Nip a cold. Boost your energy. Relieve your anxiety. More and more, people are turning to herbal supplements in a quest for relief from anything that ails them, be it arthritis, depression, or the common cold, especially when traditional remedies fail them.
People who have fibromyalgia are likely candidates for taking herbal supplements. If you've been unable to achieve relief from pharmaceutical drugs or other therapies, you may wonder if these alternative remedies might do the trick.
The answer, unfortunately, is not clear. The science on many of these products is murky, and most people are left to rely on anecdotal reports about a supplement's effects. At the same time, some people do find success with herbal remedies. The key to taking any of these products is to approach with caution.
Before we mention some of the more common products associated with the treatment of fibromyalgia, it's important to discuss the safety factor. Let's face it: People who have a chronic pain condition are vulnerable targets for unscrupulous marketers peddling cure-alls and therapies that promise relief.
Truth is, there is little scientific proof to back up many of these claims. Each treatment needs to be considered on its own merits and how it might impact your health. But you should keep some general guidelines in mind:
“Natural” does not mean “safe.” Think of the poisonous mushrooms and berries that grow in the wild.
Everyone responds differently. The state of your health, how the treatment is used, even your belief in the treatment can all impact how well a remedy works for you.
Beware of any health claims. Claims that a supplement can diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease are invalid and must have scientific proof. Without scientific evidence, such claims violate regulations, and the product is considered an unapproved drug.
Stick with established manufacturers. They can be held accountable for their products.
If you use herbal products, be sure they're “standardized.” This means that they've been measured and guarantee the amount of active ingredient in the pill, not just the amount of the herb.
Keep in mind too that supplements are classified as food, not drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), which says the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a supplement is safe before it is marketed. Safety depends on several factors, including the ingredients, where they come from, and the quality of the manufacturing process. Manufacturers must also make sure that information on the label is truthful and not misleading.
Most manufacturers do not need to register with the FDA or get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. The FDA is responsible, however, for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. So if a product is deemed unsafe, the FDA can prohibit its sale.
When buying supplements, look for products with the USP seal. The U.S. Pharmacopeia is the standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements. With supplements, the USP ensures what's on the label is in the bottle, in the proper amounts and without contaminants. It also makes sure the supplement will release the active ingredients into the body and that the manufacturing practices are safe.
Popular Supplements for Fibro
It's not unusual at all for fibro sufferers to turn to supplements. While it would be impossible to list every supplement that you might consider taking, you should be familiar with some that seem to have some benefit to people with fibromyalgia. Keep in mind, though, that not all supplements will help all patients. Again, it will take some trial and error to pin down those that work for you.
Popularly known as CoQ10, coenzyme Q10 is naturally produced in the body. It is used in the production of cellular energy and as a disease-combating antioxidant. In people with fibromyalgia, it might help relieve fibro fog.
As a supplement, DHEA is a synthesized version of a hormone made by the adrenal glands that is a basic building block of many hormones. Often billed as an anti-aging remedy, DHEA is said to improve pain, fatigue, and depression. But a study in 2005 found that despite its popularity among fibro sufferers, DHEA showed no real benefit. It can also cause significant side effects.
Magnesium and Malic Acid
Magnesium is an essential mineral, and malic acid is a fruit acid found in apples. Together, they can stimulate the body's production of adenosine triphosphate, an energy source in many body cells that may be deficient in people with fibromyalgia.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the body that is involved in regulating our sleep-wake cycles. Some people believe that FMS sufferers do not produce enough melatonin on their own at night. As a supplement, melatonin can sometimes induce sleep.
SAM-e, or adenosylmethionine, is a natural substance that may relieve pain and depression. In the body, it helps produce and regulate hormones that affect mood. Research on SAM-e in fibro patients has been mixed, but some believe it relieves pain, fatigue, and depression. SAM-e is very expensive, and any benefit requires very high doses.
St. John's Wort
This popular remedy is hailed as a treatment for depression. Although commonly used in Europe, experts in the United States say it is effective in treating only mild depression. It should never be taken with other antidepressants, and it may interact with other medications as well.
Studies show that Chlorella pyrenoidosa, a freshwater algae that evolved more than 2 billion years ago, may relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Panax ginseng has been used for thousands of years in Asia to treat fatigue. Many fibro sufferers find it helps with mental energy and motivation. But it can be overstimulating and cause high blood pressure as well as sleep problems.
5-HTP is one chemical step away from serotonin, a major neurotransmitter. Many find that taking it at bedtime helps sleep, and higher doses may also help depression. But it should never be taken if you're on antidepressants.
Enteric-coated peppermint oil — which means the active ingredient is not released until the pill is past your stomach — has been found by many people to help irritable bowel syndrome.
Feverfew is an herb that may reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, but responses vary widely.
You may encounter other supplements for the treatment of fibro symptoms such as valerian for anxiety, gingko biloba for memory and brain function, vitamin C for immune function, milk thistle for liver cleansing, and alpha lipoic acid for detoxification.