It is an illness that can lead to excruciating pain at points all over the body, numbness, crushing fatigue coupled with insomnia, and an inability to handle even mild changes in temperature or light.
Fibromyalgia is a neurological condition thought to affect 1.8 million Britons to varying degrees, and experts do not know what causes it.
In 2003, the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, pictured right, revealed she was suffering from the condition, which caused her to put her career on hold for several years.
‘It’s the tiredness part that I have difficulty with, but you get to know your limits so you can work and plan around it,’ she said.
Here, in an extract from her book, 50 Things You Can Do Today To Manage Fibromyalgia, WENDY GREEN outlines the simple steps you can take to lessen the burden of daily pain.
Fibromyalgia may not be curable, but it is manageable.
VISUALISE YOUR PAIN
THE THEORY: Research has shown that meditation reduces pain. By concentrating on the ‘here and now’ rather than on negative thoughts, it is believed we can help reduce the body’s production of pain signals.
TOP TIP: Think of a colour that suggests wellness and one that represents pain. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. On each inhalation, imagine you are breathing in the ‘wellness colour’ and on each exhalation imagine breathing out the ‘pain colour’, with all the pain flowing out of your body.
EXERCISE YOUR ACHES AWAY
THE THEORY: Exercising when suffering with fibromyalgia has been shown to have great psychological and physical benefits – if not done to excess.
UK Fibromyalgia, a support group for sufferers, recommends non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming in warm water.
One study of 33 women with fibromyalgia found that those who swam three times a week in warm water had a significant reduction in symptoms.
When swimming, the joints and muscles are supported and the warm water helps to relax the muscles, which eases pain and stiffness.
You also have to focus on your breathing, rhythm and stroke, which distracts the mind from anxieties.
TOP TIP: Another low-impact aerobic exercise is rebounding – marching or bouncing on a rebounder trampoline. This boosts fitness and mood, and improves posture, balance and co-ordination.
Yoga has also been shown to reduce symptoms. Oregon University researchers found that sufferers who practised weekly noticed an improvement in energy, mood and ability to cope with the pain.
BOOST YOUR VITAMINS…
THE THEORY: Fibromyalgia sufferers are more likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. B vitamins are essential for normal muscle function, energy release, a healthy nervous system and the production of serotonin, the mood-lifting chemical.
Fibromyalgia has also been linked with high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid produced by the body. A study by the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Gothenburg found that in 100 per cent of fibromyalgia cases, there were high levels of homocysteine and low levels of Vitamin B12.
TOP TIP: A daily multivitamin should contain all the B vitamins you need. A lack of the sunshine-derived Vitamin D has also been shown to be a factor in developing fibromyalgia.
A study published in Clinical Rheumatology found that 90 per cent of sufferers noticed an improvement when treated with Vitamin D supplements. It is thought to work by boosting levels of serotonin and the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin.
… AND MINERALS
THE THEORY: Sufferers are often deficient in magnesium, the mineral that plays a crucial role in the metabolism of B vitamins and calcium – which is another mineral lacking in those with fybromyalgia.
TOP TIP: Boost your levels by eating plenty of nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains and seafood, or take a bath with Epsom salts – the body can absorb the mineral through the skin.
Sufferers should have an adequate intake of zinc, too, as stress depletes the body’s reserves, which can lead to abnormal pain responses, confusion and poor concentration.
Adequate chromium consumption is also essential as it helps balance blood-sugar levels. A fall in these can lead to physical and mental symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration and memory.
Good sources include meat, oats, wholemeal bread, mushrooms and lentils.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR THOUGHTS
THE THEORY: Many sufferers say symptoms are triggered or worsened by stress and anxiety. It is thought stress hormones such as cortisol affect the balance of cytokines, a type of white blood cell.
Chronic stress causes the production of these cells to be permanently disrupted, triggering inflammation and autoimmune responses within the body. Studies have found that sufferers have disrupted levels of cytokines and the more disrupted they are, the greater the intensity of pain experienced.
TOP TIP: Keeping a stress diary may help identify and avoid external triggers for flare-ups. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that has been successfully used to target thinking and behaviour patterns related to pain.
Therapists help patients see the way they feel about a situation is not a fact, just their perception of a situation that can easily be challenged.
NATURAL PAIN RELIEF
THE THEORY: Most pain-relieving supplements aim to reduce joint pain but some natural remedies target muscular pain more specifically. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5HTP), a substance extracted from the seeds of the West African Griffonia plant, is used by the body to make serotonin.
A study published in Alternative Medicine Review concluded that the supplement helped to relieve fibromyalgia-related pain, stiffness, fatigue and depression.
TOP TIP: Red Montmorency cherries have been proven to help maintain muscle strength, reduce overall pain and improve sleep because of the concentrated levels of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins and sleep-enhancing melatonin. Try CherryActive, a concentrate diluted with water.