Tune In: How Listening to Music Improves Fibromyalgia

Listening to music can reduce pain, improve functional mobility, increase sleep quality, and reduce depression in people with fibromyalgia.

How Listening to music improves fibromyalgia

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we may not all like the same music, but we all like music. Our favourite artists help us celebrate the good times, express our emotions in the difficult times, and while away the time in between.

I’ve seen many article headlines, written by authors with chronic illnesses, acknowledging the role that music has played in helping them get through flare-ups, and other health problems. I’m not going to lie though, around the time that I was diagnosed, I mostly stopped listening to music on my own. You know how a song can carry you back to a moment in your past, like a soundtrack to your memories? Well, I didn’t want to be transported back to a time when I was healthy and free, by listening now to the music I played then. I also didn’t feel like finding new music. I’m not sure why, except that I didn’t feel that certain joie de vivre it takes to explore new things in life.

Research on the Impact of Music on Fibromyalgia

Then, I came across a study that made me rethink this choice: Listening To Music Can Reduce Chronic Pain And Depression By Up To A Quarter.[1] Researchers found that when people with chronic pain listen to music for an hour a day, they experienced up to a 21% reduction in pain and a 25% reduction in depression. Another important finding was that listening to music made participants feel less disabled by their condition and more in control of their pain. It did not appear to matter whether individuals listened to their favourite music or relaxing music selected by the researchers.

I decided to do some further research to find out whether these findings applied to fibromyalgia. It seems that I wasn’t alone in asking that question. Several studies have investigated the impact of music on fibromyalgia.

A recent study looked at whether listening to a relaxing water and wave sound CD could reduce pain in individuals with fibromyalgia. There was a significant reduction in pain levels among participants who listened to the CD over a two week period, compared to a control group who did not listen to music at all. The study concluded by recommending music therapy for pain management in patients with fibromyalgia.[2] That’s an exciting finding, but since I don’t have access to the exact CD used in the study, how can I take advantage of these findings? I decided to delve a little bit deeper.

A second study investigated whether listening to your favourite music can reduce your pain levels if you live with fibromyalgia. One caveat of this study is that the self-chosen music was relaxing and pleasant. The study found that pain did indeed decrease after listening to music, becoming less intense and less unpleasant.[3] In addition, participants who listened to music also experienced improvements in their functional mobility, measured by the ease of getting out of a chair and walking. This effect lasted even after the music stopped. This suggests that music might be able to help individuals with fibromyalgia perform everyday activities more easily because of its pain relieving effects! Patients in the control group, who listened to “pink noise” (the sound of static) did not experience pain reduction.

But pain isn’t the only unwelcome fibromyalgia symptom. What about sleep? Listening to music designed specifically to improve sleep was found to be effective in a small study of patients with fibromyalgia. After four weeks of listening to the music at bedtime, individuals reported significant improvements in sleep quality.[4] The sleep music was embedded with delta sound waves, which pulsate within specific frequencies of brain wave activity that are associated with deep sleep (0.25-4 hz). Delta brain waves, which are the slowest type of brain wave, are associated with deep sleep. Listening to delta sound waves is thought to stimulate the production of delta waves in your brain. While this may sound like high tech science, unavailable to the average patient, finding this music is as simple as searching for “sleep music delta waves” in YouTube. Personally I have found this really valuable for falling asleep, getting back to sleep and resting during the day.

Why Music Improves Fibromyalgia Symptoms

The nerd in me wanted to know why music seems to have this pain relieving effect.[5] One possibility is that music is an effective distraction from pain (research has found that distraction activities, like memory tests, can help reduce pain). Listening to music is associated with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is known to have a role in the body’s natural pain relieving mechanisms. Music also produces relaxation, which in turn can help reduce pain levels.

Researchers of this last study believe it is important to listen to music you know and enjoy, because familiarity is helpful for sustaining attention. When we pay attention, where more likely to experience the benefits of listening to music. In another case of science proving the obvious, studies have shown that music has a powerful effect on emotions and mood, and that emotions and mood can affect pain. If you enjoy the music you are listening to, it may be more likely to improve your pain levels.

Needless to say, I’ve decided to put my headphones back on.

How Listening to Music Improves Fibromyalgia Symptoms

References:

[1] Blackwell Publishing. (2006, May 24). Listening To Music Can Reduce Chronic Pain And Depression By Up To A Quarter ” ScienceDaily. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060524123803.htm>

[2] Balcı, Güler & Babadağ, Burcu & Ozkaraman, Ayse & Yildiz, Pinar & Musmul, Ahmet & Korkmaz, C. (2015). Effects of music on pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Clinical Rheumatology. 35. DOI 10.1007/s10067-015-3046-3.

[3] Garza-Villarreal EA, Wilson AD, Vase L, Brattico E, Barrios FA, Jensen TS, Romero-Romo JI and Vuust P (2014) Music reduces pain and increases functional mobility in fibromyalgiaFront. Psychol5:90. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00090

[4][4] Picard, L. M., Bartel, L. R., Gordon, A. S., Cepo, D., Wu, Q., & Pink, L. R. (2014). Music as a sleep aid in fibromyalgia. Pain Research & Management : The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society19(2), 97–101.

[5] Garza-Villarreal EA et al. (2014)

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Convenience Isn’t Healthy: Chronic Illness and Diet

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia three years ago, my diet was all about convenience. I came to the conclusion that eating healthily was just a luxury that I could no longer have. I tried to generally to choose healthier convenience food options. For example, a whole-grain cereal instead of refined grain, or a low-fat frozen lasagna instead of full-fat. A typical day looked like this:

Breakfast: Multigrain Cheerios with a banana (251 Calories)

Snack: Yogurt (115 Calories)

Lunch: sandwich with deli meat, granola bar, carrot sticks (348 Calories)

Snack: Trail mix (352 Calories)

Dinner: Spaghetti (store bought pasta sauce) (344 Calories)

Snack: Slice of Toast (69)

Total: 1538 Calories (Calculated at Super Tracker www.supertracker.usda.gov)

So, calorie-wise not so bad. However, as any nutritionist can tell you, calories are only a small part of the nutrition story. If I ate 1500 calories in chocolate, it would only be delicious, not healthful.

What was wrong with my diet?

  • Grain heavy: I had a total of 240 g of grains, which is over the USDA recommendation of 170g or 6 oz for a woman my age. While grains provide benefits like fiber, eating too much of this food group can lead to weight gain.
  • Protein policy: in total, 16% of my food intake was protein. While this is within the acceptable range set by the USDA, dieticians recommend your protein daily allowance should be calculated using this formula: 0.8 x weight in kg (easily converted using any online converter). For me, this comes to 52 g per day. Protein should be distributed between all meals to help sustain energy. In my case, breakfast and dinner were primarily carb based. http://www.livestrong.com/article/343966-how-to-calculate-protein-rda/
  • Sugar high: in total, I had over 90 g of sugar! The World Health Organization recommends that less than 10% of your daily energy consumption should come from sugar, with added health benefits coming from less than 5%, or approximately 25 g. My sugar total was almost 4 times that much! This is bad news for my blood sugar levels and weight management, never mind long-term health consequences. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
  • Nutrition deficient: I had less than four servings of fruits and vegetables (banana, carrots, raisins, tomato sauce). This means I was getting an inadequate amount of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and losing out on the many other benefits of these healthy foods such as antioxidants and fiber. Furthermore, the servings I did have were primarily starchy vegetables or high glycemic fruits, which only added to my blood sugar concerns and weight gain.

Overall, I gained 20 pounds in a year and went up a dress size. I was also permanently fatigued. For anyone coping with chronic illness, sustained energy is a significant challenge. Balancing macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat – along with factors such as fiber and sugar, is important for preventing spikes in blood sugar that inevitably lead to energy crashes. According to the Mayo Clinic, based on a 2000 calorie/day diet, the total daily allowances should be:

 

Nutrient Percentage Grams
Carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, grains) 45-65% 225-325
Fiber   Female: 22-28; Male 28-34
Sugar   Female: 24g; Male: 36
Protein 10-35% 50-175
Fat 20-35% 44-78
Saturated Fat 7-10% 16-22

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-eat-healthy/art-20046590?pg=1

Maximizing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is also key healthy eating. Adequate intake of nutrients like Iron and B vitamins have been linked to improved energy levels, while others like Vitamin D and Magnesium help reduce chronic pain. In addition, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia have been linked to high rates of oxidation, so eating antioxidants is important to counteract these effects.

The USDA recommends at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day for women and 3 cups for men, and 1 ½ cups of fruit per day for women and 2 cups for men. The USDA recommendations have been critiqued, which is another post altogether, but provide guidelines that are much healthier than the Standard American Diet www.choosemyplate.gov.

Nondrug, Trigger Point and Alternative Fibromyalgia Treatment

“The good news is that many therapies can ease this type of muscle pain, and for the most part, their side effects are minimal. Various movement therapies and nourishing supplements may reduce chances that trigger points will develop in the first place. Consider trying out a variety of the alternative treatment options described below, based on your needs.” Fabulous reference for non-drug options!

Nondrug, Trigger Point and Alternative Fibromyalgia Treatment.

Natural Treatments for Fibromyalgia: Why you should Try D-Ribose

Natural Treatments for Fibromyalgia: Why you should Try D-RiboseThe first part of my natural treatment protocol for FM was focused on healing my digestive tract (which I described in a previous post). The second phase is to begin incorporating d-ribose.

D-ribose is a sugar produced in the body and taken to alleviate fatigue and pain in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s what the research says about this supplement.

The biggest advocate for d-ribose is Dr. Teitelbaum, a prominent doctor in the field of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia medicine. He has developed a program for treating both conditions which includes d-ribose as a core component. Dr. Teitelbaum contends that CFS/FMS is caused by an “energy crisis” in the body, leading to a cascade of different symptoms like fatigue, pain, sleep disturbance, among others. One root cause of the energy problem, he argues, is that the ability of the mitochondria in your cells to generate energy is suppressed. Mitochondria produce the energy, called ATP, used by your cells to carry out all their functions. D-ribose is essential to the production of ATP. Therefore, taking additional D-ribose should help to support mitochondrial function and improve energy output in fatigued patients. (If you are interested in learning more, check out a much longer discussion found on Dr. Teitelbaum’s website here).

The evidence? Dr. Teitelbaum has authored a few pilot studies that have demonstrated some promising results. The most recent study was an open-label study published in 2012. In this multicenter study, 257 patients diagnosed with CFS/FMS were given d-ribose (5 g three times daily for three weeks). Patient symptoms were assessed in terms of subjective change in energy, sleep quality, mental clarity, pain level, and global sense of well-being, and compared to their pre-study baseline. Significant improvements were found; specifically a 61.3% increase in energy, 37% increase in general well-being, 29% improvement in sleep, 30% improvement in mental clarity, 15.6% decrease in pain.

Sounds great, right? There are some limitations to the study. First of all, there was no placebo group so we don’t have a sense of how much a placebo effect might have impacted the results. Secondly, it was quite a short study so long term effects were not captured in the results. Third, I always feel a bit suspicious of studies that lump chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia together because a lot of recent research has demonstrated different causes for the two conditions and mixing them together might conflate the results.

Personally, I have found D-ribose a helpful aid to improving my energy. I would say that it improves my energy by 15-20%. I take 5mg in the morning, and sometimes an additional 5mg in the afternoon. When I stopped taking it, I noticed a worsening of my afternoon brain fog and fatigue. I didn’t notice a worsening of pain or sleep however. I also appreciate that it is easy to take –  just mix a spoonful with a glass of swater- instead of yet another pill. It is also relatively inexpensive.

As with everything fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue related, it is an individual experience, so you have to try it for yourself. In the case of d-ribose, I think it is definitely worth a try!

Check out other great posts on the Fibro Friday Linkup!

References

Teitelbaum JE, et al. “Treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia with D-ribose – An open-label, multicenter study.” The Open Pain Journal. 2012, 5,32-37