One 2009 study looked at the vitamin D levels of people with chronic pain who were using opioid painkillers. Those who had a deficiency of vitamin D needed almost twice as high a dose of medication to control their pain.
Edwards now checks vitamin D levels in many of her patients with chronic pain. If they're lower than 50 to 70 nanograms/milliliter, she might recommend a supplement for natural pain relief.
"Personally, I've seen miracles," she says. "I've found that it can have a huge benefit in the symptoms of people with fibromyalgia." She reports that it's helpful with other kinds of chronic pain too, like bone and joint pain.
Capsaicin. Capsaicin comes from chili peppers and may soothe pain when applied to the skin. "Topical capsaicin seems to be helpful for all sorts of pain," says Edwards. Studies have found it can help relieve pain from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, psoriasis, shingles, and diabetic neuropathy. It may also offer natural pain relief for back pain, fibromyalgia pain, and headaches. Beware: Your pain may worsen for a few days before it improves when you use capsaicin. And there's a risk of skin irritation. Wash your hands very well after applying capsaicin. Don't touch your eyes or other sensitive areas when you have traces of capsaicin on your hands.
Glucosamine sulfate. "When it comes to joint pain, I think glucosamine supplements have some of the best data out there," says Leopold. There's especially strong evidence that this pain supplement can help relieve osteoarthritis pain in the knee. Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin, which could have an additional benefit.
Leopold says that the studies suggest that glucosamine not only eases pain, but also slows the progression of osteoarthritis.
SAMe. There's good evidence that SAMe offers natural pain relief to people with osteoarthritis. Some studies have found that it's about as effective as prescription painkillers like Celebrex. But there's a catch to this pain supplement: the cost.
"SAMe can run $80-$120 a month," says Edwards, "so I tend not to use it very much. I can usually get results that are just as good with less expensive treatments."
Magnesium. The evidence is mixed. But some studies have found that magnesium supplements can help with pain caused by conditions like migraines, muscle spasms, and fibromyalgia. Some experts speculate that magnesium deficiency could be a widespread problem.
"It's really easy to be magnesium deficient," says Edwards, who recommends magnesium supplements for her chronic pain patients. "The foods that are highest in magnesium are things like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Most of us just don't eat those very often." Regularly drinking alcohol can also deplete your magnesium levels.
Acetyl-L-carnitine. Several studies have found that the nutrient acetyl-L-carnitine can ease nerve pain from diabetes. This pain supplement also seems to regenerate damaged nerves and, over time, restore sensitivity.