- Natalie is 40 but feels like she’s 80 most days
- She was experiencing fatigue, aches and pains, poor sleep, and depression.
- After several doctor visits she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, given medication and told to expect things to get worse.
An estimated 4 million Americans are diagnosed with fibromyalgia. While symptoms can be present much earlier, most diagnoses are between the age of 35 – 45. And, women are much more likely to suffer from this condition.
This health mystery is a little different from most of my cases. Natalie already had a diagnosis and was already treating her condition. When she came to me, she hoped there was a better way. She didn’t want to accept that she would have to take medication for the rest of her life or that she should just get used to the idea of getting worse. She wanted to know if there was any hope of her feeling better despite her fibromyalgia diagnosis.
I knew we had to connect all the pieces of the puzzle to find the true underlying cause of her condition.
Joining me on the show today to discuss Natalie’s case is fibromyalgia expert, Dr. Rodger Murphree. He is a board certified chiropractic physician, nutritional specialist, and author of 5 books including “Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”
Conventional Fibromyalgia Diagnosis
Unfortunately, a lot of doctors don’t recognize Fibromyalgia. They see this long list of symptoms and they label the patient as a hypochondriac or someone who is lazy, crazy or depressed. Often, patients will have to see many doctors and go through a battery of tests to eliminate all known conditions before they actually get a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. This can take years since so many doctors don’t recognize the syndrome.
Doctors who understand Fibromyalgia (and who are willing to give a diagnosis) often don’t really know how to help the patients because there’s no prescription, no drug-based therapy that will solve all of the issues. As a result, most doctors will tell patients to treat the symptoms and ‘learn to live with it.’
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome made up of a group of symptoms. This collection of symptoms often includes achy, sometimes disabling pain, fatigue, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, irritable bowel, low moods and brain fog. When a combination of these symptoms are present and there is no other medical explanation, it’s likely to be Fibromyalgia.
There is a sort of Fibromyalgia spectrum so not all Fibromyalgia patients are going to have the same experience or combination of symptoms. Dr. Murphree says that true fibromyalgia involves central sensitivity pain syndrome where the pain threshold becomes very low. Essentially, pain is magnified. Other senses may also be heightened such as sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises. Stress can also become magnified.
Stress and Fibromyalgia
Up to 70% of Fibromyalgia patients say that stress was a trigger for their symptoms. It’s no surprise because stress is a trigger for most inflammatory reactions, which is the driver of most illnesses. In Fibromyalgia, we see a loss of plasticity to stress, or an inability to rebound from stress. This places the patient into a chronic state of stress that often shows up as pain and an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. The stress causes more and more symptoms which causes the patient more stress and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Dr. Murphree looks at sleep when considering a Fibromyalgia diagnosis. He says that almost all patients who he suspects of having Fibromyalgia have pain and sleep issues. Many of the other symptoms that are commonly associated with Fibromyalgia, like IBS, low mood, and brain fog stem from the lack of quality sleep over time.
Treating Fibromyalgia Naturally
Dr. Murphree says that he encourages his patients to shift their mindset away from the idea that drugs are the answer. He’s seen many patients who discover, after years of medicating, that drugs don’t help Fibromyalgia. All they do is poorly mask the symptoms without actually fixing the issue and they leave you vulnerable to side effects. It may seem impossible, but he says the only hope for patients is to get healthy.
Sleep is Critical for Healing Fibromyalgia
Getting sufficient restorative sleep is step one in Dr. Murphree’s strategy for treating Fibromyalgia. Regular restorative sleep can decrease the amount of inflammatory chemicals your body release. A lack of deep sleep causes the metabolism to slow down which causes lethargy, weight gain and heightened pain sensitivity. It also causes brain fog and a decreased ability to deal with stress. For patients struggling with sleep, Dr. Murphree suggests temporarily taking melatonin to restore their sleep cycle.
Serotonin for Fibromyalgia
Many of us know it as the happy hormone. Having healthy serotonin levels is critical in treating fibromyalgia. Serotonin increases your pain threshold, it improves digestion, and it decreases anxiety. Conventional medicine recognizes the importance of serotonin for Fibromyalgia patients. Unfortunately, the typical conventional solution is to prescribe anti-depressant medication like Celexa, Paxil or Cymbalta. The problem with this approach is that these drugs don’t increase the production of serotonin (which is what is needed) they only serve to maintain serotonin levels, or hang on to the existing serotonin in the brain. It doesn’t help to fix the problem. The natural approach to encouraging serotonin release is with a healthy diet – specifically where you are getting enough of the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan, when combined with certain B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C turns into serotonin. Additionally, patients may supplement with 5 HydroxyTryptophan (5HTP) to further support serotonin production. However, deep, restorative sleep is still a critical part of this treatment plan. Dr. Murphree outlines his recommended protocol at the 18 minute mark of this podcast.
Does 5HTP Work for Fibromyalgia
Dr. Murphree has been working with patients with Fibromyalgia for decades and this is the protocol he’s seen to be most effective. Some patients have concerns because they are on antidepressant medication (which is contraindicated). He’s worked with many of these patients and has seen successes. However a very small percentage do report feeling nauseated or having headaches. It’s important to work with someone experienced with Fibromyalgia (like Dr. Murphree) if this is a concern for you.
Natural Stress Reduction
One of the biggest challenges that patients with Fibromyalgia face is reducing stress – often the trigger of the Fibromyalgia in the first place. Dr. Murphree has been working hard to find natural ways to support the adrenal glands (which are responsible for the body’s stress response). He recommends adrenal glandulars. However, he cautions people to make sure that they get the cortex only type because most adrenal glandulars have both cortex and adrenaline. Too much adrenaline can cause adrenal fatigue.
Final Step in Fibromyalgia Recovery
In addition to sleep, adrenal and serotonin support, the final step patients need to take is adjusting their lifestyle. A healthy diet is key as is regular exercise. Creating a mindfulness practice (like intentional breath work, meditation or journaling) is also important in resetting and managing the body’s stress response.
Cannabis for Fibromyalgia?
The endocannabinoid system in an inborn system that regulates many different bodily systems. It affects body temperature regulation, sleep/wake cycle, digestion, certain hormonal systems, and pain thresholds. Taking CBD alters how the endocannabinoid system functions. Hemp oil, which contains CBD, has less than .03% THC so it provides the benefits of CBD without the ‘high’ that is associated with cannabis. CBD can repair a rundown endocannabinoid system resulting (for some) in an increased pain threshold while also correcting the circadian rhythm so that they can sleep better. However, not all hemp oil or CBD is created equal. Like many other plant crops, there is a vast difference between commercially grown and organically grown varieties.
For Natalie, solving the mystery of her fibromyalgia started where most start – with her sleep. We supplemented her sleep with 5HTP and L-Theanine. She also adopted new sleep hygiene habits that put the priority on her winding down and relaxing before bed as well as protecting her natural melatonin production.
Once she was getting more restorative sleep each night, we began supporting her adrenals. Tests revealed her cortisol levels were low so she began with a supplement called Adren All from orthomolecular labs. We also introduced some stress reduction techniques to her daily routine.
To help her with her pain, Natalie was taking a CBD oil but it wasn’t as clean or as effective as it could be. She switched to an organic, higher quality CBD oil for her fibromyalgia symptoms.
The final step in helping her live comfortably with Fibromyalgia was to adjust her nutrition. She removed gluten and processed sugar from her diet and started eating clean, whole foods. She also shifted to drinking high quality water.
Just 4 weeks after we started working on this, Natalie was feeling so much better. She was sleeping better, she got her energy back and her pain had gone down by about 50%. The symptoms of Fibromyalgia were no longer something she would have to suffer with forever. Now, it was something she felt she could really live well with.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
For Natalie’s case, we couldn’t cure her Fibromyalgia but we were able to find some of the root causes and give her the tools she needs to diminish the symptoms and feel so much better. Could these solutions help you or someone in your life with Fibromyalgia? Please share and let them know there is hope.
Thanks to my guest Dr. Rodger Murphree. You can connect with him through his website, on Facebook or Instagram. You can also find his book, Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome on Amazon.
Thanks for Listening
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