In my Acupuncture practice in Falmouth, MA, one of the most common ailments affecting my patients is Fibromyalgia. This disease is really a cluster of disorders, grouped into one syndrome. Symptoms include ~ chronic whole-body pain, with key pain points, which may be described as burning or knawing; chronic fatigue and foggy headedness; sleep disturbances (trouble falling and staying asleep); Irritable Bowel Syndrome; headaches; and palpitations. For most of my patients, the chronic fatigue and pain are the most prevalent symptoms.
Its diagnosis is made if there is a history of pain for more than 3 months, and if pain is found 11 out of 18 spots tested. Other conditions that mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as hypothyroidism and Lyme disease, must also be ruled out.
Most commonly, it occurs in women ages 20-50, and may be caused from physical or emotional trauma, sleep disturbances, a virus, or an abnormal brain response to pain. Patients are given a variety of medications, including Cymbalta (anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug); Lyrica (treats nerve pain); and Savella (SNRI – anti-depressant used to block pain response to the brain).
Most of the patients I see with Fibromyalgia, are on a combination of Cymbalta and Lyrica, but still continue to have pain, sleep problems and a lack of mental clarity. Some are on no medication, and are seeking a more natural cure.
The very first place I start with these patients is in examining their diet. Nearly every Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue (CFS or CFIDS) patient I’ve seen has some degree of gluten and grain intolerance. Quite frequently, they are self-medicating their low energy with high amounts of sugar and simple carbohydrates. These are the very foods that are making them sick! I start off by suggesting that they journal their food intake for one week. Some of them are also encouraged at this point to also eliminate all foods that contain gluten – breads, pastas, cookies, cakes etc. For a complete list of foods containing gluten, see: http://diet.lovetoknow.com/wiki/List_of_Foods_Containing_Gluten
I learned from experience about the gluten – fibromyalgia connection. One of my patients in my 3rd year internship had experimented on her own with giving up gluten for her fibromyalgia. She noticed that even if she had the tiniest amount of hidden gluten (such as found in ice cream), that she would feel as if she had been “run over by a mac truck” for 3 days. After going back to her normal and gluten-free diet, she would eventually become symptom-free again.
I started testing this out on all of my patients with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue. The ones who were compliant saw great results. I also treated them with weekly Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. I believe that both Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine are also effective in treating Fibromyalgia patients, but without the change in diet, it will be akin to swimming upstream. There will always be some symptoms to work against. Dietary changes are not easy to make, but they allow the patient to have some control over their symptoms, and are a very inexpensive way to produce quick change.
Here are some links to check out, about Fibromyalgia and Gluten intolerance:
Besides eliminating Gluten, patients may need to cut out grains and high carbohydrate foods in general. This takes some personal experimentation, and the patient should first start with eliminating gluten, then sugar, then grains, then potatoes, and then lower fruit and dairy content. Many patients are able to tolerate potatoes but not grains.
Also, I would recommend a good B-vitamin complex supplement for increased energy, as well as healthy omega-3 fats such as flax seed oil and cod-liver oil. The plain fish-oil is not very tasty, but there is a lemon flavored one that goes down pretty easily. Recently, on the doctor’s bulletin at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, I noticed an interesting study about the use of Corvalen (D-Ribose), for Fibromyalgia. Patients took 5 grams twice a day and had great results. I have not had any experience yet with my patients taking this supplement, however there are some promising reviews and case studies online, and I would be willing to suggest it as an adjunct supplement.
Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine focuses on reducing pain, promoting a good night’s sleep, and increasing energy and mental clarity. Chinese medicine uses metaphors to describe what is going on in the body. Usually there is an organ system which has weakness or stuck energy, or there is some factor which is excess or deficient in the body. Fibromyalgia patients generally have a combination of “Weak Spleen Energy (weak digestion)”, “Dampness (what Chinese Medicine attributes symptoms like heavy limbs, fatigue, foggy-headedness, and obesity to); “Latent heat (a virus which caused chronic inflammation in the body), and “heart blood deficiency (responsible for sleep problems, palpitations, and anxiety). Usually there is one pattern that is most prevalent, like “dampness”, and so herbal formulas and Acupuncture treatments will focus on addressing this main pattern first, while also addressing the symptoms arising from the other patterns.