Herbs and Supplements for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by a combination of widespread pain in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fatigue, and multiple tender points on the body. Tender points are specific areas that are painful or tender when pressure is applied, particularly in the neck, shoulders, upper back, upper chest, elbows, low back, hips, and thighs. People with fibromyalgia may also experience other symptoms and conditions, such as disturbed sleep, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, TMJ disorders, anxiety, depression, restless legs syndrome, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, poor concentration, painful menstrual periods, and heightened sensitivity to odors, noises, bright lights and touch. Fibromyalgia affects 3 to 6 million people in the United States and it is more common in women, especially between the ages of 30 and 50. The following are some of the more common herbs and supplements promoted for fibromyalgia. Consult a qualified health practitioner for specific recommendations.
Fibromyalgia and generalized aches and pains not meeting the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia have been attributed by some researchers to vitamin D deficiency. For example, a large study found a strong correlation between low vitamin D levels and higher rates and longer duration of generalized bone and/or muscle aches and pains. Also, another study found that 93% of fibromyalgia patients tested had deficient levels of vitamin D. In another study, vitamin D levels were assessed in people who suffered from a diagnosed case of fibromyalgia. Although there was no relationship between vitamin D levels and musculoskeletal symptoms, vitamin D deficiency was linked to anxiety and depression in people with fibromyalgia.
The supplement 5-HTP is thought to work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. There is preliminary evidence that it may reduce the number of tender points in people with fibromyalgia, possibly by effecting pain-modulating systems in the brainstem. A recent study found that people taking 5-HTP had a significant improvement in pain, the number of tender points, stiffness, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep. Side effects were mild and transient.
A recent study demonstrated low levels of vitamin B12 in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with fibromyalgia. Levels of homocysteine in cerebrospinal fluid were over three times higher in the women who had fibromyalgia. Cerebrospinal fluid vitamin B12 levels were also low in people with fibromyalgia.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. It is thought to temporarily relieve pain. When applied to the skin, capsaicin cream has been found to deplete substance P, a neurochemical that transmits pain, which desensitizes a person to pain. People with fibromyalgia have been found to have higher levels of substance P. One study examined the effectiveness of capsaicin in fibromyalgia. Participants in the study had a reduction in pain after applying the cream four times a day.