Treating Fibromyalgia Naturally: Diet Does Matter

Pain is the most distinctive characteristic of fibromyalgia. How to stop the pain? This is the most pressing question I hear from those suffering from fibromyalgia in my practice in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

One of the biggest challenges in coping with fibromyalgia is dealing the many possible triggers of flare-ups. Unfortunately, many triggers are a common part of the lifestyle we have in this area. Pain flare-ups can happen because of

  • sudden exposure to heat
  • sudden exposure to cold
  • illness
  • stress
  • excessive physical activity
  • lack of sleep

So, to start, it helps to keep an open mind about what may be causing you to experience bouts of more severe pain. You may already have a sense that being tired or stressed makes your symptoms worse. But there may be other triggers that can take some more time and careful observation to recognize.

Your Diet Matters

Many doctors and patients are finding that what you eat plays a big role in controlling symptoms. You may already suspect that eating or drinking certain things makes you feel worse. Following what’s often called an anti-inflammatory diet, or wellness diet, can bring real relief.

Health-promoting foods

Foods in an anti-inflammatory diet include:

  • Whole foods: unprocessed, fruits, and vegetables, and grains and nuts
  • Lean proteins: white meat chicken, eggs, soy and yogurt
  • Foods with healthy fats: omega3 fatty acids, which are high in flaxseed oil, salmon, caviar and walnuts
  • Antioxidants: These are compounds that prevent damage from unstable molecules called free radicles.

Antioxidants are found in Vitamin A-rich vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and spinach. They’re also found in high vitamin C foods such as oranges, watermelon, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and blueberries. Vitamin E-rich foods also provide antioxidants, in such foods as wheat germ oil, peanuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.

These foods are just a few among many choices you have as you look for natural ways to reduce pain.

It’s also important to avoid foods that can make symptoms worse. You may already know that caffeine makes it harder to fall asleep – which fibromyalgia pain already makes quite difficult.

Many people with fibromyalgia have noticed sensitivities to particular foods or ingredients. While this varies from person to person, you may find you feel better when you avoid processed sugar, MSG, nitrates or artificial sweeteners

If you’re not sure, a food journal – written notes about what you eat and how you feel — can help you recognize food sensitivities you may not otherwise know you have.

An anti-inflammatory diet does seem to help people with fibromyalgia feel better – by a lot. This may seem surprising, given that inflammation isn’t a major characteristic of fibromyalgia. Even if the pain isn’t caused by tissue swelling or damage to muscles and joints, you may find that a well-chosen food plan helps lower your fibromyalgia pain significantly.

Here are a few recipes I share with my patients at the Optimal Wellness Center, to help you explore these health-promoting foods.

Diet is one tool among others to cope with fibromyalgia. We’ll also explore, in other articles, what else you can do to ease the pain of fibromyalgia naturally.

With so many possible triggers, it’s unlikely that a pill or medication can make it all simply go away. Your best defense may be to find a combination of approaches — including natural ones — to keep your flare-ups to a minimum.

Finding the Right Fibromyalgia Doctor: What to Ask About Treatment When Choosing a Doctor

If you have been living with muscle pain, soreness and sleep loss for along time, you may decide to look for a doctor who specializes in treating fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia can be a challenge to treat successfully.  It’s not simple to diagnose.  And because people who suffer with fibromyalgia seem to look normal on the outside, some patients have trouble finding a doctor who believes the symptoms are real.

Finding a Doctor Committed to Helping You

When you’re in chronic pain, you need a doctor who’s committed to finding the correct cause, and creating a treatment plan that really works for you.  A doctor who specializes in treating chronic pain may – or may not — be a good doctor to treat fibromyalgia.

Here are a few important questions to help you explore a doctor’s approach, experience, and confidence in helping people live better with fibromyalgia:

1) Questions about getting the right diagnosis

  1. How do you confirm a diagnosis?
  2. Do I need to re-do medical tests I’ve already had done?
  3. Do you want to see the test results I have from other doctors?
  4. What do you test for and how does that help plan the treatment?

2) Questions about finding the best treatment approach

  1. What medications work best, in your experience?
  2. How confident are you that medications will help me feel better?
  3. If the medications don’t work for me, what other treatments would you try?
  4. Do you include medical acupuncture, physical therapy, dietary restrictions or certain exercise programs in your treatment plan?
  5. Do you provide acupuncture, nutrition supplements or exercise plans, or do you recommend others for these?

3) Questions about follow-up and monitoring your care

  1. What should I do between appointments if my symptoms get worse?
  2. What if have questions about treatment or medication after I get home – what should I do?
  3. How often do you recommend I come in for follow-up visits if all is going well?

When you find a doctor you want to work with, you’ll still need to take an active part in your self-care.  If you’re willing to follow the treatment plan and weed out the less-successful approaches, you can isolate those therapies that truly make you feel better.  Fibromyalgia is not completely understood, and researchers are finding new insights into the causes and mechanisms behind it.  An expert fibromyalgia doctor will keep informed about the progress in research, and will use that to help you improve your treatment plan over time.

About Dr. Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative medicine at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.  She is a board certified doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss, medical acupuncture and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.

Seeing a Fibromyalgia Doctor: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

A successful treatment plan is built on good communication between you and your doctor. This is true even for a fibromyalgia doctor, or a one specializing in treating chronic pain.

The questions you and your doctor ask each other are the starting point to finding real recovery from fatigue and pain.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

The right treatment addresses the true cause of your symptoms. Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose correctly, because several other conditions can cause pain and extreme fatigue. Arthritis, lupus, thyroid problems, or side effects to medicines can cause pain, poor sleep quality and even confusion and anxiety,

There’s no ‘biological marker’ – no single blood test, lab result, or tell-tale symptom that confirms you have fibromyalgia.

So, you and your doctor both need to answer this question first, when you seek treatment:

Is this fibromyalgia, or are there other causes for these symptoms?

Your doctor will use your account of your symptoms, and the results of several laboratory tests, to diagnoses your condition correctly. A correct diagnosis and health assessment is the start of the right course of treatment for you.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions Well

You can help your doctor if you prepare for your visit ahead of time. It may take some careful observation, time to think through your past experience, and even some written notes, to give the most helpful answers about your pain.

A doctor who specializes in treating fibromyalgia will want to learn:

  1. How long have you been having the symptoms? “A long time” does not give your doctor meaningful information. To prepare for this question, think about what you were doing when you first started noticing the symptoms – recall holidays, events at work, or activities you did at a certain time (like back-to-school shopping)
  2. Where is the pain located? Think in terms of specific muscle areas, joints. You may think you just ‘ache all over,’ and if that’s true that’s what your doctor needs to know. If you can, be specific about where the pain is located, especially if you feel tender spots. This gives your doctor the information to plan the right tests and treatment strategies.
  3. How severe is your pain? Pain is hard to describe objectively. Your doctor will most likely ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, in each location that you feel pain.
  4. How do your pain symptoms impact your life? Your life includes work, daily routines like eating, exercising and sleeping, and personal activities. If you feel better or worse after eating or doing certain things, be specific. If sleep is difficult, make note of how much sleep you get at night, and if it’s interrupted.
  5. What medications are you taking? What have you tried? You can answer this by bringing the actual medicine with you, or bring a list of medications and the dose. Include over-the-counter medicines and any nutrition or herbal supplements you may be taking. Get copies of recent lab and medical records sent in advance.

It’s also important be ready with questions you have for the doctor. Feel free to write them down and bring them. You probably want to ask:

  • Is this definitely fibromyalgia we’re dealing with?
  • What kind of relief should I expect from pain medications?
  • How long should I wait for the medicines to start working?
  • What else can we do if this treatment doesn’t work?
  • How much better can I expect to feel long-term?

If you feel stressed when seeing the doctor, you don’t have to go alone – find a trusted family member or friend to go with you. This can help a lot if you are feeling overwhelmed. A family member can help you recall what you and your doctor discussed.

After your first visit, plan to have follow-up visits with your doctor. Getting control over your fibromyalgia symptoms is a process. It involves the science of pain medication, non-drug therapies including exercise, nutrition and healthy eating, and trial and error to find what helps you get the upper hand on pain.

By talking with your doctor, you can start to make sense of your symptoms and learn what to do about them. Working together, you can determine which drug treatments, natural therapies and self-care is key to the quality of your recovery.

About Dr. Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative medicine at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. She is a board certified doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss, medical acupuncture and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.

Treating Fibromyalgia Naturally: Dealing With Stress

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you’re learning that it’s a chronic pain disorder, with body-wide soreness and tenderness in muscles its major symptom.

But there are other characteristics too.  The Mayo Clinic describes it this way:

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

You may find that certain things you do, eat, or even think can trigger your symptoms.  While your pain symptoms may simply just happen, more likely you feel worse after a lack of sleep, eating certain foots, a lack of exercise, and increased stress.

Stress May Be One of Your Worst Pain Triggers

Not only does your pain get worse with stress.  Being upset makes sleeping more difficult, eating right harder to do, and keeping your spirits up almost impossible.  These things are hard enough to do anyway, let alone under stress. So, managing your stress is especially important when you’re dealing with fibromyalgia.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to managing stress.  There are several approaches open to you. Look at stress management actions you can do by yourself, as well as those involving the help of others to deal better with stress.

Look for Relaxing Lifestyle Choices

As far as possible, include more downtime and calming activities.  Turn off the computer and make more time for things like:

  • Taking a warm bath:  Allow yourself to add soothing agents such as Epsom salts or lavender oil, juniper oil or chamomile.
  • Spending less time with aggravating people: Make more time for those you find comforting and easy to be around
  • Going to a personal quiet space: A sanctuary that invites peace of mind and helps you let go of tension can be an important part of learning to relax.  This can be a room in your home, a garden, a place in nature, a park, or a church, or a place with your favorite animals or a pet.

Learn Some Relaxation Techniques

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are these main types of relaxation techniques:

Autogenic training: a learned technique to help you use visual imagery and body awareness to move yourself into a deep state of relaxation

Deep breathing: this is a strategy for relieving stress by taking in more air, and lowering activity in order to focus just on calmer, deeper breathing.  For example, standing or sitting quietly, breathe in through your nose.  Breathe in fully so your ribcage area expands gently. Hold your breath for 3 seconds, then breathe out through the mouth.  When exhaling, make your time to exhale longer than your time to inhale; this will help you relax further, and release tension from your muscles. Repeat a few times as you can without discomfort.

Progressive muscle relaxation: You focus on particular muscle groups, tensing and then relaxing them, slowly.  This approach involves your whole body, working in sequence, starting at the toes and ending with the head.

Meditation:  Two main forms of meditation are Transcendental (using a mantra or phrase), and mindfulness (focusing on thoughts and your own sensations).  Some exercise programs, such as yoga, also have a meditation component

You can safely learn relaxation techniques from well-recommended books and audio programs.  You can also find classes in many areas , and learn a technique with an experienced coach.

More Natural Approaches to Fibromyalgia and Stress Management

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:  This approach focuses on challenging a person’s overly negative or self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns. It helps replace them with new thoughts and ideas for coping better and feeling less anxious.  There are self-guided and therapist-lead ways to explore this therapy.

Body Treatments, Including Massage, Acupuncture and Exercise:

The topic of acupuncture and stress relief deserves a good look.  Here are some articles to help you explore the proven benefits of this ancient Chinese treatment, to stimulate healing, reduce pain, lower stress hormones, and improve health:

Exercise can play a major role in reducing the negative impact of stress on your body and pain levels.  To find out more, look at:

Dealing well with stress is a personal matter, but very important to improving your health. You may need to explore and find your own best combination of approaches for different situations or times of year.  When it comes to getting the upper hand on stress, you may need to take some time to find your own best answers.  A doctor experienced in treating fibromyalgia can guide you to resources that have helped others recover, and live well despite the daunting stress of coping with fibromyalgia.

About Dr. Keller

Dr. Betty Keller practices integrative therapy at the Optimal Wellness Center in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.  She is a licensed acupuncturist and medical doctor specializing in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, weight loss and disease prevention, serving Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff, NJ, and nearby areas.