Acupuncture and Natural Treatment
Options for Fibromyalgia
By Amie Brooke, L. Ac, MSOM
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Marin
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in San Francisco
Fibromyalgia is escalating to epidemic proportions, yet there is much about this condition that remains a mystery to allopathic physicians. After working with many patients who suffer from fibromyalgia, I have concluded that the causes and, thus, treatments are multi-factorial. There simply isn’t one major reason why people are suffering with fibromyalgia. Instead, a variety of emotional, constitutional, and nutritional factors combine to influence the onset and duration of this condition.
Western medicine can offer little to patients with fibromyalgia. Even alternative practitioners often struggle in effectively treating this condition. I recommend a comprehensive treatment of fibromyalgia that includes acupuncture, herbs, nutritional supplementation, and therapeutic exercises such as yoga. Since the condition is caused by a variety of factors, its treatment must be multi-layered.
My clinical experience has shown that many fibromyalgia patients are the victims of previous abuse of a sexual, emotional or verbal nature. The betrayal of intimacy and the severing of trust that occur in abusive situations can have a variety of physical and emotional repercussions. In Chinese medicine, this betrayal causes deep imbalances between the fire and earth elements. Fire corresponds to the heart and pericardium, earth to the spleen and stomach. Fire is related to intimacy, trust, and connection. Earth is related to the health of our musculature, worry, obsession, and nourishment.
One way to look at the symptoms of fibromyalgia is that excessive heat is generated in the heart as a result of betrayal and abuse. This heat is sent into the spleen and stomach, which control our muscles. This causes inflammation, pain, and fatigue (earth) along with anxiety and sleep problems (fire). The end result is that the victim of such abuse is in a state of shock; all major system of the body shut down and fatigue, pain, and anxiety prevail. This state of shock can go on indefinitely until it is directly treated. There are powerful acupuncture and herbal protocols to clear shock, which is typically the first priority in healing fibromyalgia.
Many people suffering from this shock easily attach to the label of fibromyalgia, which makes them feel justified in being victimized by their pain. Perhaps this is because the initial insult of being a victim of abuse has carried over into their relationship with the fibromyalgia. If this theme is occurring, then an essential aspect of healing involves helping the patient detach from the victim mindset. Each case is unique and I do not want to over-generalize, but this theme has been prevalent through the many patients of fibromyalgia who I have worked with.
Common painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are not usually effective at relieving the pain of fibromyalgia. Other approaches, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary counseling, exercise, and nutritional supplementation, are more likely to be of benefit. Many different disorders can cause symptoms similar to those of fibromyalgia, including anemia, depression, hepatitis, and Lyme disease, among others. Anyone who experiences muscular pain and/ or fatigue that persists for longer than a week or two should consult a health care provider. There may be an underlying medical disorder that requires treatment.
Acupuncture is an excellent treatment method for reducing pain and inflammation, improving energy, and harmonizing emotional imbalances. For fibromyalgia, I recommend committing to treatment once a week for 6-8 weeks, then assessing the progress. If practiced skillfully, acupuncture can be very helpful for fibromyalgia patients.
Treating fibromyalgia with herbs tends to be very specific to the patient’s constitution. One Chinese herbal formula, however, is used extensively for fibromyalgia. It is called shen tong zhu yu tang. This formula promotes blood circulation and reduces inflammation. It is used for systemic pain.
Because malabsorption problems are common in fibromyalgia, all nutrients are needed in greater than normal amounts, and a proper diet is essential. Colon cleansing is recommended to rid the gastrointestinal tract of mucus and debris, and so improve nutrient absorption. Food allergies can exacerbate the discomfort of many disorders. You can also determine hidden food or chemical hypersensitivities by appropriate tests. Many fibromyalgia sufferers also have irritable bowel syndrome. It is recommended that a comprehensive digestive and stool analysis be done for parasites.
The daily diet should include milled flax seed, 3 or more tbsp., or cold-pressed, unrefined flax seed oil. Flax seed and its oil contain the essential fatty acid omega-3 alpha-linoleaic acid, which the body converts into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help relieve the inflammation of fibromyalgia. The oils of fatty fish such as trout, cod, halibut, mackerel and salmon also contain omega-3 fatty acids and therefore work as anti-inflammatory agents.
Alfalfa can be used for pain control. It contains saponins, sterols, flavonoids, coumarins, alkaloids, vitamins, amino acids, minerals and trace elements.
Eat a high-fiber diet that includes plentiful servings of raw and steamed vegetables. Maximize your intake of greens. Eat four to five small meals daily rather than three larger ones. This will ensure that you have a steady supply of nutrients available for proper muscle function.
Avoid processed foods and foods that are high in saturated or hydrogenated fats, such as dairy products, meat, and margarine. Saturated fats interfere with circulation, increasing inflammation and pain.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. These substances enhance fatigue, increase muscle pain, and can interfere with normal sleep patterns. Drink eight glasses of pure water daily. Fresh juices and herbal teas are also good choices. A plentiful intake of liquids is important for flushing out toxins.
Investigate the possibility that food allergies and/ or sensitivities may be contributing to the problem.
Treating fibromyalgia with nutritional supplements is best done on a one-on-one basis with a professional health care provider. With that said, here are a few recommendations to consider if you would like to start working with natural methods.
Magnesium and Calcium
Chronic pain sufferers, especially those with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, tend to be deficient in magnesium. Magnesium supplementation has produced very good results in treating fibromyalgia. The combination of magnesium and malic acid helps to increase energy. These nutrients are precursors to the Krebs cycle, a series of enzyme reactions that are a key part of the production of energy on the cellular level. Take 100 to 200 milligrams of magnesium and 400 to 800 milligrams of malic acid three times a day, twenty minutes before each meal. (Some professionals recommend up to 500 milligrams of magnesium and 2,000 milligrams of malic acid.) With the extra malic acid and magnesium, fibromyalgia sufferers can handle exercise and still get out and about the next day. The combination magnesium and malic acid may also be helping the bodies handle physiologic stress better. (Caution: People with heart or kidney problems should check with their doctors before taking supplemental magnesium.)
Many professionals believe that the central cause of the pain of fibromyalgia is a low level of serotonin. Thus, it is beneficial to raise serotonin levels and improve sleep quality along with providing adequate nutrition. 5-HTP has shown considerable benefit in treating fibromyalgia in double blind studies. Although 5-HTP can be effective on its own, a combination therapy involving a combination of 5-HTP (100 mg), St. John's wort extract (300 mg, 0.3-percent hypericin content), and magnesium (150 to 250 mg) three times per day may be even more effective.
Antioxidants help reduce free-radical damage and fight inflammation. Take a good antioxidant formula that provides daily:
5,000 to 10,000 International Units of vitamin A Up to 10,000 milligrams of buffered vitamin C 400 to 800 international units of vitamin E 200 micrograms of selenium.
This is called ACES therapy and is a very good combination of vitamins and nutrients. Vitamins A, C and E are called antioxidants. They are useful to combat free- radical damage at the cellular level. Vitamin E, in particular, improves circulation and reduces muscle pain.
Note: If you are pregnant, or intend to get pregnant, or if you have liver disease, consult your doctor before taking supplemental vitamin A. If you have high blood pressure, limit your intake of supplemental vitamin E to a total of 400 International Units daily, and if you are taking an anticoagulant (blood thinner), consult your physician before taking supplemental vitamin E.
S-adenosylmethionine (SAM or SAM-e) is an amino acid derivative that has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the number of trigger points and areas of pain, lessen pain and fatigue, and improve mood. Take 400 milligrams two or three times daily. Be patient. It can take up to six weeks to see results.
- Evening primrose oil is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, which act as natural anti-inflammatories in the body. By dealing with the inflammation, pain is reduced.
- If emotional or physical stress is a source of problems, taking extra B vitamins will help the nerves and improve energy.
- If fatigue is a problem, bee pollen or royal jelly supplements are safe and effective sources of energy that will not deplete the adrenal glands. Also consider Chinese herbal formulas that strengthen digestion, build energy, and drain phlegm.
- Whey protein and creatine monohydrate support the musculoskeletal system in its repair process.
- Bromelain helps reduce inflammation. Take 400 milligrams three times daily, between meals.
- Coenzyme Q10 is also an antioxidant and helps deliver oxygen to cells. Take 60 milligrams twice daily, between meals.
- Lipoic acid is very useful for enhancing the body's utilization of carbohydrates and enhancing energy. Take 100 milligrams three times daily.
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen (NADH) is an antioxidant enzyme that occurs in all living cells. It facilitates the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and noradrenaline. Low levels of neurotransmitters are often associated with fibromyalgia. Taking 15 milligrams one-half hour before breakfast and dinner often improves concentration, stamina, and energy.
- Phosphatidyl serine, a type of lipid, can be helpful if memory problems accompany fibromyalgia. It often yields rapid and impressive improvement in memory and mental alertness. Unfortunately, it is relatively expensive. Take 75 to 100 milligrams three times daily. (Gingko Biloba is a cheaper alternative.)
Summary of Nutrient Recommendations
Coenzyme Q10 Acidophilus Lecithin Malic acid and magnesium Manganese Proteolytic enzymes Vitamin A and vitamin E Vitamin C with bioflavonoids Vitamin B complex injections plus extra vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 or vitamin B complex Dimethylglycine (DMG) Free-form amino acid complex Grape seed extract Garlic (Kyolic)
Calcium and magnesium plus potassium and selenium and zinc DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) Essential fatty acids (black currant seed oil, flaxseed oil, and primrose oil are good sources) Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) L-Leucine plus L-isoleucine and L -valine L- Tyrosine Melatonin Multivitamin and mineral complex plus natural carotenoids
Balancing Sleep Cycles
Treating sleep deprivation is a top priority for patients with fibromyalgia. Neurotransmitters are regulated in delta sleep. Fibromyalgia patients don’t get enough of this, as they are jolted awake by intrusive alpha waves many times a night. They often wake feeling like they have been hit by truck because cellular repair and neurotransmitter balancing hasn’t happened. Chamomile, valerian, and 5HTP can be helpful for getting more delta sleep. The Chinese herbal formula suan zao ren tang is also a safe, effective choice for improving sleep.
As you can see, there are many natural treatment options for healing fibromyalgia. The treatment process can take a few weeks or months, but it is certainly worth pursuing. Do the best you can to commit to an organic whole foods diet, regular exercise, yoga, nutritional supplementation, and acupuncture. This should provide you with a vast framework of resources for healing yourself.
Amie Brooke, MSOM is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and holistic nutritional therapist. She can be reached at 415-322-3134.