Fibromyalgia: Pain Free at Last
Julian Whitaker, MD
“Today I really struggled with my fibromyalgia. I had pain all over. My muscles ached, so tender to the touch…. Prescription Lyrica is the first and only FDA-approved treatment that can help relieve fibromyalgia pain and improve function.”
So begins an ad that’s been getting a lot of play on TV. The attractive, middle-aged woman then mentions, as required by law, in a soothing, almost dismissive voice, the drug’s side effects. She ends by saying, “Ask your doctor if Lyrica is right for you.”
Don’t Buy Into Drug Ads
Let me tell you right now it isn’t. Clinical trials showed that Lyrica, which changes how the brain perceives pain, improved symptoms in only one in four study participants. Common side effects are dizziness, sleepiness, swelling of hands and feet, and weight gain—nine percent of study participants gained more than seven percent of their body weight! Other adverse effects include allergic reactions, vision changes, fever, muscle pain and weakness, and confusion and concentration difficulties. There’s even a warning that it should not be taken while driving or operating heavy machinery.
It gets worse. The FDA issued an alert to health care providers that some anti-epileptic medications have been found to double the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Lyrica was on that warning list because it is also approved for the treatment of seizures, shingles, and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. To top it off, this drug is a controlled substance with a potential for abuse!
What was the FDA thinking, approving such a drug? Granted, fibromyalgia is a difficult condition, but there are certainly treatments out there that don’t involve swapping one set of symptoms for another.
The Mystery of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic, diffuse pain and tender points, often accompanied by extreme fatigue and other complaints. Beyond that, there’s a lot we don’t know about it. There are no definitive blood tests for diagnosing fibromyalgia and no consistently effective conventional treatments—symptoms rarely respond to the usual pain meds. We don’t know what causes it, although it’s believed that something’s going on in the central nervous system to alter pain perception. Some doctors don’t think fibromyalgia is a real disease, and others believe it’s merely a physical reaction to stress, depression, or anxiety (which explains why antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs are often prescribed).
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that when I sit down with a patient who has fibromyalgia, her pain and fatigue are real. And I have no doubt that one reason we have good success at the Whitaker Wellness Institute treating this condition is because we don’t make patients feel like it’s “all in their heads.”
What we do first is look for underlying conditions that may be causing symptoms. People with diffuse pain often have low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause a bone disorder called osteomalacia, which mimics fibromyalgia’s aches and pains. Low levels of this vitamin are also associated with depression and weight gain, other common coexisting conditions.
In addition, we test for heavy metals. Middle-aged women, the group most likely to suffer with fibromyalgia, may have a high body burden of lead or other toxins. In some cases, a course of chelation dramatically improves symptoms. The same goes for hormone levels. Women of pre- and postmenopausal age are low not only in estrogen and progesterone but oftentimes in thyroid and adrenal hormones. Addressing hormonal deficiencies has profound effects on a wide range of symptoms.
Reenergize With the Right Supplements
Next, we start patients on a comprehensive nutritional supplement program. People with fibromyalgia and its common sidekick, chronic fatigue syndrome, often have below-normal levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy that fuels your cells, as well as a reduced ability to manufacture ATP in muscle cells. To improve cellular energy, we prescribe coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, magnesium, and ribose.
Though all of these nutrients are involved in cellular energy, ribose may be the most important for people with this condition. In one study, Texas researchers gave 41 patients with fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome 5 grams of ribose three times a day. After four weeks, nearly 70 percent of the participants had significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life.
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that may be accompanied by a wide variety of other symptoms. For example, many patients have sleep issues, and for them we recommend melatonin, the “sleep hormone” that has also been shown to reduce pain associated with fibromyalgia. Depression is frequently an issue, and for this we suggest 5-HTP or SAMe, supplements that modulate levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation as well as pain perception. Obviously, treatment must be tailored according to individual needs.
Microcurrent Therapy Relieves Pain
Patients with fibromyalgia also respond well to acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and microcurrent therapy. Microcurrent therapy is helpful for all types of chronic pain. During a typical session, you recline comfortably while painless, low-frequency electrical currents are delivered to tender areas. These currents increase ATP production, stabilize cells, and reduce inflammation, resulting in sometimes remarkable pain relief.
K.S., a nurse whose longstanding fibromyalgia limited the number of hours she was able to work, tried virtually every therapy under the sun. She’d get relief for a while, but her pain and fatigue always returned—until she discovered FSM. L.G. had a similar response. After more than 10 years of suffering with the constant pain of fibromyalgia, she had substantial relief after her first microcurrent treatment.
I want to close with one final recommendation. Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) is a nontoxic prescription drug that is garnering rave reviews from patients with autoimmune disorders, cancer, and other problems. Now, researchers from Stanford are beginning a study on LDN for fibromyalgia, examining its effects on pain, fatigue, and quality of sleep. LDN requires a prescription, and many physicians are unfamiliar with its use. However, given its safety (the dosage is extremely low) and broad benefits, I highly recommend that anyone with fibromyalgia give it a try.
As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for fibromyalgia, and I can’t say exactly what might work for you. I can promise, however, that unlike Lyrica and other drugs, all of the therapies discussed above are safe, and they will likely have a net positive benefit on your overall health.
- If you have fibromyalgia, have your blood levels of vitamin D, hormones, and heavy metals measured. Low-dose naltrexone does require a prescription. Click here to learn more about this remarkable drug.
- To receive treatment for fibromyalgia at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, contact a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- McMakin CR, et al. Cytokine changes with microcurrent treatment of fibromyalgia associated with cervical spine trauma. Bodywork Movement Ther. 2005 Jul;9(3):169–176.
- Teitelbaum JE, et al. The use of D-ribose in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Nov;12(9):857–862.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.