An Alternative Approach to Treating Fibromyalgia

Many of my patients with fibromyalgia carry with them the daily burden of fatigue, “all over body pain,” sleep problems, mood symptoms, and sometimes even irritable bowel symptoms and palpitations. These are just some of the examples of symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. So, for patients dealing with this disease on a daily basis, it can have a significant negative impact on their quality of life and functionality.

Treatment for fibromyalgia requires a comprehensive approach where we target all of the symptoms that occur on a persistent daily basis for any given patient. That would include addressing issues such as, but are not limited to, sleep, mood, chronic pain, fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, gastroenterological symptoms, and chronic headaches.

So, because fibromyalgia treatment varies depending on the constellation of symptoms found in any given patient, there is no cookie-cutter way to effectively treating fibromyalgia in regards to a more natural non-pharmaceutical approach. There are, of course, some fundamental treatment concepts that recur in fibromyalgia therapy, but it is important to keep in mind that treatment should be fluid with these patients and not based on a pre-conceived treatment protocol.

The fundamental treatment modalities I use consistently with fibromyalgia patients include acupuncture, soft tissue therapy, sleep hygiene counseling, nutritional counseling, mind-body therapy types that resonate with a patient, and supplements that target foundational deficiencies found in a patient on lab testing and based on clinical history. These treatment modalities target the basis of a person’s physiology, which in my experience, achieve the greatest therapeutic results. Since fibromyalgia is pervasive in its ability to affect numerous aspects of a person’s physiology, I prefer to treat from a “bottom-up” perspective rather than from superficial symptoms downward perspective.

What I mean by this is to first evaluate the person’s physiology and try to adjust any organ system or nutritional deficiency first, instead of purely treating the fibromyalgia patient’s outward symptoms only. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to bridge the patient with medications or supplements as well as hands-on treatment options like acupuncture or soft tissue therapy, but those are meant to keep the patient comfortable while we get to the root of the problem.

While treating the symptoms are essential for fibromyalgia patients, I’ve had greater success with fibromyalgia therapy by focusing on deficiencies of the body as well as removing any and all triggers that are causing inflammation in the body. I tend to use medications and symptom-targeting therapies as a bridge until we can get the patient feeling better on his or her own, then typically, my patients have been able to use fewer medications and need less hands-on treatments once their underlying problems have been addressed.

In my experience, it is imperative to evaluate the hormonal status of a fibromyalgia patient, since disorders of thyroid, adrenal and sex hormone production can significantly impact the disease status in a negative way. So, if you have fibromyalgia, make sure to ask your doctor to check your thyroid not just with a TSH but also a free T3 and free T4 and a reverse T3 level as well as having them check your adrenal status using salivary cortisol testing. You should also ask for DHEA-s, pregnenolone, progesterone, estradiol and free and total testosterone testing. By checking these levels for a basic evaluation of your hormonal status, you should be able to see if any of these factors are at a sub-optimal status. If they are, they definitely need to be addressed and treated to help improve fibromyalgia symptoms.

Another aspect to look at is whether you have any food sensitivities or allergies. By doing the testing for this through either your allergist or integrative physician, you should be able to identify if there are foods you are eating that are worsening your fibromyalgia on a daily basis. I have had tremendous success with my patients in improving their symptoms simply by removing food triggers and adding in supplements or vitamins to target deficiencies in their nutritional status.

If you think about it, our bodies are machines first and foremost. We need minerals (like calcium, potassium, magnesium, just to name a few), amino acids, and various vitamins to keep our organs functioning and producing hormones and signals. If we are deficient in the fundamental building blocks of organ function, our nerves and muscles and cells aren’t going to be functioning at their best. Many of my patients have felt improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms purely by increasing their vitamin, mineral and amino acid levels to a middle range number instead of low normal levels. You should be targeting for middle of the range normal and not just scraping the bottom of the barrel normal nutrient levels when you are monitoring labs for vitamin/mineral intake using supplements. Having said that, you shouldn’t be over-dosing on vitamins and minerals, either, so you should have your doctor help you monitor your supplement intake to make sure you are getting the right amount of nutrients.

Because our intestinal tract is one of the largest immune systems in our body, what you eat can affect your health tremendously. When you remove potential food triggers such as gluten, animal dairy or any other food sensitivities/allergies you may find on food testing, based on my experience in my clinic of integrative medicine in San Jose Calif., my patients typically report significant improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms.

So, the next time you see your doctor, ask for a comprehensive evaluation of your endocrine system as well as checking for deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. If you can tune up your body and then remove potential inflammatory triggers of various foods you might be ingesting, you could potentially see a significant improvement in your health and fibromyalgia symptoms as I frequently see in my patients who I treat in this similar fashion. Just remember, your body works at its best when it is fed premium fuel just like your car does… so make sure that you optimize your nutrient intake, remove foods that inflame your body, and make sure to get regular check-ups with your doctor so that your endocrine and other organ functions are working at its best. If you are able to do this, you’ll have a better chance of achieving the health status that you’ve always wanted.