By Karen Lee Richards*
Many fibromyalgia specialists recommend nutritional supplements for their patients. In his book Fibromyalgia: Up Close & Personal, Dr. Mark Pellegrino says, “Over the years I’ve used a lot of supplements in the treatment of fibromyalgia, and I believe they are effective in many patients. Not all patients benefit, but in general supplements are safe to try and, if they help, are relatively inexpensive to continue. Today nutritional supplements are one of the most important treatments I recommend for fibromyalgia.”
Note: Although supplements are generally safe in appropriate doses, it’s important to be aware of the fact that some supplements can interact with some medications, so it is essential that you let your doctor know which supplements you are taking.
Following are some of the supplements most commonly recommended for the four primary symptoms of Fibromyalgia:
- Magnesium and Malic Acid
Researchers have found that people with fibromyalgia are commonly deficient in magnesium. Magnesium helps to improve the production of serotonin, reduce substance P and activate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – all known to be problems for people with FM. Evidence suggests that malic acid can help ease discomfort caused by muscle and tissue hypoxia. Studies in which FM patients took a combination of magnesium and malic acid found that the combo resulted in significant pain reduction.
- Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 functions as a hormone and works throughout the body, affecting muscles, tissues, nerves, joints and even the brain. In recent years, scientists have begun to recognize the link between low vitamin D and chronic pain.
The amino acid 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is used by the body to increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating sleep cycles, pain perception, mood and the immune system. Three clinical trials have demonstrated that 5-HTP supplementation can support improvement of muscle aches, morning stiffness, anxiety and fatigue.
Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) is an organic sulfur-containing compound and is a crucial component of the body’s connective tissues. Among its many benefits, MSM has been found to have antioxidant properties. It promotes a healthy inflammatory response in joint tissue that can result in more joint flexibility.
Boswellin (Boswellia serrata), also known as Indian frankincense, has been used in the Ayurvedic medicine tradition for hundreds of years to support a healthy inflammation response. Although not specifically tested on fibromyalgia patients, Boswellia has been found to support positive effects in subjects with a number of chronic inflammatory complaints that often overlap with FM.
Curcumin is the primary component of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) and is what gives the spice its rich yellow color. Curcumin is widely recognized by medical researchers as being a powerful supporter of the body’s natural mechanisms for modulating the inflammatory response. Some have called curcumin “nature’s version of an NSAID.” A recent study comparing the benefits of the prescription NSAID celecoxib (Celebrex®) versus the ancient herbal remedies curcumin & boswellia concluded that results with the herbal combination were superior.
- White Willow Bark
The bark of the white willow tree contains salicin, which converts to salicylic acid in the body. Salicin is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) and is thought to be responsible for the ability of white willow bark to support natural reduction of muscle discomfort and a healthy inflammatory response. Although white willow bark appears to promote benefits more slowly than aspirin, they may last longer.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine sulfate is a naturally occurring chemical found in cartilage cells and in the fluid that surrounds joints. The body uses it to produce a variety of other chemicals that are involved in building tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the thick fluid that surrounds joints. Chondroitin is an amino acid found inside joint cartilage that keeps joints lubricated by attracting and absorbing water. Many who use glucosamine and chondroitin find that the combo helps to reduce joint and muscle discomfort, promote improved joint strength and range of motion, and support a healthy inflammatory response.
- Co-enzyme Q10
CoQ10 is the catalyst that makes it possible for the mitochondria (cells’ energy producers) to produce ATP, the molecule upon which all cellular functions in the body depend. A severe CoQ10 deficiency can cause mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn has a serious negative impact on multiple organs and body systems.
- Vitamin B12
Many people with fibromyalgia have a relatively low B12 level. Even minor B12 deficiencies can cause anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath and weakness. B12 is best taken in a sublingual form or by injection because it is not absorbed well in the stomach.
NADH sets off a chemical chain reaction by transforming CoQ10 into its reduced form. Then Co-Q10 becomes active and serves as the catalyst that makes it possible for the mitochondria to produce ATP. Every molecule of NADH results in the production of three molecules of ATP energy. NADH is a critical component of your body’s ability to function. Without NADH, the mitochondria cannot produce energy and the cells will die.
D-Ribose is a naturally-occurring sugar used in cell metabolism and the production of energy. It has been shown to increase cellular energy synthesis in the heart and skeletal muscles. A 2006 pilot study and another study reported in July 2012 showed that D-ribose significantly reduced clinical symptoms in patients suffering from fibromyalgia.
- Bovine Colostrum
Studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia have decreased growth hormone levels (IGF-1). A major symptom of low growth hormone is fatigue. Bovine colostrum contains growth hormone that is essentially identical to human IGF-1. Dr. Pellegrino says that 75% of his FM patients report improvement in their energy level and ability to concentrate when taking bovine colostrum.
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Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body that helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. It supports the body’s own production of the tranquilizing neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a key role in healthy sleep patterns and mood. More and more doctors are recommending melatonin as a safe and natural sleep enhancer. When the normal sleep/wake cycle has gone awry, taking melatonin can help restore optimal sleep patterns.
Valerian is the most researched sleep-supporting herb in the world. No herb has proven to be more effective in clinical trials for providing effective support for improved sleep. In addition to its sleep-enhancing benefits, Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the bestselling book From Fatigued to Fantastic, recommends valerian for its ‘adaptogenic’ properties, meaning it adapts to what the body needs. He writes, “Valerian is a mild sleep aid that has the interesting effect of calming people when they are anxious while at the same time acting as a stimulant when people are fatigued.”
- Lemon Balm
Lemon balm has been used for centuries to promote sleep and ease nervousness naturally. The herb also has other properties, including nutritional support of the nervous and digestive systems. The addition of lemon balm to a base of valerian makes a versatile combination – one that can be taken at night for sleep and in lighter doses during the day for relaxation and mood and muscle comfort.
- Passion Flower
Passion flower provides support for stress, anxiety, and sleep. It also has calming and restorative properties.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the main calming amino acid in the central nervous system. This naturally produced substance helps to induce relaxation and sleep. It is also known for supporting healthy pituitary function as well as for its calming effect on over-stimulated neurons.
- Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a powerful antioxidant that has the ability to squeeze through the narrowest of blood vessels to increase the supply of oxygen to the brain and throughout the body. It enhances metabolism efficiency, manages neurotransmitters, and boosts oxygen levels in the brain which uses 20% of the body’s oxygen. Benefits of enhanced circulation in the brain include improved short and long term memory, increased reaction time and improved mental clarity.
Acetyl L-Carnitine HCL is a potent “super” nutrient that supports the body in the same manner as L-Carnitine, but also has the ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Acetyl L- Carnitine supports mental sharpness by stimulating acetlycholine production. It has been shown to help maintain cellular membrane stability, and to promote cell membrane health.
Vinpocetine increases cerebral blood flow and has been shown to increase memory and brain processing speed. It is also an antioxidant/neuro-protective agent, which can increase glucose metabolism (energy levels) in the brain.
- Phosphatidyl serine
Phosphatidyl serine is a natural hormone that supports communication between brain cells and promotes improved memory function. It is vital to brain cell structure and function, and plays an important role in the brain’s neurotransmitter systems, metabolism, and maintenance of nerve connections.
* Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.
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