What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia or fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a long term, common condition that causes pain all over the body and other symptoms such as muscle stiffness and brain fog. It is thought to affect 1 in every 25 people, however, it is difficult to diagnose and often misdiagnosed, as it is a process of elimination; i.e. there is no direct medical test for it. However, it is clear that fibromyalgia causes a clustering of symptoms, stemming from a physiological change within the body.
The main symptoms experienced by those with fibro are listed below, however, you do not have to experience all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
- Increased pain sensitivity - stimuli feel intensified to individual
- Muscle stiffness & pain
- ‘Fibro fog’ - experiencing difficulty with mental processes, memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
If you think you may have fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options. Initially, blood tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
There isn’t one definitive cause for fibromyalgia, though the condition is believed to stem from chemical changes to the body’s pain pathways, heightening the individuals’ sensitivity to pain. This change can be influenced by anxiety, sleep problems, physical trauma such as a car accident and mental trauma.
Treatments & Lifestyle Changes
As fibromyalgia is characterised by a cluster of symptoms, treatment options are often to address the individual symptoms, to benefit the overall condition. Clinical treatments include pharmacological therapies such as anti-depressants and non-pharmacological therapies such as exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. Maintaining an active lifestyle, with a balanced diet and a healthy BMI may also benefit the condition.
Fibromyalgia symptoms are said to be heightened in periods of stress, but when you’re dealing with a medical condition that affects going about your everyday life, it also can become stressful and frustrating – resulting in a constant cycle of stress and heightened pain as consequences of one another. The relationship between fibro and stress is, therefore, a difficult and personal one, however, if individuals become aware of this, they may be able to better manage this relationship, whereby helping to break the cycle. This is where therapies such as CBT and mindfulness come into play, helping individuals to manage their condition, so as not to heighten the effects.
Nutrition & Supplements
A balanced diet, high in whole foods is recommended for everyone to stay healthy, but it is especially important for those with medical conditions. Base your diet off plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and limit your intake of processed foods. Certain micronutrients may also be therapeutic to those with fibromyalgia, to help with the root cause of the symptoms and management of the symptoms themselves. As always, check with your doctor before you take supplements, especially if you are on any medications, as these may interact with supplements.
Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically long chain fats EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) directly affect the composition of your cells, so it’s no surprise that sufficient omega 3 intake can benefit the physical interactions that lead to fibromyalgia symptoms. Long chain omega 3’s have also been linked to cognitive function and therefore a sufficient intake may also provide benefits to ‘fibro fog’.
Research has shown that a large number of fibromyalgia patients may have a vitamin D deficiency and when supplemented, both musculoskeletal pain and quality of life were said to improve. Vitamin D is essential in supporting bone health but has also recently been linked to sleep regulation and pain, providing valuable benefits to symptoms experienced by those dealing with fibromyalgia.
Turmeric and black pepper are a synergistic combination of ingredients, providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it is commonly used as a natural pain relief for inflammatory conditions, but also benefits digestion. This natural product is rapidly growing in popularity, providing indispensable benefits to a whole range of individuals, including those suffering from fibromyalgia pain.
Both zinc and vitamin B6 are important cofactors in controlling mechanisms which heighten fibromyalgia symptoms, whilst magnesium can help to control painful muscle cramps experienced. The emerging evidence is clear that this combination of nutrients can significantly impact on fibromyalgia symptoms, helping individuals through their daily journey.
5-HTP is a natural ingredient from the Griffonia Simplicifolia plant, it is a building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin or the ‘happy hormone’; helping to boost your serotonin levels and benefiting your brain chemical balance. A common occurrence in fibromyalgia patients is depression; a result of increased fatigue, pain and difficulty sleeping, which can put a huge strain on life quality. However, the impact of 5-HTP goes beyond helping to improve depressive symptoms and it is believed to play a significant role in pain experienced by those dealing with fibromyalgia. Studies have shown great improvements in fibro patients who supplemented their diet with 5-HTP, with several symptoms reduced, including pain severity. However, it can interact with medication, so consult your doctor before taking this supplement.
The chemical changes which result in fibromyalgia syndrome can also cause oxidative damage, vitamin C (water soluble) and Vitamin E (fat soluble) are powerful antioxidants, which can help to counter this damage.
New research on fibromyalgia is emerging every day and whilst the direct causes are still relatively unknown, it is evident that fibromyalgia has a rooted, physiological origin, that impacts on chemical pathways and intensifies the sensitivity of individuals to pain and other stimuli. It is also becoming increasingly clear that managing each symptom within the cluster is the best way to manage this condition, rather than looking at fibromyalgia as one factor to be addressed.
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