Try managing fibromyalgia with natural remedies, including heated baths, herbal muscle relaxants, nettles and St. John's wort.
Managing Fibromyalgia with Natural Remedies
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 symptoms.
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 pain.
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 fibromyalgia.
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 fibromyalgia.
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 as milk.
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 calcium supplementation.
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.
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. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild. Khalsa’s book Body Balance is available on our Bookshelf, page 58.
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