All Sorts of Health Benefits

Sweet medicine … but skip the lollies and go straight to liquorice root for health benefits.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany identified a group of natural substances within liquorice root called amorfrutins. Testing on mice, the scientists found that the consumption of amorfrutins reduced blood sugar levels and inflammation that would otherwise be present in the mice suffering from Type 2 diabetes. The amorfrutins also prevented the development of a fatty liver – a common side-effect of type 2 diabetes and a high-fat diet.

But before you run off to your nearest Darrell Lea, take note. “The amount of amorfrutin molecules in a piece of licorice available for human consumption is far too low to cause the same beneficial effects that were identified in the diabetic mice.” In response, the researchers developed a method of extracting sufficient concentrations of amorfrutins from the Amorpha fruticosa bush in which they are also found, which could be used to produce amorfrutin extracts on an industrial scale.

So is there any benefit to be had in eating liquorice sweets?

Well, it depends on the sweet. What you’re looking for is products containing liquorice extract or liquorice root. You won’t get the same medicinal properties from anise oil, which is what is used to flavour many commercial liquorice products. Even if the sweet does contain extract, the quantity is usually far too small to have any sort of health benefit. As nutritionist Catherine Saxelby notes, Darrell Lea liquorice contains just 3 per cent liquorice extract, coming in after flour, sugar, molasses, and glucose syrup on the ingredient list.

Manufacturers of liquorice sweets are quick to point out that liquorice is a low-fat food. Saxelby says that while liquorice is a healthier snack than milk chocolate, moderation is still the word of the day. “There’s nothing wrong with having a few pieces of liquorice three or four times a week, so long as it’s your only “treat food” that week,” says Saxelby. “It’s not safe for coeliacs though; the main ingredient of liquorice is wheat flour.” Those with high blood pressure should also avoid the salty Dutch variety of liquorice, she says. Liquorice is slightly lower in sugar and carbohydrates than most other lollies, and contains small amounts of protein, iron and calcium.

Real liquorice also contains glycyrrhizin, a substance obtained from the root of the liquorice plant. Glycyrrhizin is the active agent in liquorice that combats illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, and is said to lessen the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. But the amount of real liquorice found in liquorice sweets is not standardised, making it far more safe and effective to take the recommended quantity of liquorice root or extract as a pill or powder. Those with high blood pressure may want to consider the deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) form of the product. In spite of its benefits, continued consumption of large amounts of glycyrrhizin may reduce blood potassium levels, lead to water retention, and increase blood pressure.

Last year in Germany, where around 500 tonnes of liquorice are imported each year, liquorice was named “the medicinal plant of 2012”. Professor Johannes Mayer, an expert on the history of medicinal botany at the University of Würzburg, noted the myriad indications of liquorice, used medicinally since ancient times. “Liquorice is special because it can quickly soothe sore throats and coughs and was used centuries ago to treat coughing, hoarseness and asthma by Ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians,” he said.

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Treat Your Pain, Too.

Back in early May, I wrote a post called Treat Yourself – that gave you an idea about creating your own treatment plan. This is an extension of that post.

Although there is no cure is available, a large number of FM treatment options exist. Treatment options vary wildly in effectiveness from individual to individual. What may work very well for one person may not work at all for another. Research suggests that the most effective strategy is likely to be multi-modal involving diet, exercise, drugs, dietary supplements, and various treatment therapies. Both symptoms focused and causal focused treatment approaches should be combined and managed.

FibroMAGICians must strive to validate what works best for them as an individual. This typically involves a process of trial and error. Evaluating various treatment options and building an effective treatment approach can be a complex process, one typically improved through utilizing a team approach. Fibromyalgia patients are well served by a care team made up of doctors, therapists, specialists and a strong support group.

Available Treatments

No single approach works best. The best course of action when considering treatment options is to combine a traditional medical approach with other available remedies. Over time, you can validate what works best to alleviate your pain. A number of lifestyle changes and other treatment methods can have a cumulative positive effect on the pain you experience.

Here is a list of some commonly used treatment options:

  1. Conventional medicines — Your doctor will work with you to discover what prescription medicines may work best for you. Options are many including pain and antidepressant medicines.
  2. Nutrition and diet — Some researchers believe that the foods you eat can affect FM symptoms.
  3. Dietary Supplements — Vitamins and minerals play important roles in health and maintenance of the body.
  4. Exercise — Exercise helps relieve joint stiffness and can help alleviate some of the pain as well. Short workouts have been proven to help many fibroMAGICians. Pain may initially increase, but then gradually decreases. Hydrotherapytai-chi and yoga are excellent forms of exercise. These forms of exercise incorporate relaxation and meditation techniques. Deep breathing and slow movement will reduce your stress level and increase your fitness.
  5. Physiotherapy  — A physiotherapist can help you with stretching and good posture. Stretching will reduce joint and muscle stiffness. This therapist can also  help you with relaxation techniques, another powerful FM treatment option.
  6. Relaxation therapy — Stress aggravates FM. Reducing stress will provide you with a more restful sleep, improving symptoms.
  7. Massage therapy — This is another great relaxation technique.
  8. Over-the-counter drugs — You will need to work with your doctor. Always talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you plan to take.
  9. Herbal remedies — Many herbs have medicinal healing powers. Again, you must talk to your doctor when using herbal remedies
  10. Chinese medicine — Consider exploring Chinese medicine which places great emphasis on herbal remedies and incorporates life energy healing techniques.
  11. Homeopathy — Visit a homeopathic specialist. They specialize in natural remedies to illnesses.
  12. Acupuncture — Modern adherents of acupuncture believe that it affects blood flow and the way the brain processes pain signals. Studies have shown this may be effective for FM.
  13. Chiropractic care—Chiropractors specialize in spinal problems, which can be a major source of pain for some people.

Building a Customised Fibromyalgia Treatment Program

Through an ongoing process of trial and error, using a mixture of the above treatments (and many others), it is possible to develop a treatment program that can be validated as effective – for the individual patient.

This process is made more effective when the patient embraces the concept of “Self-Management” – an ongoing process through which the patient recognizes and assumes responsibility for leading their own treatment efforts. An effective self-management process focuses on the collection, analysis and utilization of patient data such that the trial and error process is better empowered to yield tangible results.

C if it Helps

Yesterday, I went to Mommy’s diet doctor – no, I’m not adding weight loss to my list of things to fix about myself; that can just wait! No, the reason I went to see him was that Mommy had spoken to him about my Fibro, and it seems that he suffered from Chronic Fatigue and just wanted to chat to me.

Doc and I spoke about all the things that are wrong with me (long conversation) and what I was doing to help my body fight this battle. He was impressed with how involved I am in my own recovery but had two extra suggestions: more meditation (how weird is that coming from a ‘normal’ Western doctor?) and Vitamin C therapy.

I’m not talking about the little orange flavoured tablets that we all like chewing; he was talking about Vitamin C powder. There is now solid evidence that vitamin C, one of the primary antioxidants, is essential for optimal functioning of the immune system.

It is vital to the health of white blood cells and their production of antibodies, as well as the manufacture of interferon which acts as an antiviral.

Vitamin C also reduces pain and inflammation. It is also vital to the adrenal glands which are located above the kidneys.

Thus, Vitamin C supplementation offers both immune and adrenal support which are two critical components in any program to reverse FM.

Therefore, massive doses of vitamin C are useful to both bolster the immune system and to provide an ongoing supply for free radical destruction.

So, I came home, had a quick internet investigation and discovered that recommended doses can be anywhere between 500-9,000 mg a day of vitamin C in divided doses. The Doc recommended for me to take one teaspoon (= 5,000 mg) dissolved in juice preferably (he said it tastes pretty crappy) 3 to 5 times a day. He said that if it is too much, my body will let me know.

And, supposedly, I will feel immediately better (not just the Doc’s words but also other internet comments). Anyone else tried this? I’ll let you know how it goes for me.

CoQ10 – Not Just For Skin!

When I first was diagnosed with FM, I got online and read some books. Then, I basically did everything that was suggested – including taking a giant handful of supplements each morning.

One of those supplements is CoQ10.

While combing the Net for some ideas on what I might want to write about next, I found a recent study (published 19 April 2012) (I’m getting good at finding these studies, aren’t I?) that suggests that oxidative stress is associated to clinical symptoms in FM (particularly headaches). The researchers examined oxidative stress (the condition in which antioxidant levels are lower than normal) and bioenergetic status in blood mononuclear cells (BMCs) and its association to headache symptoms in FM patients. The effects of CoQ10 supplementation on biochemical markers and clinical improvement were also evaluated.

Decreased CoQ10, catalase (an enzyme that catalyzes the reduction of hydrogen peroxide) and ATP (not sure what that one is) levels in BMCs from FM patients as compared to normal control were found.

From my limited reading and understanding, everybody has these things (called peroxides and free radicals) running around in their blood. ‘Normals’ have sufficient ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. I’m imagining the old ATARI Space Invaders game (am I showing my age?) where ‘normals’ shoot at the free radicals coming closer to you. Well, using that image, FM sufferers don’t have enough ammunition to fight off the space invaders (and No, I don’t know why).  Oral CoQ10 supplementation restored biochemical parameters and induced a significant improvement in clinical and headache symptoms (that is: the FM patients were able to stop the peroxides and free radical from invading!).

Now before you all go nuts and go out to buy the entire shelf of CoQ10, even the researchers in this study noted that, although the results of this study suggest CoQ10 treatment showed a remarkable improvement in clinical symptoms and headache in FM, CoQ10 supplementation should be examined further in a larger placebo controlled trial, to confirm this observation, as a possible treatment for FM.

If you’d like to see iHerb’s selection of CoQ10 products, click here. Use Coupon Code LHJ194 to get $10 off any first time order over $40 or $5 off any first time order under $40.

Pharmaceutical Finances

The mortar and pestle, one of the internationa...

The mortar and pestle, one of the internationally recognized symbols to represent the pharmacy profession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you think you’re spending a lot of money on prescription drugs, you’re probably right. In 2008, American patients and insurance companies spent more than $234 billion on prescriptions, up from $40 million in 1990. According to a study by the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health, spending on medicines was rising rapidly in Australia. This was in line with trends in most other industrialised countries; however, spending in Australia was fourth highest among comparable countries –  spending on publicly subsidised medicines by Australian patients increased from $16 per person in 1971 to $62 (which when adjusted for inflation equals $134) in 2007. Only Finland, Denmark and Poland ranked higher.So, any way for us to save money on this money drain?

5 Good Ways to Save Money on Medicine

1.  Ask About Generic Options

“In most cases, generic drugs can save a great deal of money,” says Corey Sawaya, RPh, a pharmacist in Stow, Ohio. Almost 80% of FDA-approved drugs have generic alternatives that cost an average of four times less than the brand-name versions.

2. Look Into Splitting Higher-Dose Pills

Pill splitting is based on the fact that many pills cost about the same even if they contain twice as much medication. An 80 mg pill is often close in price to a pill with 40 mg of the same drug. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medication is safe for pill splitting. If so, ask your doctor to prescribe twice the dosage you really need, so you can split your pills in half.

Be aware, many pills are not safe to split, including time-released drugs, coated pills, and capsules, says Richard Sagall, MD, president and co-founder of NeedyMeds, a non-profit organization in Gloucester, Mass, that provides information about financial assistance programs for prescription drugs.

“The best person to ask whether it’s safe to split a pill is the pharmacist,” he says.

3. Talk Openly With Your Doctor

Your health care provider may not know how much you’re paying for the drugs he or she prescribes. “Patients should talk with their doctors so they can consider less expensive options,” says Sawaya. It also helps to review all your medications with your health care provider from time to time. If you’ve been taking a drug for a long time, it’s possible you no longer need it or could switch to something cheaper.

4. Shop Around

“Prices at pharmacies are fluid,” says Sagall, who recommends negotiating with your pharmacist. If one pharmacy has the best prices in town on all but one of the medications you’re taking, let the pharmacist know and see if she can give you a discount or price match on that one drug. “Many pharmacies want relationships. They want to keep you as a patient, and this is one way they do it,” says Sagall.

5. Look Into Patient Assistance Programs

Many pharmaceutical companies have programs that provide their drugs at deep discounts or even free for people in need. If you have a prescription for a high-cost drug, check out the company’s web site to see if they offer assistance. You can also look up patient assistance programs on the NeedyMeds website , which provides information on almost 6,000 programs.

5 Bad Ways to Try to Cut Drug Costs

1. Do NOT Use a Friend’s Medicine Cabinet

“Taking other people’s medications is a really bad way to save money,” says Sagall. The drugs you find in your friend’s stash may be expired, may be the wrong dose, and may react with something else you’re taking. Plus, taking someone else’s prescriptions is illegal. “There are usually specific reasons why a doctor prescribes pill A and not pill B to their patient,” says Sagall.

2. Do NOT Insist on Brand Name Drugs

In the old days, drug companies sent information to physicians, who then decided what drugs to prescribe to their patients. Now television and magazine ads use images of active grandparents or amorous couples to promote prescription drugs directly to patients. No matter how attractive the models, the advertised drug may not be the best match for your particular condition. And there’s probably a less expensive alternative to the drug advertised on TV.

3. Do NOT Assume Herbal Supplements Are Safe or Adequate

Because they’re natural, it’s easy to equate herbal supplements with a green, leafy salad. In fact, herbal supplements are not regulated like medications, and some could pose a real danger. “Some of the herbals have the same drug interactions and possibility of adverse reactions as prescription medicines,” says Sawaya. “Those things need to be monitored by a doctor.”

4. Do NOT Keep Switching Pharmacies

You might switch pharmacies to get a better deal, but doing so repeatedly undermines the checks and balances meant to protect your safety. The history of your prescriptions creates a profile of your health in a pharmacy’s computer system. Pharmacy computers are programmed to catch errors such as potential drug interactions so the pharmacist can intervene. “If you’re moving around from pharmacy to pharmacy, the computer system is less likely to catch things like that,” says Sawaya.

5. Do NOT Buy Drugs from “Rogue” Internet Pharmacies

Online sales of counterfeit prescription drugs is a booming global business. By operating under the radar, groups posing as legitimate pharmacies get away with selling fake drugs, expired drugs, or the wrong drug in the name of a buck.

Officials are starting to come down hard on counterfeit drug operations. In 2011, the U.S. and 80 other countries launched a worldwide operation targeting rogue Internet pharmacies. Within 10 days, almost 13,500 web sites were shut down and 2.4 million illegal and counterfeit pills from 48 countries were confiscated. This is good news for consumers, but don’t let down your guard too soon. It’s safe to assume rogue pharmacies will be online for some time to come.

(As you might remember, in my financial desperation, I ordered Lyrica from a Canadian pharmaceutical company – so far, all seems to be going well. I checked with my doctor and pharmacist prior to starting the ‘imported’ product and let Mommy know, in case weird things began to happen. They haven’t (YET)!)

Related articles

Website Lets You Shop and Compare Prescription Drugs (

Treat Your Pain

Many experts believe the best treatment for fibromyalgia is a multifaceted approach that combines medication with lifestyle changes and alternative treatments. And, it looks like Mommy and I have been left alone to learn how to manage/treat/cope/handle/survive (choose the most appropriate verb) my fibromyalgia. Having read lots of your stories and received plenty of advice, I am working on my own treatment plan – do I have a choice?

But what about if you’re new to all of this? Where do you even start?

A treatment plan gives structure to getting from here to there. Be realistic and (yes, you’re already probably sick of hearing this already) small steps! A treatment plan is different from devising goals because of its flexibility and internal exploration. In most clinical settings, a treatment plan review is done quarterly or even monthly. After each review, the plan is rewritten to meet current needs.

Start With a Diagnosis

There are no lab tests for fibromyalgia. Doctors diagnose it by considering criteria such as how long you’ve had pain and how widespread it is, and by ruling out other causes. This can be a long and complicated process because the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be caused by other conditions. So it’s best to see a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia – which can be easier said than done, sometimes!

Learn About Fibromyalgia Medications – You are YOUR Best Advocate!

Once you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Several types of medicines are used to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and fatigue.

Three medications are FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia:

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine): a type of antidepressant called a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Researchers aren’t sure how Cymbalta works in fibromyalgia, but they think that increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine help control and reduce feelings of pain.
  • Lyrica (pregabalin): Lyrica is a nerve pain and epilepsy drug. In people with fibromyalgia, it may help calm down overly sensitive nerve cells that send pain signals throughout the body. It has been effective in treating fibro pain.
  • Savella (milnacipran): Savella is also an SNRI. While researchers aren’t exactly sure how it works, studies have shown that it helps relieve pain and reduce fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed to help people manage fibromyalgia symptoms:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants. By helping increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, these medications may help relax painful muscles and enhance the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Your doctor may prescribe one of these types of antidepressants by itself or in combination with a tricyclic antidepressant. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed in the brain. This may help ease pain and fatigue.

These medications are also sometimes prescribed for fibromyalgia:

  • Local anesthetics. Injected into especially tender areas, anesthetics can provide some temporary relief, usually for no longer than three months.
  • Anticonvulsants or seizure medications such as Neurontin are effective for reducing pain and anxiety. It is unclear how these medications work to relieve the symptoms in fibromyalgia.
  • Muscle Relaxants are occasionally prescribed to help alleviate pain associate with muscle strain in those with fibromyalgia.

Stay Active

Exercise is an important part of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Staying physically active can relieve pain, stress, and anxiety.

The key is to start slowly. Begin with stretching and low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming or other water exercises, or bicycling. Low-impact aerobic exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or Pilates can also be helpful. Prior to starting any exercise routine, or if you want to increase the intensity of your exercise, talk with your doctor.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help you get control of your illness by focusing on what you can do to improve your situation, rather than on your chronic symptoms.

A physical therapist can show you how to get temporary relief from fibromyalgia pain and stiffness, get stronger, and improve your range of motion. And she can help you make little changes, such as practicing good posture, that help prevent painful flare-ups.

Alternative Therapies

A number of popular fibromyalgia treatments fall outside the realm of mainstream medicine. In general, there hasn’t been extensive research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but anecdotal evidence suggests that some may work. Always talk with your doctor before starting any alternative treatment.

Popular alternative treatments include:

  • Acupuncture. This ancient healing practice aims to increase blood flow and production of natural painkillers with thin needles inserted into the skin at strategic points on the body. Some studies report that acupuncture may help ease pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Massage therapy. This may help reduce muscle tension, ease pain in both muscles and soft tissue,improve range of motion, and boost production of natural painkillers.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Based on spinal adjustments to reduce pain, this popular therapy may help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Supplements. A number of dietary and other supplements are touted as treatments aimed at relieving fibromyalgia symptoms. Some of the most popular for fibromyalgia include magnesium, melatonin, 5-HTP, and SAMe, which may affect serotonin levels. However, results of studies on these supplements are mixed. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Some may have side effects and could react badly with medication you are taking.
  • Herbs. As with supplements, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of herbs is mixed. A few studies have shown that St. John’s wort can be as effective as certain prescription medication for treating mild depression.

This is just a start – and you will probably need to tweak your plan as you go along, throwing out activities and treatments that don’t work for you, while grasping the positives with both hands. Remember, it may take a while to get where you want to be – it is all about experimentation (and just because something works for me does not mean it will work for you). Lastly, try not to get discouraged (Ha!) but we’re all here to support you.

Ten Hours Sleep…and more

I slept 10 hours last night!

Was it the melatonin? Was it the Pilates class (and in case you’re wondering, yes! OW again!)? Was it the afternoon meditation session? Was it babysitting Z for a couple of hours? Was it taking my Lyrica earlier? Was it a mixture of CoQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid and Eleuthera Root? Was it all my sex and fibromyalgia research? Was it because I had such a bad night’s sleep the night before?

Was it a mixture of all of the above and more?

See? That’s the problem – as FM sufferers, if we hear about something that helps another sufferer, we try it. Nothing wrong with that.*

If we hear about a multitude of things that help, we try them all. Nothing wrong with that.*

The problem arises when we try to work out what actually helps us, and what just happens to be coincidental… You won’t find me having a month in which I take melatonin, then stop to take only the Pilates class for a month, then do a month of Pilates AND melatonin, etc. and recording each result in a methodical and scientific way. I did try this for a short time – but I don’t have the time to waste. I want to feel better NOW!

If something helps some-one, I’m going to try it ASAP – don’t you? If I spent a month trying each ‘remedy’ alone, then a month doing them in pairs, then a month…any-one good at equations?

And, ultimately, it wouldn’t actually help… Somewhere along the line, I would have a night where I slept 10 hours – but this couldn’t be applied to anyone else because, as we all know, everyone’s fibromyalgia experience is different. Lucky us!

My point: don’t give up looking for what might work for you – it might be alternative and wacky, but it might work!

And don’t envy my 10 hours sleep – I woke up still wanting more!

* As long as we consult the appropriate health professional first!

P.S. Can you tell I’m trying to avoid doing the clothes washing? How many posts is that today?