Managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia or related ailments is not easy. So, many patients turn to complementary health approaches to pain relief and sleep problems. They may use Chinese herbs or over-the-counter supplements such as 5-HTP, melatonin, and SAM-e.
Because so many people -- not just those with fibromyalgia -- are using complementary health therapies, Congress formed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). It is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and it helps appraise complementary health treatments, including supplements, and define their effectiveness. This organization is now creating safe guidelines to help people choose appropriate complementary health approaches that may help their symptoms without making them ill.
Are Herbs and Supplements for Fibromyalgia Safe and Effective?
Herbs and supplements as fibromyalgia treatments may not work for everyone. If you decide to try an herb or supplement as a fibromyalgia treatment, be sure to talk with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.
Even though they're often labeled as "natural" products, herbs and supplements can have serious side effects and interact with other drugs you take. Unlike drugs, herbs and supplements don’t have to have FDA approval for effectiveness before they can be sold.
Some preliminary studies indicate that some medicinal herbs and natural supplements may help treat symptoms of fibromyalgia. Other studies of herbs and natural supplements, though, are less positive. If you want to take a natural approach to treating fibromyalgia, it's important to learn as much as you can about the therapies you consider. The herbs and natural supplements described in this article are just some of the complementary health approaches that may have an impact on fibromyalgia.
How Does 5-HTP Help Fibromyalgia Pain?
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a building block of serotonin. Serotonin is a powerful brain chemical, and serotonin levels are thought to play a significant role in fibromyalgia pain. Serotonin levels are also associated with depression and sleep.
For those with fibromyalgia, 5-HTP may help to increase deep sleep and reduce pain. In one study published in the Alternative Medicine Review, researchers reported that supplementation with 5-HTP may improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fibromyalgia pain. However, there are some contradictory studies that show no benefit with 5-HTP.
5-HTP is usually well tolerated. L-tryptophan and possibly 5-HTP was associated with a serious condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. Some experts believe that a contaminant in these supplements led to the condition, which causes flu-like symptoms, severe muscle pain, and burning rashes.
Can Melatonin Help Relieve Sleep Problems Associated With Fibromyalgia?
Melatonin is a natural hormone that's available as an over-the-counter supplement. It is sometimes used to induce drowsiness and improve sleep patterns. Some preliminary findings show that melatonin may be effective in treating fibromyalgia pain. Most patients with fibromyalgia have sleep problems and fatigue, and it's thought that melatonin may help relieve these symptoms.
Melatonin is generally regarded as safe with few to no side effects. Due to the risk of daytime sleepiness, though, anyone taking melatonin should use caution when driving.
Is St. John's Wort a Helpful Fibromyalgia Herb?
There's no specific evidence that St. John's wort is helpful in treating fibromyalgia. However, this herb is often used in treating depression, and depression is commonly associated with fibromyalgia.
An analysis of studies that looked at the association between the use of St. John's wort and depression found that the herb is as effective and safe as selective SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft in treating depression.
St John's wort is usually well tolerated. The most common side effects are stomach upset, skin reactions, and fatigue. St. John's wort should not be mixed with antidepressants or any other supplement unless your doctor says it's OK, because the combinations can cause illness.
Could Capsaicin Help My Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
Capsaicin is an extract of chili peppers that you put on your skin in a cream. In a small study, capsaicin was found to help ease symptoms for up to 6 weeks in people who have severe fibromyalgia. Side effects can include redness and slight stinging or burning on the skin.
How Can SAM-e Help Fibromyalgia Pain and Depression?
SAM-e is found naturally in the body. It has been studied in clinical trials over the past 20 years in people who have joint pain and osteoarthritis. These studies have found that SAM-e may be as effective in relieving pain as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. SAM-e is used as a drug in Europe, where many of these studies have been done. One U.S. study in patients with osteoarthritis found that SAM-e reduced pain and improved joint function as effectively as Celebrex, a type of NSAID.
New research has found that SAM-e may also help reduce the symptoms of depression, another common fibromyalgia symptom. SAM-e may interact with some medications for depression, so be sure to talk with your doctor about drug interactions before trying it. Other reported side effects include upset stomach, dizziness. headache, nervousness, and trouble sleeping.
Can L-carnitine Help Improve Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
The studies are limited, but it's thought that L-carnitine may give some relief from fatigue in people with fibromyalgia. Some researchers have also concluded that while more studies are warranted, L-carnitine may provide support for the muscular system of patients with fibromyalgia.
What About the Effect of Probiotics on Digestive Problems Associated With Fibromyalgia?
Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain potentially beneficial bacteria or yeasts. They may assist with the breakdown and proper absorption of food and help improve digestion. Some of the ways probiotics are used include:
- treating diarrhea
- preventing and treating infections of the female genital tract
- treating irritable bowel syndrome
Side effects of taking probiotics are usually mild and include gas or bloating.
Will Valerian Help Me Sleep Better With Fibromyalgia?
Some researchers believe valerian root may help with the sleep disturbances common with fibromyalgia. Most research suggests that taking valerian lessens the time it takes to fall asleep and boosts the quality of sleep in the majority of people with insomnia.
How About Vitamin D to Help With Fibromyalgia Pain?
Well-known for supporting bone strength and bone health, vitamin D is also being studied for its use in treating other conditions, including fibromyalgia. Some studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia who have low vitamin D levels will have less pain when using a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is generally safe in recommended amounts for most people and rarely causes side effects when taken in recommended amounts.
How Can I Know Which Herb or Natural Supplement Will Help My Fibromyalgia?
There are other herbs and natural supplements that people say have helped manage fibromyalgia symptoms. They include echinacea, black cohosh, cayenne, lavender, milk thistle, and B vitamins. Nevertheless, there are no definitive studies on the efficacy of these natural therapies.
Before taking any herb or supplement for fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects or herb-drug interactions. Herbal therapies are not recommended for pregnant women, children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. In addition, some herbs have sedative or blood-thinning qualities, which may dangerously interact with anti-inflammatory painkillers or other pain medications. Others may cause stomach upset if taken in large doses.