Living with fibromyalgia can be difficult and painful. When traditional treatments do not work, many patients turn to alternative therapies for pain relief. Chinese herbs and over-the-counter supplements have become popular in many patients’ efforts to relieve their pain. At Chronicillness.co Site, our pain management specialists recommend a comprehensive plan when treating the pain of fibromyalgia.
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan). This supplement is a building block of serotonin. Serotonin is a powerful brain chemical, and serotonin levels play a significant role in fibromyalgia pain. Serotonin levels are also associated with depression and sleep.
For those with fibromyalgia, 5-HTP may help 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 pains. However, there are some contradictory studies that show no benefit of 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.
Melatonin. This natural hormone is 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 until they know how it affects them.
St. John’s Wort. While there’s no specific evidence that St. John’s wort is helpful in treating fibromyalgia, this herb is often used in treating depression, and depression is commonly associated with fibromyalgia.
There are several studies that show St. John’s wort is more effective than a 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 as can cause interactions with many types of drugs. If on medication, tell a 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.
SAM-e. It’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 fibromyalgia. Additional study is needed to confirm these findings.
The studies are limited, but it’s thought that L-carnitine may give some pain relief and treat other symptoms in people with fibromyalgia. In one study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of L-carnitine in 102 patients with fibromyalgia. 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 fibromyalgia.
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