Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and a low dose of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) or melatonin can help promote sleep. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) can help ease depression.

Moderate exercise is a must for fibromyalgia sufferers. Some patients find their pain virtually disappears after adhering to an exercise program. I generally recommend building up slowly to 20 to 30 minutes of daily aerobic activity, such as walking, biking, rowing, or jogging, in addition to a light program of weight lifting or resistance training, as well as yoga.

Therapeutic massage can help alleviate pain; however, intense or forceful massage may worsen pain in sensitive fibromyalgia patients. For that reason, look for a massage therapist who has experience working with fibromyalgia clients. Acupuncture and chiropractic can round out the whole-body approach. Because of the complexity of this syndrome, it's essential to approach treatment of fibromyalgia by addressing the whole person: body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.