FIGURING OUT FIBROMYALGIA
My sister has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She was
wondering if there were any herbs or supplements she could take.
She is on the drugs baclofen (20 mg) and clonazepam (1 mg). Could
you please tell me more about fibromyalgia and what might help
Raeford, North Carolina
Keville responds: Holistic practitioners always
want to treat the cause of a condition, yet no one knows exactly
what causes fibromyalgia or, for that matter, how to cure it.
Fortunately, your sister can do several things to ease her
Compounds derived from two Ayurvedic herbs reduce inflammation:
curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) and boswellia from Indian
frankincense (Boswellia serrata). Both are available as capsules
and tinctures, either individually or in formulas. Follow the
dosage directions on the bottle.
Heat brings relief to most fibromyalgia sufferers. Toss 1/4 cup
Epsom salts with five drops of lavender essential oil into a hot
bath. Lavender is an anti-inflammatory that soothes the mind as
well as the body.
Recommending natural remedies for someone who’s taking
prescription drugs is tricky. If your sister has her doctor’s
blessing, she can try switching from the sedative drugs to herbal
muscle relaxants, such as chamomile (Matricaria recutita), skullcap
(Scutellaria lateriflora), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and
passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). She will need professional
guidance if she chooses to take the drugs and herbs together.
Sedative herbs won’t offer much direct pain relief, but they
will ease the tension that contributes to pain and will help
improve the balance of pain-related substances in the brain. If
your sister is one of the many people with fibromyalgia who suffer
from insomnia, she will sleep better, too. Sedative and
anti-inflammatory herbs are good to use before bed, but she should
also use small amounts during the day to fend off stiffness and
The symptoms of pain and insomnia point to possible underlying
nervous system and adrenal gland problems. Eleuthero
(Eleutherococcus senticosus) and nettles (Urtica dioica) are tonics
for these systems. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is
thought to repair an injured nervous system and also will help if
she tends to get depressed — another possible symptom of
People with fibromyalgia should avoid caffeine. They also tend
to have low levels of magnesium and find it helpful to eat dark
green, leafy vegetables and to take daily doses of 300 to 600 mg of
magnesium malate, a very absorbable form.
Khalsa responds: Fibromyalgia is one disorder
where every day will be an adventure. There are so many chemical,
physiological, psychological and environmental factors that
symptoms can wax and wane wildly, and progress back toward health
will be quite variable. But progress can, and does, happen. With a
well-organized plan, unswerving discipline and consistent follow
through, this disorder can be managed, and in the best outcomes,
become a thing of the past.
Because it is a chronic illness and cannot be cured medically,
treatment regimes are designed to manage the symptoms of
fibromyalgia. This includes a good understanding of the diagnosis
and that the disorder is painful and is better sometimes and worse
at other times. In addition, good sleep habits, gentle aerobic
conditioning and a flexibility program are essential. These can be
achieved by exercise programs, physical therapy visits and
medications to facilitate sleep, as well as techniques such as
biofeedback, relaxation and stress management to assist in managing
the tension and sleep difficulties associated with
Many natural healing practitioners agree that magnesium is the
single most important therapeutic tool in managing fibromyalgia.
Research shows that patients are usually very low in magnesium,
which is one of the most crucial nutrients for the production of
ATP, the source of energy in the muscle tissue. Good food sources
of magnesium include grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
Magnesium is a key mineral supplement for fibromyalgia; its
effect is very powerful. I have seen magnesium produce improvement
in one week in cases where numerous other therapies had failed.
Magnesium has a laxative effect, so use it carefully. Use the
magnesium to bowel tolerance — the maximum dose that is not quite
laxative. In most people, that dose is around 1,500 mg per day.
Vitamin D deficiency is occurring in epidemic proportions in the
United States and other temperate climates, according to sources
that include the Mayo Clinic. The occurrence of vitamin D
deficiency in healthy postmenopausal women is extremely high,
according to a study published in 2001 in the Journal of Bone and
Mineral Research. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D by
receiving moderate sun exposure for about 20 minutes daily, or
eating fish, egg yolks and foods fortified with the vitamin, such
Restless legs can be one of the most uncomfortable and
frustrating conditions associated with fibromyalgia. You want to
sleep, but your legs just won’t turn off. This problem often is
caused by calcium deficiency, and can respond rapidly to simple
Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo) is nature’s medicine for aches
and anxiety. It’s the main herb used in Traditional Chinese
Medicine for treating pain, and it also promotes relaxation.
Corydalis is an ideal herb for fibromyalgia. Corydalis is relaxing
and promotes sleep, so don’t take it while driving, and exceed the
recommended dose only with caution. Increase the dose gradually
until you are familiar with the pain-relieving and sedative
effects. As a tea, start with 1/2 ounce (dry weight) of chopped
herb, brewed, per day.
Some believe that fibromyalgia never goes away completely. Some
think it can be thoroughly reversed. We do know from experience
that it can be managed successfully as a chronic condition. It is
possible to conquer fibromyalgia. I have seen it happen dozens of
times, in motivated people who are willing to change their
lifestyles and create a supportive new structure for living that
creates and maintains a base of solid, balanced health.
When I started nursing school a year ago, I was tremendously
stressed out. I gained 30 pounds in one semester. Also, I developed
amenorrhea. I’ve had that for more than a year. I still haven’t
lost the weight — I am 5’4’’ and 190 pounds. I am taking black
cohosh, evening primrose and bladderwrack for the amenorrhea. I
have always had a slow metabolism, so what can I do about my weight
in addition to exercise and diet?
Valley Stream, New York
Keville responds: You certainly are on the
right track and may already be taking at least part of the correct
formula for amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). The tricky part is
that a number of things can cause it and it’s difficult to know the
source. It is a good guess that it’s associated with your stress
level, which definitely influences hormones. Although more often
connected with weight loss, amenorrhea can develop in women who
carry excess body weight. If you’ve been on a strict diet to drop
the extra pounds, that too can contribute. For one thing, hormones
rely upon an adequate amount of cholesterol in the diet. An
underactive thyroid can disrupt hormones and that’s probably why
you’re taking the seaweed bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus).
I hope you’ve been checked by a doctor to rule out some of the
other causes of amenorrhea, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome,
tumors and infection. Most commonly, the problem is hormonal
imbalances, especially very low levels of estrogen. That’s where
your use of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) fits. However, you
may be taking too little of the herb or haven’t allowed enough time
— three to five months — for it to work.
Or, perhaps you need a better formula. Black cohosh isn’t
considered an estrogenic herb and doesn’t directly increase
estrogen in the body. Try vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), one of my
favorite herbs to adjust menstrual imbalances. It helps the
pituitary gland regulate female hormones and is especially helpful
when menstruation stops due to an excess of the hormonal substance
prolactin. It also makes the action of the hormone progesterone
stronger by adjusting the ratio between estrogen and progesterone.
Take at least three droppersful of tincture or four capsules a day.
Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis) can’t hurt and depending
upon your situation, may indirectly help you achieve hormonal
You may wish to go to an acupuncturist in addition to taking
herbs. One who also practices Traditional Chinese Medicine will
probably look for signs of “blood deficiency.” One important herb
that builds blood and also promotes menstruation is dong quai
A low-calorie diet that includes protein from fish, legumes and
spirulina helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Soy and many other
beans contain plant hormones with estrogenic effects that help
regulate periods. I am also wondering if all your studying has kept
you indoors. Low levels of vitamin A reduce the menstrual flow, and
this vitamin depends upon vitamin D, which is produced in the skin
from sun exposure. If this is the case, take vitamin A in the form
of beta-carotene. Or, better yet, eat plenty of vitamin A-rich
foods, such as carrots and yellow squash, and spend some time
relaxing outdoors. (Avoiding excessive sun exposure that promotes
skin cancer.) Good luck with your healthful therapy and career!
Study participants who took green tea extract burned an
extra 266 calories per day.
Khalsa responds: Bladderwrack is mainly a
source of iodine, and was commonly used in the past to treat
iodine-deficient hypothyroid conditions. If you’re using it on the
theory that you have low thyroid function, with associated weight
gain and amenorrhea, you are probably not going to get great
results. While hypothyroidism is pervasive, it is almost never the
result of iodine deficiency today. (Hypothyroidism is a serious
medical condition, and should be evaluated by a qualified
I am concerned about you not having a period for a year. Get it
checked out medically. That said, I generally reach for blue cohosh
(Caulophyllum thalictroides) to stimulate reluctant menstruation.
It can make you queasy, so start carefully. Start with 500 mg in
capsules, or the equivalent in tincture. Each successive day,
increase by 500 mg. A dose of about 6 grams usually does the job.
Take it in divided doses with food.
American women often have what practitioners of Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) term “blood deficiency,” which is more
comprehensive than simple anemia. Blood deficiency, in TCM terms,
results from weak digestion, stress, poor diet and generally poor
health habits. Blood-deficient women are fatigued, pale, depressed,
confused and have scanty periods.
Dong quai is a superb general tonic herb and the most popular
Chinese herb. Around half a billion women in China alone, as well
as millions in other Asian countries, take dong quai daily to
regulate the menstrual cycle. Dong quai should not be taken during
pregnancy, by overly hot or febrile people or by those with
diarrhea or endometriosis.
Now let’s picture a common herb that really could help
overweight people shed excess fat without side effects. Some plant
components — including some in green tea (Camellia sinensis) — may
modulate calorie and fat burning through the sympathetic nervous
system, the adrenal glands and specific nerve chemicals.
Researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, studied a
green tea extract’s fat-burning properties. Ten healthy men were
randomly assigned to receive three daily doses of either a placebo,
50 mg caffeine or a green tea extract containing 50 mg caffeine and
90 mg epigallocatechin gallate, one of tea’s most abundant and
important components. The results, published in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999, indicate that green tea
extract caused an appreciably greater increase than pure caffeine
in 24-hour energy expenditure (thermogenesis) and the portion of
fat calories burned.
Results indicated that 266 extra calories were burned per day
while taking the green tea product. While these numbers might seem
like small increases, it only takes the burning of a small amount
of extra calories every day to promote serious weight loss over
Three cups of green tea daily provide protection against cancer,
studies suggest. Extracts in pill form are now available. The usual
dosage is 100 to 150 mg three times daily of a standardized green
Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association
(www.AhaHerb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books,
including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches
seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience
with medicinal herbs. A licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage
therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild, he
specializes in Ayurvedic, Chinese and North American healing