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Relieving the Pain of Fibromyalgia
Helpful Supplements for a Common but Elusive Complaint

Persistent achiness. Sleeplessness and exhaustion. Frayed nerves. These are the hallmarks of fibromyalgia, an elusive complaint affecting up to 10 million Americans. Baby boomer women are often affected, athough anyone can get it at any age. Some conventional doctors dismiss it as a "faddish" Nineties illness. But an increasing number of doctors are learning to diagnose--and successfully treat--the condition.

Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia, although many experts believe out-of-control stress plays a major role in the illness. More than two thirds of patients say their ailment began with some sort of traumatic physical or emotional event: a horrendous bout of flu, a bad case of whiplash, the death of a loved one, "the worst year of my life." The result: chronic stress, tensing of the muscles, and a vicious downward spiral of pain, troubled sleep, exhaustion, depression, and anxiety--and more stress. One sufferer describes the experience of her illness as "stretching a rubberband to its limit, then pulling it even tighter."

An Array of Supplements
An array of nutrients and herbs should be taken together to restore the integrity of the muscles, lift mood, diminish stress, allay pain, and increase stamina. If you're taking conventional antidepressants or tranquilizers, check with your doctor before combining them with kava, 5-HTP, St. John's wort, or melatonin.

Magnesium and malic acid
Magnesium and malic acid help fight fatigue and relax the muscles and are essential for anyone with fibromyalgia. Malic acid helps the body absorb magnesium (many fibromyalgia sufferers are deficient in this mineral). A study of 24 patients at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio found that two months of treatment with this combination reduced pain and tenderness.

Suggested dose:
150 mg magnesium and 600 mg malic acid twice a day. Best absorbed when taken with meals. Sometimes sold in combination as magnesium malate.

St. John's wort
The herb St. John's wort, best known as a natural antidepressant, also improves pain tolerance.

Suggested dose:
300 mg St. John's wort 3 times a day. Take around mealtime to minimize stomach upset. Look for preparations containing standardized extracts of this herb.

A form of the amino acid tryptophan, 5-HTP raises levels of the brain chemical serotonin, easing depression, modulating pain, and improving sleep patterns. It may work especially well in combination with magnesium and St. John's wort.

Suggested dose:
100 mg 5-HTP 3 times a day. Best absorbed on an empty stomach. If drowsiness occurs, reduce dose to 50 mg 3 times a day.

NADH, a nutrient sometimes sold under the name ENADA, boosted energy levels in a recent small Georgetown University study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome. It may have similar benefits in those with fibromyalgia.

Suggested dose:
2.5 mg NADH 3 times a day. Best taken on an empty stomach. May boost energy levels.

The FDA has recently issued warnings on kava due to its adverse effects on the liver. Before using this herb, please read the entry on kava in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library.

An herbal nonsedating anxiety fighter, kava helps break the cycle of pain, stress, and more pain.

Suggested dose:
250 mg kava 3 times a day. Take with food. Look for standardized extracts containing at least 30% kavalactones, the active ingredients in the herb. Also called kava kava.

The hormone DHEA should be taken only if your doctor determines that blood levels of this naturally produced compound are low. It can help improve stamina and rejuvenate libido.

Suggested dose:
25 mg DHEA a day. Take each morning. Use DHEA only under the supervision of a doctor; have DHEA blood level checked before starting.

Grape seed extract
Grape seed extract contains powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins (PCOs), which are also found in pine bark extract (Pycnogenol). Taken long term, PCOs help protect muscle cells from damage.

Suggested dose:
100 mg grape seed extract twice a day. For best absorption, take with food. Alternatively, take the same dose of pine bark.

The hormone melatonin can be useful for getting a good night's sleep, an essential step on the road to recovery. If it doesn't work, ask your doctor for something stronger, such as the prescription sleep aid Ambien.

Suggested dose:
3 mg melatonin before bedtime. Stick to a precise schedule. Helpful for relief of pain-induced sleeplessness.

Effectiveness of supplements
Prompt treatment works best. Someone who has been suffering from the pain of fibromyalgia for only six months, for example, typically responds much better to supplements and other treatments than a person who has endured symptoms for a decade. But try to stay upbeat: Although fibromyalgia is generally considered a chronic illness, many patients experience significant relief, even to the point of near-cure, after several months of treatment.

Call the doctor if . . .

     Symptoms persist for three months. Call sooner if pain is severe or you're having trouble coping or getting around.
     You have great difficulty sleeping or are depressed.

Date Published: 11/16/2000
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