If you’re looking for natural ways to fight the aches, stiffness and inflammation of fibromyalgia, supplements can be a powerful weapon against symptoms. From vitamin D to brown seaweed extract, an arsenal of tools can help reduce pain. Here, experts reveal what works and why…
If you’re not including fibromyalgia-fighting supplements as part of your pain-management regimen, you could be missing out.
“The right supplements can help muscles relax, which leads to pain reduction, or even prevent pain altogether,” says fibromyalgia expert Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., director of the Fatigue & Fibromyalgia Practitioners Network and author The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution (Avery).
But when you’re standing in the supplement aisle, it’s hard to figure out which live up to their hype.
Read on for expert advice on the top 6 supplements for relieving fibro pain and other symptoms.
1. Vitamin D
The “sunshine vitamin” isn’t only good for building bones.
It can help fight fibro pain and fatigue, too, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Pain.
For the study, 30 women with fibromyalgia – who were also deficient in vitamin D – were divided into two groups. The treatment group received oral vitamin D supplements for 20 weeks. The control group received a placebo.
Starting after just one week, the treatment group showed improved physical functioning, had less morning fatigue than the placebo group and reported a marked reduction in pain.
The body produces vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun – our best source. But some people don’t produce enough of the nutrient, according to the National Institutes of Health. These include women who are older, dark-skinned or obese.
People with certain disorders, including celiac or Crohn’s disease – as well as those who aren’t exposed to ample sunlight (or who wear sunscreen) – are also likely to be deficient. (Read about 11 natural remedies for Crohn’s management.)
Because few foods contain vitamin D, swallowing supplements is the easiest way to ensure you get enough.
The government’s daily recommendation of vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) for anyone 1 to 70 years old, and 800 IU for people 71 and up – to a maximum of 4,000 IU per day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But ask your doctor how much you should take to combat your fibro symptoms.
2. Fish Oil
Thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil has terrific anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce fibro pain.
It reduces the body’s production of inflammatory hormones (prostaglandins), says Nehad Soloman, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist for Valley Arthritis Care in Arizona. And that may mean less stiffness or fewer tender joints.
Dr. Soloman suggests choosing a mercury-free brand (check the label), although fish oil supplements are considered safe.
Take 1 or 2 capsules (or 1 or 2 tablespoons) daily to reduce inflammation and boost your immunity, recommends the University of Maryland Medical Center. But check with your doctor first – especially if you take blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin).
S-Adenosyl methionine, more commonly known as SAMe, is a synthetic form of a compound the body naturally produces.
We need it for proper immune function, and it plays a role in forming cartilage and our DNA, Dr. Soloman says.
As we age, our bodies produce less of it, which may explain the increased aches after your 40th birthday. Taking a SAMe supplement not only lessens chronic pain, it also can boost your spirits. These 5 other natural mood-lifters help too.
“SAMe assists in the production and breakdown of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine – brain hormones that influence and regulate moods,” Dr. Soloman says.
In fibro studies, the recommended dosing is 400 mg twice a day for six weeks, starting with a lower dose (about 200 mg daily) and increasing gradually to avoid stomach upset, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. But dosing varies by patient, so ask your doctor.
Tight muscles are a common cause of fibro pain. To relax and release, muscles need energy, Dr. Teitelbaum says. And that’s where ribose supplements come in.
Ribose, a simple sugar, can increase energy by an average of 61% – and cut the pain experienced by fibromyalgia sufferers by an average of 15.6%, according to a 2012 study Dr. Teitelbaum led, published in The Open Pain Journal.
“The energy-building benefit of ribose directly improved the debilitating symptoms of this condition,” Dr. Teitelbaum says.
Dr. Teitelbaum recommends a 5 g dose three times a day.
This mineral is a major player in every body part.
Not only is it credited with keeping the heart, kidneys and bones strong, it also helps us avoid muscle spasms, weakness and back pain, Dr. Teitelbaum says.
Women with fibromyalgia may be deficient in magnesium, studies suggest. And magnesium may help relieve fibro pain and other symptoms.
For example, researchers from Ajou University School of Medicine in Korea analyzed hair samples from 166 women – including 44 with fibromyalgia. The hair from the fibromyalgia group contained significantly lower amounts of magnesium than that of the healthy women, according to the 2011 study.
Researchers at Acıbadem University Medical School in Istanbul, Turkey, also found that women diagnosed with fibromyalgia were likely to have “significantly lower” magnesium levels than women who didn’t have the disorder. But those who then took 300 mg/day of magnesium citrate for 8 weeks reported a reduction of “tender points” and other fibromyalgia symptoms, according to their 2013 study.
Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, 100% wheat bran cereal and raw spinach.
But these foods are a good source only if you eat them raw. Half of the minerals’ benefits are lost when cooked.
Normal daily recommended dosage for adult women is 280 to 300 mg per day, taken with meals, says the Mayo Clinic.
But if you have kidney disease or are taking medication, talk to your doctor before taking magnesium. Magnesium can interact with certain medications, including high blood pressure medicines and antibiotics, the University of Maryland Medical Center says.
6. Brown Seaweed Extract
You may not be familiar with these capsules, but this supplement is one to look for.
“It’s showing great promise in the fight against chronic pain,” Dr. Soloman says.
In fact, taking 1,000 mg of brown seaweed extract daily can reduce joint pain and stiffness by 52%, according to a 2011 study from Australia’s Centre of Health and Wellbeing, published in the journal Biologics.
Even better: These benefits kicked in after just one week, so you don’t have to wait long to find out if it’s working for you.
Check with your doctor before taking these or other supplements.
“Like prescription drugs, it’s possible to take too much. And many supplements have side effects,” says David Pisetsky M.D., Ph.D., a professor of immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
1. What’s the right dosage for me?
2. Should I take it with food?
3. What time of day should I take it?
4. Will this supplement interact badly with my prescriptions?
5. Does it have side effects that might mimic or aggravate my fibro symptoms (such as depression or sleep difficulties)?
For more expert advice and information, visit Lifescript’s Fibromyalgia Health Center.
Also, visit these other resources for more support:
The National Institutes of Health: Information and resources from the U.S. government’s medical research agency.
The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association: This group’s mission is to fund scientific studies on fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia Network: A nonprofit that offers information about the disease from top fibromyalgia clinicians and researchers.