Pain Supplements From A to Z

Are you thinking about taking supplements to try to ease aches that seem to stick around? There are some that may help.

First, talk with your doctor about what works, what the side effects may be, how long you can use them, and whether it will affect any medicines you take.

Remember, there are many different causes of pain. So the supplement you try for arthritis might not be the same one you would take for pain caused by another condition or injury.

If you decide to try a supplement, take one at a time so you know how it affects you. Follow the doses on the label, and give it at least a few weeks to see if it works. Also, keep your healthy diet going, since food is the best source of nutrients.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

This antioxidant -- found in foods such as broccoli, spinach, kidney, and liver -- may help with some types of nerve pain. Some people with nerve pain take alpha-lipoic acid supplements daily, but ask your doctor before you start using it. People with diabetes or low blood sugar should use this supplement with caution because it can lower blood sugar levels.

Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)

This supplement is a vegetable extract made from the oils of avocados and soybeans. Studies show that it may help prevent cartilage from breaking down and provide relief from the pain of osteoarthritis.

Borage Seed Oil

This contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid that may help relieve swollen and tender joints.

There can be side effects, including an upset stomach, diarrhea, or bloating. It can affect the liver and may make liver problems worse. Borage seed oil may also make bleeding more likely, especially if you take aspirin or blood thinners.

Carnitine

This comes from amino acids that our bodies make naturally. Studies show that carnitine supplements may help relieve diabetic neuropathy and other types of nerve pain. Meat, fish, and milk are also good sources of carnitine.

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Cat's Claw

It's made from the bark of an Amazon vine, and some small studies show that it may slightly ease swollen joints and pain.

It’s rare, but cat’s claw may cause dizziness, headaches, and vomiting. It may also make it harder to manage blood pressure during or after surgery, so tell your doctor if you take it.

Pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant should not take it.

Fish Oil

Its omega-3s may help lower inflammation, morning stiffness, and overall pain. Small studies show it may also ease migraine symptoms.

Good sources include fatty fish like salmon and herring. You can also get it from fish oil supplements.

Fish oil may make bleeding more likely in some people. Don't take it if you take aspirin or blood thinners like warfarin unless your doctor keeps a close watch on how you’re doing.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These two things are found in normal cartilage. Many people with osteoarthritis take them for pain. The research on how well they work is mixed, though. You can ask your doctor what he recommends.

MSM

Its full name is methylsulfonylmethane. It comes from sulfur and is found in living things, including fruits, vegetables, and people. No large studies of MSM have been done, but some small studies of people with knee osteoarthritis found it reduced pain and helped them move better.

MSM can cause nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and an upset stomach. You shouldn’t use it if you take blood thinner medicines like aspirin or warfarin.

SAM-e

This is found naturally in the body. Some studies show it may help treat the pain, stiffness, and swelling of osteoarthritis. Some small studies show it may also help fibromyalgia symptoms. SAM-e can cause an upset stomach and headaches. It can also affect some meds and may make Parkinson's disease worse.

Vitamin B12

If you have very low levels of this vitamin -- found in many animal products and fortified foods -- it can worsen or even cause some types of nerve pain.

Older adults, vegans (people who eat no animal products at all), and those with certain health conditions are more likely to not get enough B12. Some medicines also make it harder to your body to absorb this vitamin.

If you think you might be low in it, ask your doctor to check.

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Vitamin D

While many people have low levels of it, some research shows that vitamin D supplements may help ease pain in people with nerve damage caused by diabetes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on October 16, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids."

Arthritis Foundation: "Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)," "Cat's Claw," "Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine Supplements in Osteoarthritis," "Fish Oil," "MSM,"  "Sam-e."

Basit, A. BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, 2016.

Bell, D. Case Reports in Endocrinology, 2012.

Clements, R. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1980.

FamilyDoctor.org: "Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know."

Harel, Z. The Journal of Adolescent Health, August 2002.

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Dietary Supplements Commonly Used by Arthritis Patients: What the Physician Needs to Know."

Kremer, J. Arthritis and Rheumatism, August 1995.

Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: "Lipoic Acid."

Merck Manual: "Vitamin B12."

Minjhout, G. The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, April 2010.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Cat's Claw."

National Headache Foundation: "Fish Oil."

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Carnitine," "Frequently Asked Questions," "Vitamin B12."

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: "Borage."

Packer, L. Drug Metabolism Reviews, May 1998.

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