Heal Thyself: Spotlight on Fibromyalgia
Heal Thyself: Spotlight on Fibromyalgia
p. 31, Feb 2005, Issue 74, Alternative Medicine magazine
An unusual mix of nutrients offers hope to people with this
frustrating and painful illness.
By Jennifer Arnold
No one ever told Pamela Hirth that her aches and pains were
all in her head, but she could tell that's what they were
thinking. "I could see the looks on their faces," says the
48-year-old resident of Orange, Connecticut. And in her
visits to doctor after doctor, she got nowhere trying to
pinpoint the cause of her fatigue, insomnia, and the
constant pain in her arms and legs. So it was a relief when
a rheumatologist finally gave her condition a name:
But even with the diagnosis, things didn't get much better
for Hirth, a self-employed clothing designer and the mother
of three boys. The rheumatologist prescribed an
antidepressant, which made her feel spaced out. He
recommended exercise, which helped somewhat but was hard to
keep up with when she was so exhausted and achy. And a
prescription anti-inflammatory drug helped cover up the
pain, Hirth says, but didn't make it go away.
Then a friend convinced her to make an appointment with
David Katz, a physician and director of the Integrative
Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut.
She figured she had nothing to lose, but she wasn't
terribly optimistic. After five years of dead ends, she
thought she had heard it all.
But after an initial consultation, Katz recommended a
treatment Hirth hadn't heard of-intravenous micronutrient
therapy, or IVMT. Katz didn't promise anything, but he said
that other fibromyalgia patients had gotten good results
from the treatment. Hirth scheduled an appointment for the
"The results were almost instantaneous," says Hirth. The
next day, she got out of bed and began her morning routine
-- a time when her fibromyalgia pain was usually at its
worst. But this morning was different. "I'm sitting there
drinking my coffee and suddenly I realize I'm not in pain,"
she says. "It was like a miracle."
Right now as many as eight million people in the United
States would give anything to experience such a miracle,
since they, too, suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic
condition marked by pain, aches, stiffness, disturbed
sleep, and fatigue. Like Hirth, many spend years going from
one doctor to another before getting a diagnosis, and even
then find that conventional medicine has little to offer.
No one knows for sure what causes fibromyalgia; at best,
treatment involves a mix of medications and lifestyle
changes that require lots of trial and error -- and don't
But for the past 20 years or so, a small but growing number
of alternative clinics across the country have been using
IVMT with impressive results. Katz, a conventionally
trained internist, is a relative newcomer; in the past two
and a half years, he estimates he's treated 60 fibromyalgia
patients with IVMT. But he's also gathered data on several
thousand fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue sufferers who've
been treated at clinics across the country. Together, the
findings paint a promising picture.
Overall, Katz has found that about 80 percent of patients
get good results from IVMT, and very few experience any
side effects. Among his patients, he says, about one in
five feels better after the very first treatment, as Hirth
did. "Others improve more gradually, reporting changes
after four or five treatments," he says.
So what exactly is IVMT? The "MT" stands for micronutrient
therapy, in this case a high-dose combination of B-complex
vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium. The formula is
sometimes referred to as "Myers' cocktail," after the late
John Myers, a Baltimore doctor who pioneered the therapy in
the 1960s and 70s as a treatment for fatigue, depression,
and even chest pain.
But why not just pop supplements? That's where the IV part
comes in: When the nutrients are delivered through a slow
intravenous drip, the patient can absorb much higher
concentrations than she'd get from an oral dose.
No one knows exactly how Myers came up with the specific
combination of nutrients. He never published or publicized
his work, but he did have a small following of loyal
patients who swore by the therapy. After Myers' death in
1984, some of these patients appealed to Alan Gaby, an
alternative-minded physician in Baltimore. Gaby did some
research, and began administering his own version of the
cocktail. After seeing results in many patients, he began
spreading the word.
The therapy isn't for everyone; Katz doesn't recommend it
for people with blood disorders such as hemophilia, kidney
disease, or congestive heart failure. (In different ways,
people with each of these conditions could react negatively
to either IV administration or excess fluid volume in the
But in most cases, IVMT seems safe and effective. Patients
may feel a slight pinch and then a warm sensation in their
arm at the IV site, but other than that the therapy is
painless and takes only about ten to 15 minutes.
Most practitioners recommend a series of eight weekly
treatments, followed by a break to assess results. "A lot
of patients come back within a month, saying their symptoms
are starting to recur," says Katz. While IVMT doesn't make
the pain go away forever, even short-term relief -- from a
therapy patients can repeat if they need to -- is welcome
to people who've been suffering for years.
So why aren't more people using it? Although IVMT has been
around for decades, very little research has been published
on it, and it's remained just under the radar. Few
physicians -- and even fewer patients -- have heard of it.
(Katz didn't learn of it until a naturopath who was a
resident on his staff brought it to his attention.) After
conducting the survey, reading the limited literature, and
contemplating the lack of options for his fibromyalgia
patients, he decided to give it a go.
"When I've exhausted my ability to treat patients based on
randomized trials, and they're still in pain, what do I do
then?" asks Katz. "Human needs extend beyond the edge of
the evidence, and fibromyalgia is a perfect example."
Even doctors who have been using IVMT for years can't fully
explain why it works. Some scientists believe the high
concentrations of micronutrients help strengthen the immune
system, reduce free radical damage, improve cellular
membrane quality, or boost cellular energy production.
Katz has his own hypothesis: He believes that the nutrients
help blood vessels dilate more effectively, boosting blood
flow to muscles. Without adequate blood, muscles are
starved for oxygen, and carbon dioxide and other potential
toxins can build up in the tissues, causing pain.
"It fits what we know," says Katz. "We know that physical
activity helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, and exercise
also increases blood flow." This theory may also help
explain why fibromyalgia occurs more often in women than in
men. Since women have narrower blood vessels than men, even
a slight deterioration in vessel tone could reduce blood
flow to the muscles.
While the reputation of IVMT is growing, it can still be
difficult to find an experienced practitioner. Katz
recommends contacting integrative medicine centers in your
area to find local providers (see "Finding IVMT Near You,"
page 32, for more information). If you get no reaction to
"IVMT," ask again using the term "Myers' Cocktail"; not all
clinics are familiar with both names.
"IVMT is governed by state requirements on who can do IV
therapy," said Katz. "In some states naturopathic
physicians can do it; in some they can't." Expect to pay
$15 to $100 per session; in some cases, insurance will
cover a portion of the cost.
The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby,
Connecticut, is currently involved in an IVMT study
sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine. (The research, which began in June
2004, will conclude in September 2005.) That may provide
more answers -- but for now, IVMT patients like Hirth are
just happy with the improvements they're seeing.
These days, Hirth visits the clinic every ten days or so
for a treatment. Even when she had to skip a few weeks
because of travel, she found that her symptoms were less
severe than before. "I have more endurance and I can work
longer without getting tired," she says. Her pain is
reduced, she's sleeping better, and she has more energy
throughout the day. "In the mornings I can just get up and
go," she says. "I've got my life back."
Jennifer Arnold, a writer in Towson, Md., wrote "How to
Beat the Bean Counters" in the January issue.
Finding IVMT Near You
Because this therapy is still under the radar, it can be
hard to find. Here are some of the clinics that offer it:
The Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in
Derby, Conn.; imc-griffin.org; 203.732.1370
Tahoma Clinic, Renton, Wash.; tahoma-clinic.com;
425.264.0059. (This clinic offers IVMT but only when
recommended by a clinic physician.)
The Natural Health Medical Clinic, Seattle; drruhland.com;
Helios Integrated Medicine, Boulder, Colo.; 303.499.9224;
WholeHealth New England, Arlington, Mass.; 781.641.1901;
Plymouth, Mass.; 508.830.1201; wholehealthne.com