QUESTION: One year ago I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Sometimes it hits hard when you least expect it. I have been in situations where I was doing repair work (which is my living) on the floor and the pain would hit so hard I couldn’t stand up. I know other people with this condition, who take all kinds of medicine from the doctor. The medications don’t really help much with the symptoms. The drugs are damaging to certain organs. These people will eventually have to deal with the consequences of those side effects. I don’t want to take a lot of medications and was hoping there would be some natural remedies to help Fibromyalgia.
ANSWER: Thanks for asking about Fibromyalgia. I have wanted to research this topic for some time now. We are seeing in increasing number of people seeking natural relief from its symptoms. I cannot give you health advice but I can tell you what I would do if it were me or what others have used as well as recommendations of respected authors.
Many herb books will refer you to their sections on rheumatism. I don’t think these books are suggesting that the conditions are the same but because muscle inflammation is a part of rheumatism, they do suggest the same herbal remedies.
From Dr. Andrew Weil’s website I have read his suggestions for moderate exercise which he says can actually increase pain at the beginning but after a few weeks the pain lessens and the exercise is very important to the success of your comfort level in the future. He says it is his best recommendation and specifically recommends swimming, walking, using a treadmill and bike riding. There are also specific stretching exercises to help control stiffness.
There are many natural remedies for pain and inflammation which I would use if it were me. Ginger is highly recommended by Dr. Weil. Recent studies have proven its effectiveness for pain as well as for inflammation. I know people who use Cayenne and Clove which they say are remarkable for pain relief used both externally and internally. Essential oils recommended by the highly regarded author, lecturer and teacher Sylla Sheppard-Hanger for muscle pain are Thyme Linalol, Peppermint, Spike Lavender & Helichrysum diluted into St. John’s Wort Oil. Essential oils are applied externally. Sylla goes on to say that Peppermint, Lavender and Helichrysum essential oils are also anti-inflammatory. Other herbs which are highly recommended by many authors for inflammation are Feverfew, Turmeric & Black Cohosh. I especially like to reference more scientifically based herb books these days and when looking up anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants, for another of our web visitors recently, I found Comfrey Root & Leaf scientifically documented as an effective anti-inflammatory. It is used externally only and I find the infused oil as well as the extract very pleasant and extremely effective to use. The extract could be diluted half & half with aloe gel. Its use should be limited to 4-6 weeks per year. I just heard from one of our customers who gives herbal body wraps in a salon/spa center. She has a customer with Fibromyalgia who experiences great pain relief from these body wraps.
For internal use, Melissa Herb (Lemon Balm) has been proven to reduce tension and cramping in muscles. Valerian Root has also commonly been used for muscle spasm, cramps and muscle pain but not scientifically documented for this as yet. No cautions come with the use of Melissa butValerian in very rare cases has made a few people feel a little “strange”. It is usually used as a powerful sleep aid.
Many people are plagued with sleep disorders as another symptom of Fibromyalgia. Some of the herbs listed above like Valerian and Melissa have been proven helpful for aiding sleep. There are several others also scientifically proven. The list is long.
Dr. Weil reports that many people with Fibromyalgia are put on anti-depressants. He feels anti-depressants lose their effectiveness after a period of time though. Many authors including Dr. Weil feel Fibromyalgia is either a stress related disease or stress is a major factor in the disease and highly recommend relaxation techniques such as meditation, progressive relaxation and breathing exercises. Many authors also recommend regular massage therapy. I always emphasize that herbs work best when included in a holistic approach to health. Holistic means integrating mind, body and soul. Science is beginning to prove that your mind has an effect on your body and vice versa. I love that Andrew Weil writes that you can reduce pain by changing the way you think about life. You can learn to recognize negative ways of thinking and convert them to positive views. Regarding herbal options, generally, St. John’s Wort is used for moderate depression and sometimes Ginkgo Biloba also. These two herbs have a specific action affecting the brain. Herbs that support the nervous system – some of which are considered antidepressants – include Damiana, the Ginsengs, Black Cohosh, Hops, Lavender, Linden Flowers, Melissa (Lemon Balm), Passion Flower and Valerian.
There are so many other accompanying conditions that seem to commonly occur with Fibromyalgia including chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, PMS, painful periods, anxiety, memory impairment, dizziness, restless leg syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and malabsorption problems. There are excellent herbal remedies for these other conditions that have been very successful for many people.
While the cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown, some authorities feel that evidence points to a problem with the immune system. There are highly regarded and successful herbs that regulate the immune system – herbs like Echinacea, Lapacho (Pau d’Arco) and Astragalus. I would most definitely use these herbs if it were me. Astragalus is very appropriate for daily use and Echinacea & Lapacho are better used when needed periodically. It has been my experience that when your immune system is working properly, your body has a much better chance to deal with other more specific problems.
Other possible causes being considered include infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mononucleosis), Candida albicans, chronic mercury poisoning, anemia, parasites, hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism. Many herbs are successfully used to help with these conditions as well. For example, in my experience, Lapacho is by far the most impressively effective remedy for Candida and also has a profound effect on the immune system.
In a holistic approach, diet is always going to be important. Various authors suggest eating lots of fresh vegetables, less red meat, sugar, caffeine, polyunsaturated vegetable oils and sources of trans-fatty acids such as margarine and hydrogenated oils. Supplement with Evening Primrose OilCaps and omega-3 fatty acids from sardines and flax seeds.
I have listed quite a few herbs here and would be happy to help you choose the most effective form of each in which you are interested. Sometimes teas or extracts work better than capsules depending on the herb and purpose. It is also important to fit the form of herb into your lifestyle. If, for example, drinking a tea isn’t going to work for you then by all means another form of the herb needs to be chosen for you. The most important thing is that you actually use the herbs!!
Other resources to check out:
A community of patients, family members and friends dedicated to dealing with Fibromyalgia, together.
The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc (AFSA)
6380 E. Tanque Verde, Suite D,
Tucson, AZ 85715,
National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Assoc.,
P.O. Box 18426,
Kansas City, MO 64133
Dr. Andrew Weil’s website: www.drweil.com
SAFETY & BOTANICAL INFORMATION
Astragalus Astragalus membranaceus – no warnings; Black Cohosh RootCimicifuga racemosa – avoid when pregnant or nursing, limit use to 6 months;Cayenne Capsicum annum – excessive internal doses may cause GI irritation in sensitive individuals, externally contraindicated on injured skin or near eyes;Clove Syzygium aromaticum – no warnings; Comfrey Root & LeafSymphytum officinale – external use only, use should be limited to 4-6 weeks per year; Damiana Leaf Turnera aphrodisiaca – no warnings; Echinacea RootEchinacea angustifolia – no warnings although some authorities feel it should not be used in autoimmune diseases; Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium – avoid during pregnancy; Ginger Zingiber officinale – no warnings; Ginkgo BilobaLeaf Ginkgo biloba – no warnings, possible concern with ingestion of blood thinning medications but inconclusive; Ginseng Root Panax ginseng – avoid with hypertension; Ginseng Root (Siberian) Eleutherococcus senticosus – avoid with hypertension; Hops Flower Humulus lupulus – no warnings, some authors say avoid with depression; Lapacho (Pau d’Arco) Tabebuia avelleneda– no warnings; Lavender Flower Lavandula angustifolia – no warnings; Linden Flower Tilia europaea – no warnings; Melissa Herb (Lemon Balm) Melissa officinalis – no warnings; Passion Flower Herb Passiflora incarnata – no warnings; Peppermint Leaf Mentha x piperita – no warnings; St. John’s Wort Herb Hypericum perforatum – may potentiate pharmaceutical MAO-inhibitors, fair-skinned people should avoid excessive sunlight and tanning while using;Turmeric Root Curcuma longa – avoid during pregnancy, bile duct obstruction, gall stones, stomach ulcers, hyperacidity; Valerian Root Valariana officinalis – no warnings
Helichrysum (Immortelle) Helichrysum italicum – Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid with anti-coagulation medication
Lavender Lavandula angustifolia – tested non-toxic at low levels
Peppermint Mentha x piperita – Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant, lactating. Skin irritant. Keep away from infants
Thyme (Linalol) Thymus vulgaris – Should not be used when pregnant or by children. Possible skin irritant
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