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Ask JJ: Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia becomes difficult to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with other problems including chronic fatigue syndrome.
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Dear JJ: My integrative physician determined I have fibromyalgia. She suggested implementing complementary dietary and lifestyle strategies to reduce its symptoms. What are your top recommendations to reduce the pain, fatigue, and other problems fibromyalgia brings?

Pain might be the operative word for fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder derived from the Latin term for fibrous tissue (fibro) and the Greek ones for muscle (myo) and pain (algia).

Fibromyalgia becomes difficult to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with other problems including chronic fatigue syndrome.

While the significant pain and fatigue become similar to arthritis, fibromyalgia doesn't create damage to your joints, muscles, and other tissues. Yet like arthritis, fibromyalgia can make the everyday activities that punctuate your day absolutely miserable.

Other symptoms include cognitive impairments, mood disturbances, stiffness, irritable bowel, headaches and migraines, and pain or cramps in your lower abdomen.

"Treatment for fibromyalgia requires a comprehensive approach where we target all of the symptoms that occur on a persistent daily basis for any given patient," writes Dr. Julie Chen. "That would include addressing issues such as, but are not limited to, sleep, mood, chronic pain, fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, gastroenterological symptoms, and chronic headaches."

From that list, you can begin to understand why it becomes such a challenge for doctors to diagnose fibromyalgia. Because every sufferer struggles differently, Chen notes no one cookie-cutter approach works.

Studies show nutritional deficiencies and obesity or overweight are often common with fibromyalgia, increasing problems like pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and mood disorders.

That's actually good news because it means some modifications can repay dividends to reduce fibromyalgia and its detrimental impact. Among those, I've found these seven strategies help my clients.

1. Go low-sugar impact. Studies have shown a direct connection between fibromyalgia and metabolic syndrome, and fluctuating blood sugar levels can exacerbate headaches and other symptoms. Steady blood sugar levels by going low-sugar impact. Studies show a low-glycemic diet can help alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms.

2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Researchers debate exactly how inflammation impacts fibromyalgia, but many agree inflammation plays some role. Dr. Louise McCrindle notes omega-3 rich foods (along with protein) can help stabilize blood sugar and reduce inflammation. Wild-caught fish, freshly ground flaxseed, and slow-roasted or dehydrated walnuts are among my favorite omega-3 sources.

3. Go gluten-free. Studies show the symptoms of gluten sensitivity overlap with those of fibromyalgia, and that eliminating gluten often results in clinical improvement for people with fibromyalgia. Go gluten-free for three weeks and see if that doesn't alleviate your symptoms.

4. Exercise regularly. Among its benefits, regular exercise can optimize your stress hormone cortisol and reduce inflammation for folks with fibromyalgia. Studies show strength training can reduce fibromyalgia symptoms while improving quality of life. And burst training can reduce muscle fatigue, a common complaint with fibromyalgia. If chronic pain or other conditions inhibit intense exercise, one study found aquatic exercise reduces fibromyalgia-related inflammation and pain.

5. Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep. Studies show improving sleep quality can reduce pain and fatigue, while sleep dysfunction can worsen fibromyalgia. Sleep hygiene becomes crucial here. One study found creating a quiet environment to sleep resulted in pain and fatigue improvement and increased sleep quality.

6. Control stress levels. One study found an inflammatory/stress feedback dysregulation pattern occurred with fibromyalgia, though they weren't certain whether stress triggered inflammation or vice versa. Find what works for you to de-stress and find your bliss point. Researchers looked at a meditation-based stress reduction program on fibromyalgia. Of the 77 patients, 51 percent showed moderate to marked improvement. If meditation isn't your ticket, try deep breathing, yoga, or even a tea date with your bestie.

7. Optimize your hormones. Out-of-whack thyroid and other hormonal levels can deliver a serious whammy to fibromyalgia. "Ask your doctor to check your thyroid not just with a TSH but also a free T3 and free T4 and a reverse T3 level as well as having them check your adrenal status using salivary cortisol testing," writes Chen. "You should also ask for DHEA-s, pregnenolone, progesterone, estradiol and free and total testosterone testing."

If you've struggled with fibromyalgia, what dietary or lifestyle strategy would you add here to reduce or eliminate its symptoms? Share yours below, and keep those great questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.