The official designation of fibromyalgia as a bonified medical condition has lead to many new advances in treatment and pain management. But as it remains a largely controversial disease, much work still needs to be done to understand its varied manifestation. This article discusses the evolution of our understsnding of this illness over past 20 years--as well as providing a number of herbal remedies--from someone who used to suffer it.
According to current medical criteria, fibromyalgia (also referred to as FM or FMS) is defined as: "a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain and allodynia [pain caused by a stimulus which does not normally induce pain], and a heightened and painful response to pressure. Fibromyalgia symptoms are not restricted to physical pain, leading to the use of the alternative term “fibromyalgia syndrome” for this condition. Other core symptoms include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness. Some patients may also report difficulty swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling, and cognitive dysfunction. Fibromyalgia is frequently co-morbid [involving more than one disease or pathological condition] with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety as well as stress-related disorders such as PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Not all people with fibromyalgia experience all associated symptoms." Current statistics show that fibromyalgia affects approximately 2-4% of the population, with a female to male incidence ratio of approximately 9:1. But even with such a definitive description in front of you, how do you really know if you have it or not--when most doctors can't verify it either!
In 1992 I was involved in a serious auto accident that caused considerable damage to my lower spine (sacrum). Within a few days, I began experiencing a number of the symptoms listed above--some in tandem, some individually. Over the weeks, the combination of symptoms varied day to day, week to week, making it especially hard to pinpoint exactly what my illness was. When I visited my family physician, he said he could be of little help since my symptomology didn’t fit into any known diagnostic formula, but in an effort to alleviate the excruciating pain I was experiencing, he would prescribe pain medication. (Like most individuals in this situation, I was willing to try anything.)
But as with most fibromyalgia sufferers, pain medication did little more than keep me stupefied--while the pain only intensified. He then prescribed a succession of other drugs meant to address specific symptoms: muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, steroids, antidepressants, mood elevators, and several other last-ditch medications--none of which were formulated specifically for fibromyalgia. These medications not only left me feeling drained and disoriented, their side-effects included persistent diarrhea, headaches, vomiting, nervousness, moodiness, nightmares, and after two months, bleeding ulcers. When all that he'd prescribed had little or no direct effect on my condition, he then suggested physical therapy modalities such as deep tissue massage, acupuncture, and sports/rehabilitative therapy. But as most fibromyalgia sufferers can attest, these methods provide little more than momentary, fleeting relief. And as was often the case with fibromyalgia sufferers of the past, it was at this point that my doctor had no more advise to offer. And this was primarily due to the fact that “fibromyalgia,” “fibromyalgia syndrome,” and all their related symptoms had yet to be recognized as a relatively common--but as yet unknown--affliction affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the country--and undoubtedly, millions more around the world. Fibromyalgia didn't have a name.
By 1994 a pressure-point test created by the American College of Rheumatology for what at the time was thought to be an unrecognized form of arthritis became the standard criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia. While no treatment had yet been created to alleviate the condition indicated by this pain-sensitivity test, its common administration lead to two major steps toward the advancement of a management program: it proved that this as-yet unnamed disease was not just another form of arthritis, and that a great deal of research needed to be conducted. That same year I became a founding member of a fledgling online fibromyalgia chat group known only as FM, which later became the core of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) established in 1997. During those interim years I was in regular contact with dozens of other fibromyalgia sufferers and soon discovered what a strange and elusive disease fibromyalgia really is. I corresponded with many individuals who were experiencing the very same symptom that I was--but many with a variety of others. Individuals whose symptoms had become so severe that they had been forced to become bed-ridden or confined to wheelchairs--resigned to a future of increasing immobility and unmanageable pain. I talked with athletes, teachers, law enforcement officers, priests, doctors, nurses, and people from every other walk of life--all of whom were suffering much the same as I--with no help on the foreseeable horizon. So like many of them, I began to look for answers myself. And I found a whole world of herbal remedies that can not only improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, they can actually negate many of them completely.
While a number of pharmaceuticals specifically geared to the management of fibromyalgia symptoms have become available to the general public in recent years (none of which I can personally advocate), I would like to suggest a number of natural, herbal curatives I discovered through extensive, trial-and-error study, that I am confident will help many other fibromyalgia suffers--if not alleviate the symptoms altogether. I will only advocate those which have given me the most outstanding results!
First of all, I can't say enough good things about green tea. While this miracle herb has come into its own in recent years regarding its detoxifying and anti-oxidantal properties, I have found it to be a remarkable join pain reliever as well. Fifteen years ago I began drinking six cups each morning and within the very first month noticed a qualitative reduction in my morning pain level--as well as mobility. Range of motion that had normally taken several hours to achieve, could be accomplished in one. I am convinced that green tea is one of nature's natural combatants of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The second herb that provided me with amazing results was flaxseed oil. While flax too has become broadly advocated in recent years--especially for its concentration of omega-3, brain-stimulating properties--I have found it to be a remarkable pain reducer as well. Shortly after I began taking 600 mgs each morning with breakfast I realized that my overall pain level (combined with the effects of green tea) had dropped by at least 90%. I was shocked! In addition to taking capsules, I have also incorporated flaxseed grain into my general diet, adding it to oatmeal, yogurt, and anywhere I use flour. My next great find was Korean ginseng (the "female" equivalent is dong quoi). I began taking 1000 mgs of this highly potent Asia herb shortly after discovering the positive effects of Green tea/flaxseed, and was quite amazed at the boost it gives my system. Seeming to intensify the properties of green tea and flaxseed, ginseng increases my energy level, allowing me to push through any residual pain or stiffness I may experience. And lastly (but perhaps most significantly for some), I have eliminated all processed foods (especially those containing MSG and other preservatives), high fructose corn syrup, artificial additives, sulfites, salt, junk food, chocolate, and any avoidable toxins from my diet. And today, I live virtually pain-free--with most of the symptoms I once experienced (including forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, fatigue, and sleep disturbance) things of the past. (I should note that I did experience marginal positive results with vitamin E, ginger root, and grape extract, but to a much lessor degree.)
Even with all that is known today about this mysterious disease, fibromyalgia is still considered a controversial diagnosis--with no scientific consensus as to its cause. Many members of the Western medical community still do not consider it a true "disease" because it lacks uniform symptoms/abnormalities on physical examination and does not "present" by accepted diagnostic testing. Accordingly, while some researchers advocate the new line of antidepressants and dopamine agonists, others focus on brain chemistry imbalances and psychosomatic origins. Still other research focuses on genetic make-up, stress factors, and physical injury. But with all these avenues of thought currently surrounding fibromyalgia and fibromyalgia syndrome, it seems that a pro-active approach to treating this mysterious and debilitating disease is our best bet. And after fifteen years of intensive experimentation, I can attest to the reality that the symptoms of fibromyalgia can indeed be dealt with naturally--and without side-effects--and that with the right diet and herbal intake, fibromyalgia can be manageable for many. I urge you to try it and see for yourself!