Fibromyalgia is a disorder that can lead to widespread pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and depression. In the US, around five million people suffer from this disorder. Most of them are women of child-bearing age. Treating fibromyalgia is difficult as doctors do not fully understand what causes it.
The conventional treatment includes painkillers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs, which help reduce the symptoms. Some natural therapies and lifestyle changes can also help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Read on to learn more about fibromyalgia and the various natural remedies that can help ease its symptoms.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by body pain, extreme fatigue, insomnia, fibro fog, and low-grade depression. It can start during teenage years in adolescent girls and continue till old age. People diagnosed with fibromyalgia experience symptoms from overlapping conditions like irritable bowel, restless leg syndrome, and Raynaud’s syndrome.
Fibromyalgia is to diagnose, as it does not have any specific tests. Its symptoms are similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, which have to be ruled out to confirm that you have fibromyalgia. Often fibromyalgia is misdiagnosed in older adults, who may think the pain is due to old age.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
The common symptoms of fibromyalgia include –
- Widespread pain
- Low mood
- Incapacitating fatigue
- High levels of stress and anxiety
- Increased sensitivity to stimuli in the environment
- Concentration problems
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Headaches and migraines
Natural remedies for fibromyalgia
The conventional treatment of fibromyalgia includes painkillers, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. In addition to these medications, you can also make some lifestyle changes and opt for natural therapies to ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. These include:
Being well-rested helps to combat the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. According to a study published in the Saudi Medical Journal, there is a direct association between pain and sleep in fibromyalgia. The study suggested that management strategies should be developed to decrease pain while increasing sleep quality (2).
You can improve the quality and duration of sleep by:
- Reducing any daytime naps
- Avoiding phones or laptops just before you sleep
- Trying to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Not eating very close to sleeping time
- Avoiding coffee or alcohol before sleeping
2. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise helps to reduce the symptom of fibromyalgia. The patients may find it challenging to exercise initially, but exercising can help them build strength and minimize discomfort over time. According to a 2015 study from Spain, higher physical fitness is linked to reduced severity of symptoms of fibromyalgia (3).
Regular aerobic exercise, walking, swimming, and cycling can improve the quality of life in patients of fibromyalgia. It can reduce pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Exercising in an outdoor natural environment is a great way to increase your vitamin D intake and improve mental well-being (4).
Meditation helps to calm your mind and relax your body, which allows the body to heal itself. During a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 75 healthy volunteers were assigned to mindfulness meditation, placebo conditioning, sham mindful mediation, or book listening control intervention for four days. The results showed that mindful-meditation reduced pain intensity and pain unpleasantness much more than the other methods.
Mindfulness-meditation-related pain relief was linked to greater activation in brain regions associated modulation of pain, like the orbitofrontal, anterior insular cortex, and subgenual anterior cingulate (5). According to a 2012 review, meditation-based interventions help improve fibromyalgia-related symptoms (6). Meditate for around 20 minutes a day to help ease symptoms of fibromyalgia. It helps relieve stress, lowers depression, and helps improve sleep.
4. Practice yoga
Yoga is a simple practice that combines slow movement with meditation and slow breathing. According to a study from York University, Toronto, an eight-week yoga intervention can lead to improvements in pain, psychological functioning and mindfulness, and changes in cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia (7). Yoga also helps reduce the levels of cortisol.
5. Tai chi
Tai chi is a gentle form of exercise originating from China that helps maintain strength, flexibility, and balance. There is evidence that this mind-body practice can treat many health problems, including fibromyalgia.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, when patients of fibromyalgia took part in 60-minute tai chi sessions twice a week for 12 weeks, they showed significant improvements in their symptoms (8).
6. Vitamin D
Research has shown that people with fibromyalgia have low levels of vitamin D5. A study in the Korean Journal of Pain showed that vitamin D serum levels of patients with fibromyalgia are significantly lower than those without this condition (9). According to one study, 43% of women with fibromyalgia were deficient in vitamin D as compared to 19% without fibromyalgia.
Some studies have also shown that vitamin D can reduce the risk of symptoms of fibromyalgia by lowering inflammation. Vitamin D lowers the production of cytokine, which is known to cause inflammation. You can improve our vitamin D levels by getting out in the sun at least 15 to 20 minutes a day. Eat more vitamin D rich food like fatty fish, eggs, and beef liver. You can also take vitamin D supplements.
Magnesium occurs naturally in our bodies and is essential for human functioning. Food rich in magnesium include nuts, fish, green leafy vegetables, and yogurt. Research shows that people with fibromyalgia are more likely to be low in magnesium than others (10). Doctors often advise patients to take magnesium supplements.
During one study, premenopausal women were given 300 mg of magnesium citrate per day for eight weeks. The results showed that the number of tender points, tender point index, FIQ, and Beck depression score decreased significantly with magnesium citrate treatment (11).
To improve magnesium levels in your body, eat magnesium-rich food like whole wheat, spinach, quinoa, almonds, dark chocolate, black beans, and avocado. Before taking magnesium supplements, talk to your doctor as they can cause interactions with blood pressure medications and antibiotics.
8. Panax ginseng
Panax ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng, is a fork-shaped root that is known for its many health benefits. Ginseng contains ginsenosides, which help reduce inflammation. According to a 2013 study from Brazil, when a patient with fibromyalgia took 100 mg ginseng per day for 12 weeks, they felt a reduction in pain, an improvement in fatigue, and an increase in sleep as well (12). You can take ginseng in the form of a teabag or can also use chopped boiled root to make ginseng tea.
9. Fish oil
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly beneficial. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which help to deal with conditions that involve chronic inflammation (13). Fish oil supplements are known to reduce joint pain and stiffness.
You can use one tablespoon of fish oil per day to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, if you are taking blood-thinning medication, check with your doctor before you take this supplement.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb with its roots in the Ayurvedic system. It helps reduce stress, decrease pain and swelling, and prevent the effects of aging. Ashwagandha also helps to reduce chronic pain.
During a 2016 study from India, when volunteers with knee pain were given 250 mg of ashwagandha per day for 12 weeks, they observed a significant reduction in pain and swelling (14). Ashwagandha also helps to reduce stress and chronic pain.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is related to ginger. Turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. It contains a compound called curcumin, which offers many health benefits, including fibromyalgia. Turmeric alleviates many symptoms of fibromyalgia-like inflammation, pain, depression, and gastric problems.
According to studies, curcumin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative agents. It is better than aspirin and ibuprofen (15). Dried turmeric can be brewed into tea. You can also take upto three grams of turmeric in the form of supplements daily.
The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture can help relieve pain, fatigue, and anxiety in fibromyalgia patients. During a 2014 study, 36 patients underwent either an acupuncture session or a placebo procedure. The patients who underwent the actual procedure felt a higher reduction in pain, proving that acupuncture provides an immediate reduction in pain for patients with fibromyalgia (16).
13. Manual lymph drainage therapy
Manual lymph drainage therapy is a gentle massage that helps lymph move through the body. It helps to regulate the immune system, eliminate toxins from the body, and reduce excess fluid. Because it is gentle, it’s well tolerated by fibromyalgia patients.
During a 2009 study, 50 women with fibromyalgia underwent either manual lymph drainage therapy or connective tissue massage, five times a week, for three weeks. The results showed that manual lymph drainage therapy was more effective than connective tissue massage in terms of lowering pain, health status, and health-related quality of life (17).
14. Floatation therapy
Floatation therapy can provide significant relief for patients with fibromyalgia. The feeling of weightlessness in water gives immediate relief to the muscles and joints. It provides comfort from pain, improves quality of sleep, lowers anxiety, enhances concentration, and boosts magnesium levels. According to a study, when 81 patients received three floatation therapy sessions each, they observed a significant reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms (18).
15. Music therapy
Listening to music can also help in lowering the symptoms of fibromyalgia. During a study published in Pain Management Journal, sixty patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia were assigned to a music intervention group or a control group. The music interventions consisted of listening to music once a day for four consecutive weeks using two types of CDs. The music group reported a significant reduction in pain and depression (19).
What you eat can play an essential role in fibromyalgia. While some foods trigger flare-ups, others may provide relief. Though there are no specific diets for fibromyalgia, vegetarian food tends to lower the symptoms. This is because vegetarian diets are low in fat and protein and high in fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene, minerals, and antioxidants.
Foods you can include in your diet –
- Foods high antioxidants like kidney beans, dark chocolate, pecans, artichokes (boiled), cilantro, berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries)
- Foods high in amino acids like red meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, quinoa, tofu, soybeans
- Foods containing coenzyme Q10 like organ meats, beef, soy oil, sardines, mackerel, and peanuts
- Fruits with a low glycemic index like apples, berries, cantaloupe, peaches, and citrus
- Anti-inflammatory vegetables like kale, spinach, bok choy, arugula, collard greens
Foods to avoid
A poor diet can lead to flare-ups. Some of the typical culprits are:
- Boxed cereals
- Frozen treats
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by body pain, extreme fatigue, insomnia, fibro fog, and low-grade depression. The conventional treatment of fibromyalgia includes painkillers, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. In addition to these medications, you can also make some lifestyle changes, opt for natural therapies, take supplements, and change your diet to ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Always consult your doctor before you try any new treatment or supplement.