Alternative Therapies for Fibromyalgia
WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
At some point during your fibromyalgia treatment, you may decide to try a complementary or alternative fibromyalgia treatment. Herbal remedies and dietary supplements are some of the many complementary and alternative treatments people use to relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Herbs and supplements as fibromyalgia treatments may not work for everyone, although some people find them very effective. 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 cause serious side effects and interact with other drugs you may already be taking. Unlike drugs, herbs and supplements don’t have to receive FDA approval for safety or effectiveness before they can be sold. In addition to talking with your doctor, it’s important to learn as much as you can about any alternative therapy before using one.
Although studies about the effectiveness of herbs and supplements are limited and overall evidence has been inconclusive, researchers are beginning to research them more. Some small studies have been promising, but many study results have been mixed.
Research is ongoing, but here are just a few of the herbs and supplements that may be helpful in treating fibromyalgia symptoms:
Anthocyanidin. This supplement is a type of flavonoid found in red-blue fruits like red cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and purple grapes that has been used to treat other types of chronic diseases. In one small study of people with fibromyalgia, researchers found that anthocyanidins helped improve participants’ quality of sleep. Researchers found no improvement in the patients’ pain or fatigue. The side effects were minor, but included nausea, indigestion, and nasal congestion.
Capsaicin. Capsaicin is an extract of chili peppers that is applied to the skin in a cream. In a small study, capsaicin was found to significantly relieve tenderness in patients with fibromyalgia. However, it didn’t help improve pain or quality of sleep. The only side effect was a slight stinging or burning on the skin.
Magnesium and malic acid supplements. Some studies have found that people who have fibromyalgia have too little of a substance called ATP in their body. ATP is a substance that helps provide energy to your body and muscles. Some researchers believe a lack of ATP may cause the muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia. Because magnesium and malic acid help the body produce ATP, taking these supplements may help increase ATP levels and decrease pain.
SAM-e (S-Anenosylmethionine). SAM-e is a substance that occurs naturally in the body. It has been studied in many clinical trials over the past 20 years in patients 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. In addition, 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 and dizziness.
St. John’s wort. This herb may not help with your fibromyalgia pain, but it may help ease the depression that many people with fibromyalgia experience. Studies have shown that St. John’s wort may help improve mood and reduce the insomnia and anxiety common to depression. Some studies have found St. John’s wort as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressant drugs. However, it may not be as effective in treating more severe depression. St. John’s wort can interact with many other medications, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using it.
Valerian. Some researchers believe valerian root may help with sleep and ease fibromyalgia pain. One small study showed that people who took valerian for 28 days reported better sleep and an improvement in their general quality of life.
Vitamin D supplements. 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 small studies showed that people with fibromyalgia were more likely to be deficient in vitamin D. Other studies have shown that there is no connection. Vitamin D is generally safe in recommended amounts for most people and rarely causes side effects when taken in recommended amounts.