How I Beat Fibromyalgia
I Was a Normal, Healthy 25-Year-Old
I was a normal, healthy 25 year old—until I got hit in the jaw by a horse. Gradually, over a long period of time, I became really tired and sore. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. I went to the doctor, and he said I might have chronic fatigue but that I was probably just depressed. This complete lack of understanding and lack of motivation by the doctor to help me get better was really annoying. I didn’t go to another doctor for about a year, but I continued to feel tired and sore without understanding why. It was a struggle to make it to work each day.
I tried going to a variety of professionals for help. I went to a chiropractor twice weekly for eight weeks; this kept my condition stable but did not improve it. I went to osteopaths, I got massages, and I even tried a course of acupuncture. However, I found very little to no relief. My muscle tension and headaches were very bad throughout this period.
My mother had been to a naturopath who told her she had fibromyalgia. Given this information, my mom suggested to me that I might have fibromyalgia, as well.
I eventually went to a doctor who was prepared run some tests and to look at diet. The normal glucose tolerance test failed to pick up anything abnormal. He agreed that I had fibromyalgia. He didn’t have any ready answers or suggestion as to how to treat this condition, however.
Under his instruction I tried an elimination diet to see if a food intolerance was responsible. I failed to get a stable baseline. In fact I discovered by keeping a food diary that if I had rice bubbles and rice milk for breakfast I would get a headache and the shakes. I'd have to write off the rest of the day. I came to the conclusion that high GI (glycemic index) foods were responsible. My osteopath lent me a book on fibromyalgia that confirmed my reaction to high GI foods.
My doctor sent a blood sample off for food allergy testing. I had a delayed allergic response to dairy, beans, mushrooms, sesame seeds, shellfish, and oranges—with dairy being the worst. Once I cut these foods out of my diet I felt like I lost 5 kg in a week, due to bloating, and my stomach wasn’t sore anymore, I didn’t even realize my stomach was sore until the pain went away. With the change in diet to low GI and excluding food allergens, I lost over 10kg of weight.
I felt like I had done nothing for the past two years because I had been so chronically sick. My head was always foggy, I couldn’t think straight, and I had very low sex drive because my muscles ached all the time. Sometimes the pain was so bad I would just curl up in a ball and cry. My muscles were so tight I would wake up with a headache and sometimes end up vomiting.
Today, I no longer suffer from fibromyalgia. I am healthy and active. I play tennis, go for walks, kayak, dance, and have fun with friends. I also enjoy going to work again. Find out how I cured my disease.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is chronic widespread muscular pain and fatigue. The condition is most common in woman; 80% of sufferers are woman. The condition may affect 3-5% of the population and is diagnosed by your doctor by testing 18 specific tender point sites on your body. If you score at least 11, and you also have a history of widespread pain, normal blood tests, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, and skeletal pain (predominantly in the neck and back), then you receive this diagnosis.
Tender Points Associated with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia Tender Point Survey
Do you have at least 11 tender points?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Muscular pain
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Morning stiffness
- Sleeping Disturbances
- Lack of deep sleep
- Waking feeling unrefreshed
- Emotional Disturbances
- Poor concentration
- Mood changes
- Body Disturbances
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Salt craving
- Blurred vision
- Eye irritation
- Nasal congestion
- Abnormal tastes
- Ringing ears/tinnitus
- Restless legs
- Leg cramps
- Pungent urine
- Bladder infections
- Weight gain
- Brittle nails
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
How to Beat Fibromyalgia
Based on my experience, this is my recommended sequence of steps for curing fibromyalgia:
Step 1: Diet
Step 2: Ease Pain
Step 3: Skeletal & Muscular Issues
Step 4: Massage
Step 5: Exercise
Step 1: Fibromyalgia Cure Diet
Some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia can be cured by diet.
Reactive hypoglycemia contributes to Fibromyalgia, particularly muscle tightness, fatigue and brain fog. Reactive hypoglycemia symptoms occur 2-3 hours after a meal high in carbohydrate. There is a rapid release of carbohydrate into the intestine, followed by rapid absorption of glucose and subsequent production of a high amount of insulin. This results in rapid conversion of glucose to fat causing low blood sugar. Your brain and muscles become starved of energy. This is the main cause of Fibromyalgia although other factors can contribute. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, irritability, chronic fatigue, poor memory and concentration, shakiness, muscle fatigue and craving of carbohydrate. Reactive Hypoglycemia causes your muscles to become tight which in turn causes your posture to be out of alignment, commonly your head will come forward and you will get a “widow’s hump”.
Reactive Hypoglycemia is not typically picked up in the more common fasting hypoglycemia test. Fasting hypoglycemia is low blood sugar when you do not eat. The correct test for Reactive Hypoglycemia is a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT). Blood sugar readings are taken every ½ hour for 4 hours after glucose is consumed on an empty stomach.
What to Do About Reactive Hypoglycemia?
Change your diet to exclude simple sugars (e.g. table sugar, glucose), refined carbohydrate (e.g. white rice, bread, pasta) and starchy foods (e.g. potatoes). Reduce intake of fruit. Caffeine and chocolate can aggravate Fibromyalgia, avoid or limit to occasional treats. Once you have modified your diet and stuck to it for several months your body will be more tolerant to the occasional deviation from the diet below.
What to Eat
- Meats: ensure sugar is not added, especially to low fat cold cuts.
- Dairy: as long as it is unsweetened (e.g. unsweetened yogurt)
- Vegetables: most vegetables, except potatoes
- Nuts: all nuts
- Fruit: maximum of one piece every 4 hours, avoid bananas. 1 cup of unsweetened orange, grapefruit or tomato juice is allowed as a serving of fruit.
- Grains: wholegrain wheat, corn or rye is acceptable. Rice must be wild rice, only consume a small portion. Bread: sugar free whole grain wheat, corn or rye. Consume a maximum of one piece per 4 hours. Eliminate bread temporarily if symptoms persist.
- Desserts: artificially sweetened dairy based deserts. Cheesecakes may be made with a ground nut base or crust. Avoid chocolate.
- Drinks: Artificially sweetened drinks, soda water. Avoid caffeine. An occasional drink of spirits and dry wine is allowed.
- Herbs, spices, dressings, oil and vinegar: All herbs, spices and imitation flavorings are allowed. Use sugar free sauces, salad dressings, mayonnaise, oil and vinegar.
- Sweetener: Splenda made using sucralose a natural sugar is a good sweetener to use. It is available in tablets (one tablet is equal to one teaspoon) or in powder form (as an equivalent to sugar). Some chemical sweeteners such as aspartame have negative side effects such as headaches and should be avoided.
- low carbohydrate and sugar free protein bars, shakes and bake mixes
- All fats
- Carob powder
- Gluten, soy or nut flours (high protein, low carbohydrate).
- Popcorn, maximum 1 cup of popped popcorn
- Pork rinds
- Xanthan gum (used as a thickener in gravy and baking)
This is basically the caveman or paleolithic diet our ancestors have followed for millions of years and bears no relationship to the modern food pyramid. You may find you also need to eliminate all grains and dairy if symptoms persist. If so please follow the GAPS diet or the autoimmune paleo diet.
Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean and low carbohydrate/glycemic index (GI) diet cook books are an excellent source of recipes.
You may crave sugar initially as your body adjusts to the diet; this is normal and will pass after about 10 days.
Once you have been on this fibromyalgia cure diet at least a month you can have the occasional treat.
It is better if you avoid artificial sweeteners altogether (even thought the book says that they are okay).
Some people after following the above diet for a least one month will still have symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Food intolerances may be responsible. Dairy and wheat gluten are common food allergens. Eliminate dairy and wheat from the diet for at least one month; if symptoms improve reintroduce one at a time to determine if one or both are responsible for symptoms. If elimination of dairy and wheat fail to give an improvement in symptoms it may be necessary to get a food allergy test completed or begin an elimination diet keeping a food diary with symptoms. The food allergy test can be done by US BioTek, Washington, USA or an alternative supplier. A blood sample is tested for allergic response to all the common foods. The report will contain IgE and IgG antibody results. Positive IgE antibody results show foods that you have an immediate allergic response to. These foods should be avoided. Positive IgG antibody results show foods that you have a delayed response to. These foods are most likely causing Fibromyalgia type symptoms and are commonly referred to as food intolerances. Research has been conducted on proteins, particularly dairy and wheat (gluten), not being fully digested and via “leaky gut” passing into the blood stream where they shouldn’t be and causing disruption/blocking biochemical and neurological processes. There is a lot of literature on its effect on autistic people. In time if the cause of “leaky gut” is removed and the gut has had time to heal you may be able to tolerate occasional consumption of these foods. You may wish to have a digestive enzyme with meals containing suspect foods to reduce the response.
"Leaky gut" seems to be caused by starchy foods sitting in the stomach changing the natural microorganism balance and allowing excessive yeast to grow. Some suggest the yeast make holes in the stomach lining and give rise to leaky gut. If you change your diet to a low starch one you should redress the balance and have a normal microbial flora again. The symptoms of food allergies should go away and you should be able to eat these food again. Please also read the GAPS diet and Practical Paleo books for healing leaky gut.
Often food intolerances cause bloating, weight gain, fluid retention, sore stomach, irritable bowel and malnutrition.
You may have celiac disease; your doctor can test for gluten intolerance. If so, avoid all gluten in your diet.
You may have issues with high histamine foods or high salicylate foods which should be fixed by the leaky gut diet. Histamines cause rashes, hayfever, asthma, hives, tight muscles and puffy face and red eyes. Salicylates cause red ears, hyperactive behaviour, frequent urination, asthma, rashes.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
If you have been eating a high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet, commonly called an empty calorie diet and/or have food intolerances and leaky gut you will need a good vitamin and mineral supplement. Your mineral levels will be quite depleted and contribute to some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Choose a vitamin and mineral supplement that includes the trace vitamins and minerals. You can get your major vitamins and minerals from your new nutrient dense diet.
Sometimes a magnesium and potassium deficiency is present, this will cause tight muscles and will also cause muscle cramps. If you get muscle cramps I suggest you take some magnesium and potassium tablets until the muscle cramps stop.
Yeast Overgrowth/intolerances may be responsible for some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia including digestive issues, brain fog, sugar cravings, headaches, nasal congestion, runny nose, low sex drive, water retention, allergies, yeast infections and sensitivity to chemicals, light or odour. Changing to the low sugar diet will reduce the effects of a yeast infection however it may be necessary to remove yeast and mould containing foods from the diet temporarily (at least one month). I also recommend taking a good probotic with at least 10 different strains of bacteria. If you display these symptoms remove the following foods from your diet:
- Yeast containing breads
- Vinegar and other fermented condiments
- Nuts, particularly peanuts, cashews and pistachios as these can be covered in moulds.
Some of the beneficial side effects of the fibromyalgia cure diet are:
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Increased nutrients in the diet and increased nutrient absorption
- Less muscle tension
- Less fatigue
- Clearer thinking
- Less pain
Do you have symptoms of Reactive Hypoglycemia?
Do you have symptoms of Food Intolerances?
Do you have symptoms of Yeast Overgrowth?
If you still don't feel better!
If you still don't feel better you may have a leaky gut and need to follow either the GAPS diet or the autoimmune paleo diet until your symptoms improve.
Step 2: Ease Fibromyalgia Pain
While you are waiting for the change in diet to take effect and to relax your tight muscles, I suggest taking a mild anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen (e.g., Neurofen) for up to one week.
Step 3: Skeletal & Muscular Issues
If your Fibromyalgia was induced by some muscular/skeletal trauma see an Osteopath. A common injury is incorrect positioning of the jaw. The temporomandibular joint is the joint of the jaw and is frequently referred to as TMJ. Ask the osteopath if they are familiar with treatment of TMJ (if applicable), Fibromyalgia and posture realignment. It is important that the jaw or other bones are re-aligned and the muscle tension holding the bones out of alignment is released.
Ortho-bionomy is a form of osteopathy that is especially good at retraining your muscles. Similar techniques include Positional Release, Strain Counter-Strain, Somatic and Neuromuscular therapy. Choose a practitioner trained in one of these methods if possible.
I have avoided suggesting chiropractors since they generally only focus on bone realignment and do not release muscle tension.
Discuss potential causes of posture misalignment with your osteopath and ask for exercise to help with re-alignment. A common cause or posture misalignment and extra muscle tension are seated and standing positions where your arms are stretched our in front of you (e.g. driving, computer work, vacuuming). Tension will accumulate between your shoulder blades, up your neck, buttocks and sometimes legs. Reducing instances where your arms are stretched out in front of you, correct posture when sitting, regular stretching and increasing muscle tone through exercise can assist in management long term. Consider changing to a more physical job, or walking to work if possible instead of driving.
Stress can also contribute to muscular tension, particularly in the shoulders causing tension headaches; take steps to reduce stress in your life if this is a factor.
If you are a woman underwire bras can cause muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. The underwire from the bra can sit on trigger points below the breasts and cause the muscles to tighten up. To check and see if underwire bras are causing some muscle tension try wearing only non-underwire bras or tops with breast supports in them for a week. You should notice a difference very quickly if this is the case.
Get bone realignment done once the change in diet has taken effect. If you have a realignment before the change in diet your muscles may only release temporarily and you will have wasted your money and time. Before I changed my diet I found that my muscle release lasted up to 15 minutes before my tension headache returned. This tension reoccurrence was caused by a lack of energy in the muscles brought on by my Reactive Hypoglycemia.
I thoroughly recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook for Pain Relief, by Clair Davies. I use it so much I have written an article about it.
Step 4: Massage for Fibromyalgia Relief
It is a good idea to get regular full body massages at least weekly initially to reprogram your muscles and help realign your body if you can afford it. I am sure they have been tight for a long time. This can be done at the same time as seeing your osteopath.
Step 5: Exercise to Beat Fibromyalgia
Exercise is important in reprogramming your muscles after you have had fibromyalgia and building muscle strength to assist posture re-alignment. At first this may be difficult, but it is important to persist by doing small amounts of stretching and walking initially. Build up to doing a 30-minute stretch and tone routine daily. Stretch and tone exercise routines are available on DVD.
You need to realign your body, stretch tight muscles and strengthen weak ones. I recommend the Structural Yoga Therapy book.
When you sit and stand make sure you do not tuck your tailbone under you as this gives you poor posture. See the Gokhale Method.
Make sure you assess your posture correctly as this can have a huge effect on muscle tension, particularly your back alignment as this is such a huge section of your body. I used the Structural Yoga Therapy book by Mukunda Stiles. On my first assessment I missed the fact that I had a sway back (or lordosis) I assumed that I had the hunchback (or khyphosis) posture. The sway back posture meant that I had excessive lumbar curve when looking from the side the arm hides the top of the back making diagnosis difficult. The swayback posture affects the thighs, hips, abdominals and neck. This posture made my neck very straight and the muscles tight. Addressing the sway back made correcting other issues easier. The upward legs, reclining hero and boat yoga poses were great in correcting my sway back.
Pilates and yoga are excellent for reprogramming your muscles, find classes in your local area to go to. The instructors should be very knowledgeable about posture and should be able to help you with your specific issues.
If you can't go to Pilates I thoroughly recommend the 10 Minute Solution Slim & Sculpt Pilates DVD shown below. The sequences are very short, so the workouts are achievable. Also by using the stretch band it encourages your muscles to stretch and also relax. I recommend starting with the Total Body and Relaxation sequences first.
- New Zealand Fibromyalgia Information – Reactive Hypoglycemia website. Devin Starlanyl, M.D.
- The Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia – Testing for Hypoglycemia and How Your Doctor Can Help. Dr George Samra, M.B., B.S. (Sydney) F.A.C.N.E.M.
- What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Fibromyalgia Fatigue, by R. Paul St. Amand, M.D., and Claudia Craig Marek.
- US BioTek Laboratories, Washington, USA. Antibody Test.
- Dr. Atkin's New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition, by Robert C. Atkins.
- Whitley P. et al., A Gluten-free Diet as an Intervention for Autism and Associated Spectrum Disorders: Preliminary Findings. SAGE Publications and The National Autistic Society, Vol 3 (1) 45-65 (1999).
- Southern Cross Health Insurance – Fibromyalgia website.