Natural Therapies that Beat Drugs on All Measures
There are many, including doctors, who have questioned whether fibromyalgia is a valid illness — but don’t tell that to the few million who suffer from otherwise inexplicable pain. To them, the introduction of a drug, pregabalin (Lyrica), that treats the symptoms of fibromyalgia represented both validation and hope for some help. Lyrica was first approved as an anti-seizure medication and then used off-label for fibromyalgia… in 2007 it became the first FDA-approved drug for treatment of this condition.
However, the side effects of Lyrica can be so severe that even people who are suffering should give long and careful thought before they take it. Possible side effects include muscle weakness, dizziness, sleep disorders, blurred vision, loss of balance or coordination, easy bruising and bleeding. Weight gain is yet another potential side effect, which is problematic since excess weight is common among people with fibromyalgia.
GOOD NEWS FOR FIBROMYALGIA SUFFERERS
The good news is that since fibromyalgia symptoms are similar to arthritis, there are many natural and less risky treatment options that can ease the pain and reduce symptoms. Regular Daily Health News contributor, naturopathic physician Mark Stengler, ND, says that he has found that natural therapies work so well and with so few side effects that there’s every reason to turn to these first. He points out that Lyrica may not be effective for everyone — in one clinical trial Lyrica effectively helped reduce pain in only one in four patients, making the gamble on the merits of taking the drug even more precarious.
Dr. Stengler says that the fascinating thing about fibromyalgia is that there is no single root cause. Rather, it can result from any of a number of very different causes or catalysts, including injury such as whiplash, food allergies, hormone imbalances (low thyroid, for example), digestive problems, metal toxicity, neurotransmitter imbalances and more. What’s common to all of these conditions, he says, is that they leave the cells unable to produce sufficient energy, causing pain signals to be released indiscriminately. Most fibromyalgia patients Dr. Stengler sees complain about insomnia, fatigue, muscle pain, tender points (spots tender to the touch), depression and digestive problems. Patients are more often women then men, typically between the ages of 40 and 60, which indicates that hormones may have something to do with the problem. Indeed, Dr. Stengler says he often starts the testing process by evaluating hormone balances, including cortisol and DHEA, as well as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormones. For patients who have a history of eating fish that may contain mercury (this includes deep water fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark) or who have several mercury fillings, he tests for metal toxicity since this can cause an increase in perceived pain. He may also measure how well digestion and nutrient absorption are functioning, since these factors too can amplify symptoms. Other possible tests Dr. Stengler may order are to investigate levels of neurotransmitters (through urine testing) and vitamin D serum levels, which can affect pain receptors. These tests all provide valuable information on how to treat a particular individual’s symptoms.
NATURAL TREATMENTS WORK BETTER AND FASTER
Once he has determined that a patient has fibromyalgia, Dr. Stengler prescribes a number of substances aimed at keeping the disease from getting worse, and hopefully even reversing it. They are:
- Calcium and magnesium, to relax tight muscles and calm nerves
- Vitamin D, which reduces inflammation
- 5-HTP and SAMe increase serotonin, leading to reduction in pain signals
- MSM as a natural anti-inflammatory
- Sugar D-ribose to improve energy production within cells
- Neprinol, which was specifically formulated to stop and reverse fibromyalgia and may be effective for some.
Dr. Stengler also gives patients specific homeopathic substances to reduce muscle pain, including Rhus Tox (for stiffness and muscle ache that gets worse in cold weather), Cimicifuga racemosa (for muscle pain that feels like bruising, especially helpful when fibromyalgia affects the neck to mid-back) and Bryonia alba (for muscle and joint pain that is worse with motion).
Patients are also tested for food sensitivities and instructed to avoid foods that can aggravate symptoms. All patients with fibromyalgia are prescribed an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of cold water fish (ones that don’t contain significant mercury, including salmon and sardines) along with loads of vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit, nuts and lean red meat. Dr. Stengler has patients add anti-inflammatory spices — turmeric, garlic, onions and ginger, for example — to their diet as well, and for those with poor digestion he prescribes digestive enzymes. For pain and stress management he occasionally recommends chiropractic and/or acupuncture treatments, and he advises patients to develop good stress-control habits… deep breathing, exercise, and, when appropriate to the patient, prayer.
Many patients tell him they notice improvement within two to four weeks, says Dr. Stengler. Nearly all find that within eight to 10 weeks they have obvious or significant improvement in their fibromyalgia, with the pain receding considerably or sometimes even completely. Patients go on to lead normal lives, some continuing to stay on the supplement regimen, while others are able to reduce it quite a lot.
Fibromyalgia responds so well to natural treatment that Dr. Stengler believes it’s the best first-line approach for everyone who suspects they may have it. Even for those who opt to take drugs, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor if you can take natural substances to complement your treatment. Seek a doctor (such as a naturopathic doctor) who treats holistically, to monitor and serve as a guide on your journey back to a pain-free life.