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A Strategy for Living Well with Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a chameleon of an illness that may present with many different symptoms. What makes it recognizable, however, is this triad: (1) wide-spread chronic muscle pain, and (2) the inability to sleep despite (3) extreme exhaustion. Research suggests that these symptoms are the result of nervous system changes, and alterations in the function of mitochondria, the organelles that produce energy for cells.

Anyone living with FMS soon realizes they need to approach the management of the condition like a Marine: improvise, adapt and overcome. You have to be very strategic about how you modify your habits. Here are a few pointers:

Define the full scope of the problem. Don’t assume all of your symptoms are due to FMS. It is very common for people with FMS to have other conditions that are also characterized by pain and/or fatigue. Ensure you have been thoroughly assessed for alterations in various hormones, especially those produced by the hypothalamus, thyroid and adrenal glands. Have a sleep study done to determine what type of sleep disturbances exist, such as apneic episodes and inadequate delta-wave sleep.

Focus your resources on treatments that deal with the symptom triad first. Irritable bowel, vision changes and other symptoms can be distressing but the sooner you get a handle on the Big Three, the sooner you’ll feel better. And you may find that the other symptoms disappear on their own as your levels of pain and fatigue decrease.

Take charge of your treatment regime and approach it holistically. Studies show that people who use conventional treatments AND complementary medicine get the best results. New recommendations are continuously emerging with respect to pharmaceutical treatment but drug responses are highly individual so you may need to experiment to find the right medications for you. The most effective alternative treatments, however, tend to be “tried and true” for the majority of users. Some of these include:

  • a low glycemic diet (helps with fatigue and “brain fog”)
  • therapeutic dose levels of thiamine (Vitamin B1), inositol hexaniacinate (Vitamin B3), co-enzyme Q10, magnesium and other B-complex vitamins (help with sleep, fatigue, nerve and muscle pain/stiffness by improving mitochondrial function and nervous system health)
  • regular gentle exercise, especially activities that combine deep breathing and mindful movement such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong

Obliterate your stress. Stress makes everything worse, and people with FMS are especially vulnerable to its effects. Eliminating stress, and improving the way you handle the stress you can’t eliminate, can massively reduce your symptoms – yes, it’s that important. Techniques that have been shown to have the greatest impact for people with FMS include meditation/prayer and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

FMS is an illness that tends to wax and wane, but you can experience lengthy periods of remission if you learn to improvise (find less-fatiguing ways to accomplish your goals), adapt (accept that sometimes you have to cut back on your activities) and overcome (create a health-supporting lifestyle that helps to minimize your symptoms).

Janet McKenzieWritten by Janet McKenzie, ND
Janet is a naturopathic doctor who has lived well with fibromyalgia for over 40 years. You can find her online at and @fibrowellness.

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