If you've got pain, tiredness, and sleep trouble that go along with fibromyalgia, you may wonder if supplements can give you some relief. Medical experts are wrestling with the same question.
"While research on certain supplements is promising, it's still too early to say for sure if they help," says Kevin Fleming, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic at the Mayo Clinic.
Choosing a Supplement
Before you decide to take one, check with your doctor. And always do your homework.
"You want to make sure that the benefits are worth the cost," Fleming says. "Consider how long a supplement has been used for fibromyalgia symptoms."
He says newer supplements that have become popular in the past 3 or 4 years don't have a lengthy track record, so the long-term effects aren't known.
Some common supplements that some people use:
Vitamin D. Experts aren't sure exactly why, but they think that you can get muscle and bone pain if you don't get enough of this nutrient.
In one study, researchers gave people with fibromyalgia who had low levels of vitamin D a daily supplement or a placebo (a dummy pill) for about 6 months. Those who took the supplement had less pain and fatigue.
"If you have fibromyalgia, ask your doctor for a blood test to check your vitamin D," Fleming says. If it's low, a supplement can raise your levels. But don't take a high-dose pill without your doctor's OK. More than 4,000 IU a day can lead to health problems, such as heart and kidney damage.
SAM-e. It's a substance that's found naturally in your body. It blocks cytokines, proteins in the body that cause inflammation, Fleming says. "It may also help boost mood, which can help you better handle the pain."
Danish researchers found that taking 800 milligrams every day for 6 weeks helped cut pain, fatigue, and tenderness in people with fibromyalgia.
There are few side effects from SAM-e, but you should avoid it if you have bipolar disorder because it may worsen symptoms of mania.
Turmeric. For centuries, this spice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve arthritis pain and other conditions. Modern-day science shows that the active compound in it, called curcumin, may help fight inflammation.
Although there's little research on turmeric for fibromyalgia, it may be worth a try since curcumin works like a pain reliever in the body.
Magnesium. A common mineral found in leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains, it plays an important role in muscle and nerve function. Some experts believe supplements may help ease the muscle pain, stiffness, and cramping caused by fibromyalgia.
One small study shows that women who took 300 milligrams of the mineral a day had less tenderness and depression after 2 months.
While more research is needed, magnesium is safe for most people. The main side effects are stomach problems, like diarrhea.
5-HTP. This natural substance gets changed in your body to serotonin, a brain chemical that influences your mood, sleep, and how much pain you can put up with.
Research shows that people with fibromyalgia tend to have low levels of serotonin. One study shows that people who took 100 milligrams of 5-HTP three times a day improved their symptoms, including pain, sleep, anxiety, and stiffness, after one month.
"The effect of 5-HTP on fibromyalgia isn't yet well understood, but what we do know makes sense," Fleming says. "I wouldn't yet recommend for my patients to definitely take this supplement." But there is little risk, he says, so he wouldn't tell people who already take the supplement to stop.
Capsaicin. You might be able to reduce the amount of pain signals your nerves fire off if you spread a cream with this chemical onto your skin.
Research shows it may ease fibromyalgia in the short term. In one study, people who used it on the skin three times a day had less pain.
"Capsaicin may be helpful, but it's limited to the area where you apply the cream," Fleming says. "So if you're experiencing pain throughout your entire body, it may not be the best treatment."
Melatonin. It's a natural hormone made by your body that affects your sleep cycle. Because fibromyalgia can disrupt your shut-eye, you may get a better night's rest if you take melatonin supplements.
"Not getting enough quality sleep can worsen your pain over time," Fleming says. One small study found that fibromyalgia patients who took 3 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime had better sleep and less pain after 1 month, although the researchers say more study is needed.
What's the Best Way to Start Taking a Supplement?
Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, try one new supplement at a time.
"If you take a bunch all at once and experience a side effect, you won't be able to tell which one is to blame," Fleming says.
He recommends you try out a supplement for at least 2 to 3 weeks to make sure you don't have any reactions before you add another one.