Herbs and Supplements for Fibromyalgia

Managing the symptoms of FM or related ailments is not easy. So, many patients turn to alternative therapies for relief of pain and sleep problems. They may use Chinese herbs or over-the-counter supplements such as 5-HTPmelatonin, and SAM-e.

200px-US-NIH-NCCAM-Logo.svgBecause so many people — not just those with FM — are using alternative therapies, Congress has formed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). It is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and it helps appraise alternative treatments, including supplements, and define their effectiveness. This organization is now creating safe guidelines to help people choose appropriate alternative therapies that may help their symptoms without making them ill.

Are Herbs and Supplements for FM Safe and Effective?

Some preliminary studies indicate that some medicinal herbs and natural supplements may help treat symptoms of FM. Other studies of herbs and natural supplements, though, are less positive. If you want to take a natural approach to treating FM, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the therapies you consider. The herbs and natural supplements described here are just some of the alternative therapies that may have an impact on FM.

How Does 5-HTP Help FM Pain?

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a building block of serotonin. Serotonin is a powerful brain chemical, and serotonin levels play a significant role in FM pain. Serotonin levels are also associated with depression and sleep.

For those with FM, 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, anxietyinsomnia, and FM pains. However, there are some contradictory studies that show no benefit with 5-HTP.

5-HTP is usually well tolerated. But in the late 1980s, the supplement was associated with a serious condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. It’s thought that a contaminant in 5-HTP led to the condition, which causes flu-like symptoms, severe muscle pain, and burning rashes.

141. sleep deprivationCan Melatonin Help Relieve Sleep Problems Associated With FM?

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 FM pain. Most patients with FM 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 until they know how it affects them.

Is St. John’s Wort a Helpful FM Herb?

There’s no specific evidence that St. John’s wort is helpful in treating FM. However, this herb is often used in treating depression, and depression is commonly associated with FM.

There are several studies that show St. John’s wort is more effective than placebo and as effective as older antidepressants called tricyclics in the short-term treatment of mild or moderate depression. Other studies show St. John’s wort is as effective 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 and can cause interactions with many types of drugs. If you’re on medication, check with your doctor before taking St. John’s wort or any supplement. In addition, be careful about taking St. John’s wort with other drugs, including antidepressants, as it could make you ill.

How Can SAM-e Help FM Pain and Depression?

289. pain in meIt’s not known exactly how SAM-e works in the body. Some feel this natural supplement increases levels of serotonin and dopamine, two brain neurotransmitters. Although some researchers believe that SAM-e may alter mood and increase restful sleep, current studies do not appear to show any benefit of SAM-e over placebo in reducing the number of tender points or in alleviating depression with FM. Additional study is needed to confirm these findings.

Can L-carnitine Help Improve FM Symptoms?

The studies are limited, but it’s thought that L-carnitine may give some pain relief and treat other symptoms in people with FM. In one study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of L-carnitine in 102 patients with FM. Results showed significantly greater symptom improvements in the group that took L-carnitine than in the group that took a placebo. The researchers concluded that while more studies are warranted, L-carnitine may provide pain relief and improvement in the general and mental health of patients with FM.

What About the Effect of Probiotics on Digestive Problems Associated With FM?

poo-2Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain potentially beneficial bacteria or yeasts. They may assist with the breakdown and proper absorption of food and help improve digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome — a common symptom of FM. Some of the ways probiotics are used include:

  • treating diarrhea
  • preventing and treating infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract
  • treating irritable bowel syndrome

Side effects of taking probiotics are usually mild and include gas or bloating.

There are other herbs and natural supplements that people say have helped manage FM 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.

Fuzzy shot of pharmacy supplements shelf.How Can I Know Which Herb or Natural Supplement Will Help my FM?

***Before taking any herb or supplement for FM, 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.

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There Ain’t No Magic Pill

“There’s no magic pill…to fix their fibromyalgia,” says Mark J. Pellegrino, MD, of Ohio Pain and Rehabilitation Specialists and author of 13 books on fibromyalgia. “A balanced approach is important.”

And many experts agree the best treatment for fibromyalgia is a multifaceted approach that combines medication with lifestyle changes and alternative treatments.

But what about if you’re new to all of this? Where do you even start?

A treatment plan gives structure to getting from here to there. Be realistic and (yes, you’re already probably sick of hearing this already) small steps! A treatment plan is different from devising goals because of its flexibility and internal exploration. In most clinical settings, a treatment plan review is done quarterly or even monthly. After each review, the plan is rewritten to meet current needs.

Start With a Diagnosis

There are no lab tests for fibromyalgia. Doctors diagnose it by considering criteria such as how long you’ve had pain and how widespread it is, and by ruling out other causes. This can be a long and complicated process because the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be caused by other conditions. So it’s best to see a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia – which can be easier said than done, sometimes!

Learn About Fibromyalgia Medications – You are YOUR Best Advocate!

Once you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Several types of medicines are used to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and fatigue.

Three medications are FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia:

  • Cymbalta (duloxetine): a type of antidepressant called a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Researchers aren’t sure how Cymbalta works in fibromyalgia, but they think that increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine help control and reduce feelings of pain.
  • Lyrica (pregabalin): Lyrica is a nerve pain and epilepsy drug. In people with fibromyalgia, it may help calm down overly sensitive nerve cells that send pain signals throughout the body. It has been effective in treating fibro pain.
  • Savella (milnacipran): Savella is also an SNRI. While researchers aren’t exactly sure how it works, studies have shown that it helps relieve pain and reduce fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed to help people manage fibromyalgia symptoms:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants. By helping increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, these medications may help relax painful muscles and enhance the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Your doctor may prescribe one of these types of antidepressants by itself or in combination with a tricyclic antidepressant. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed in the brain. This may help ease pain and fatigue.

These medications are also sometimes prescribed for fibromyalgia:

  • Local anesthetics. Injected into especially tender areas, anesthetics can provide some temporary relief, usually for no longer than three months.
  • Anticonvulsants or seizure medications such as Neurontin are effective for reducing pain and anxiety. It is unclear how these medications work to relieve the symptoms in fibromyalgia.
  • Muscle Relaxants are occasionally prescribed to help alleviate pain associate with muscle strain in those with fibromyalgia.

Stay Active

Exercise is an important part of managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Staying physically active can relieve pain, stress, and anxiety.

The key is to start slowly. Begin with stretching and low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming or other water exercises, or bicycling. Low-impact aerobic exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or Pilates can also be helpful. Prior to starting any exercise routine, or if you want to increase the intensity of your exercise, talk with your doctor.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help you get control of your illness by focusing on what you can do to improve your situation, rather than on your chronic symptoms.

A physical therapist can show you how to get temporary relief from fibromyalgia pain and stiffness, get stronger, and improve your range of motion. And she can help you make little changes, such as practicing good posture, that help prevent painful flare-ups.

Alternative Therapies

A number of popular fibromyalgia treatments fall outside the realm of mainstream medicine. In general, there hasn’t been extensive research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but anecdotal evidence suggests that some may work. Always talk with your doctor before starting any alternative treatment.

Popular alternative treatments include:

  • Acupuncture. This ancient healing practice aims to increase blood flow and production of natural painkillers with thin needles inserted into the skin at strategic points on the body. Some studies report that acupuncture may help ease pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Massage therapy. This may help reduce muscle tension, ease pain in both muscles and soft tissue,improve range of motion, and boost production of natural painkillers.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Based on spinal adjustments to reduce pain, this popular therapy may help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Supplements. A number of dietary and other supplements are touted as treatments aimed at relieving fibromyalgia symptoms. Some of the most popular for fibromyalgia include magnesium, melatonin, 5-HTP, and SAMe, which may affect serotonin levels. However, results of studies on these supplements are mixed. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Some may have side effects and could react badly with medication you are taking.
  • Herbs. As with supplements, scientific evidence for the effectiveness of herbs is mixed. A few studies have shown that St. John’s wort can be as effective as certain prescription medication for treating mild depression.

This is just a start – and you will probably need to tweak your plan as you go along, throwing out activities and treatments that don’t work for you, while grasping the positives with both hands. Remember, it may take a while to get where you want to be – it is all about experimentation (and just because something works for me does not mean it will work for you).

If you’d like to see iHerb’s selection of supplements, click here. Use Coupon Code LHJ194 to get $10 off any first time order over $40 or $5 off any first time order under $40.

My Life has the Tendency to Fall Apart When I’m Awake

Do you think Ernest Hemingway (author of the quote in the title) had FM?

As we all know, even if we are lucky enough to sleep 10 hours a night, we are still fatigued and exhausted.

Research shows that with FM, there is an automatic arousal in the brain during sleep. Frequent disruptions prevent the important restorative processes from occurring. Growth hormone is mostly produced during sleep. Without restorative sleep and the surge of growth hormone, muscles may not heal and neurotransmitters (like the mood chemical serotonin) are not replenished. The lack of a good night’s sleep makes people with FM wake up feeling tired and fatigued.

The result: The body can’t recuperate from the day’s stresses – all of which overwhelms the system, creating a greater sensitivity to pain. Widespread pain, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and memory difficulties are all symptoms of FM (just in case you hadn’t noticed!).

Insomnia takes many forms — trouble falling asleep, waking up often during the night, having trouble going back to sleep, and waking up too early in the morning. Research shows that smoothing out those sleep problems – and helping people get the deep sleep their bodies need – helps fibromyalgia pain improve significantly.

But how?

Medications can help enhance sleep and relieve pain. But doctors also advocate lifestyle changes to help sleep come naturally:

  • Enjoy a soothing (warm) bath in the evening.
  • Brush your body with a loofah or long-handled brush in the bath.
  • Ease painful tender points with a self-massage device (like a tennis ball).
  • Do yoga and stretching exercises to relax.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Meditate to tame intrusive thoughts and tension.
  • Sleep in a darkened room. Try an eye mask if necessary.
  • Keep the room as quiet as possible (or use a white-noise machine).
  • Make sure the room temperature is comfortable.
  • Avoid foods that contain caffeine, including teas, colas, and chocolate.

Therapies to Treat Insomnia When You Have Fibromyalgia

If you’re still having sleep problems, several therapies can help, including biofeedback, relaxation training, stress reduction, and cognitive therapy. A psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders can discuss these therapies with you. The therapies help people handle stress better, which helps control FM episodes, When you’re stressed out, FM tends to flare and you feel worse – that’s when you’re most likely to have insomnia, too.

Medications can also help ease FM pain at night, or directly treat insomnia. Medications to ease pain and improve sleep include certain types of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, prescription pain relievers, and sleep aids.

BUT, as we kept getting told (a lot!), no one therapy will control FM pain 100 per cent. So start to mix it up and use all the tools that are beginning to come to light.

Fibro Fog Explained?

Pain and accompanying depression and anxiety might be reasons for the lack of working memory in patients with FM, according to a recent study.1

On average, the patients with FM displayed inferior performance compared with controls based on accuracy and response time. These differences were statistically significant, due to a lot of medical gobbledygook (as follows, if you can understand it):

During n-back tasks, researchers utilized functional MRI to study activated and deactivated brain regions. The researchers also found significant relationships between the FM group and the controls when using the Beck depression inventory and Beck anxiety inventory as covariates (P<.01 for both).

Between-group analyses showed that within the working memory network, the inferior parietal cortex was associated with pain ratings that were mild (r=0.309, P=.049) and moderate (r=0.331, P=.034). Two-sample between-group analysis showed significantly higher activation in the controls than the FM group in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), the thalamus, middle temporal cortex and inferior parietal cortex (P<.05, FDR-corrected for multiple comparisons at the voxel level). The comparison also showed the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right VLPFC and right inferior parietal cortex were related to depression and anxiety ratings.

Basically, FM patients showed reduced activation in several brain regions which may be associated with impairments in maintenance and manipulation of working memory. The working memory deficit may result from both pain itself and depression and anxiety associated with pain.

 

 

  1. Forty-one women were enrolled in the study — 19 with FM and 22 healthy participants. The mean ages of the patients were 38.73 years and 38.27 years, respectively. The control group included volunteers who were screened for chronic widespread pain, generalized weakness, sleep disturbance and specific tender points. The FM patients were recruited from outpatient rheumatic clinics at five hospitals in South Korea. The mean disease duration for FM was 39.41 months, and those patients showed average tender points of 13.37. Seven FM patients reported taking antidepressants: six on 75 mg pregabalin once daily, and one on 75 mg pregabalin and 25 mg milnacipran once daily.