Tag Archives: fibromyalgia pain relief

“Twebate”*: Alternative Remedies versus Pain Medication for Fibromyalgia

I love Twitter. This post is a good explanation of why.

As many know by now, I spent New Year’s weekend moving from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Salisbury, North Carolina, with my daughter and her kitten. As I expected, the physical and mental stress of this move triggered a fibromyalgia flare-up, and I thusly tweeted:

My Tweet About Fibro Flare-up

The Tweet That Started the Debate

As they do, my #fibro-tweeps sent me some virtual hugs and support, and this one in particular caught my eye:

@DebDrake's Response

Then @DebDrake kindly shared a link to a list of her recommendations for fibromites from her website.  (Deb’s bio on Twitter reads: “I’m a Naturopath, nutritionist & CNHP. I’ve had fibromyalgia for a decade and I am beating it with nutrition and lifestyle.”)

I don’t know what it was about the situation that prompted me to engage Deb but I did, and below, you’ll find what transpired over the next few days between us. Collectively, these tweets represent an interesting debate about alternative medicine versus pain medication for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

So I asked Deb if she’d mind if I shared the conversation with my readers.  She graciously agreed, although she was concerned that I wouldn’t bash alternative medicine in general or specifically with respect to fibromyalgia. I promised I would (A) give equal time; (B) represent the conversation faithfully; and (C) share my opinion truthfully.

And that’s what I’m about to do.

The Twitter Conversation: @DebDrake and @SherrieSisk on Alternative Treatments vs. Pain Medication for Fibromyalgia

I replied:

@DebDrake Alt therapies didn’t work for me. I’m glad they work for someone but my open-mindedness turned to disbelief after my experience.:)

Deb responded:

@SherrieSisk I’m sorry to hear that. It is true that disease = constitution+environment & the remedy must treat both. No remedy works 4 all

@SherrieSisk Dont give up on nature tho. The body has the ability to heal if you give it the tools. minerals help the most -mostly magnesium

@SherrieSisk Many do just the opposite: give up on meds bc of side effects & not working.That was me-In pain 5yrs going to drs. never helped

I replied:

@debdrake Magnesium did absolutely nothing for me. Tramadol, however, works great. Side FX minimal if taken properly, uptitrated slowly

@debdrake Not anti-anything that works for the individual. Just sick and tired of #fibro patients talked out of trying medication b/c of…

@debdrake … baseless fears or bad doctor advice.

Deb next offered the following thoughts:

@SherrieSisk Magnesium by itself helped but not enough. It does pretty good when mixed w CoQ10 and malic acid.

@SherrieSisk But still, fighting fibromyalgia requires a combination of things to do. It was caused by any one thing. A change in lifestyle.

@SherrieSisk Natural remedies dont work the same way medications do. They help build the body up rather than undo a symptom. Symptoms=alarm.

@SherrieSisk So sometimes meds are good. They turn off the alarm & stop pain. but now something must change or damage is still being done.

@SherrieSisk I guess I just think that everything, even herbs, should only be temporary fixes. Herbs for example help the body rebuild.

@SherrieSisk There are a few things we need ongoing since food is deplete. A good multi, omega3, antioxidants, minerals, probiotics, enzymes

My response:

@debdrake It’d be great if that worked for everyone. You can read more abt my 10yr exprnc w/ #fibro at my site – but briefly …

@debdrake … I’ve tried many nutrtl supps – some made slight difference, most made none (incl CoQ10, malic acid and Mg). I just can’t …

@debdrake … agree that meds are not best treatment option, ever, for anyone. There is no one-size-fits all solution, until there’s a cure

@debdrake Basically: I’m a big believer in better living thru chemistry, until they come up with a cure, and strongly believe#fibro ptnts..

@debdrake … shouldn’t feel guilty for trying/relying on them, if they work. Yet that’s the msg we’re constantly bombarded with.

Deb’s response:

@SherrieSisk I hope I dont come across as anti meds. I dont talk about meds. Im not an MD. I’m an ND so only talk about natural alternatives

@SherrieSisk Im def not trying 2 make any1 feel guilty about anything. U have to feel good about what u are doing 4 it to help & not harm u.

@SherrieSisk Fibromyalgia is very much tied in to our emotions and feelings. Choosing a treatment should not be based on fear.

@SherrieSisk I know that many don’t want to use chemicals and so are looking for how to reduce symptoms without meds. I am here for them.

@SherrieSisk Ur right about just trying to use one answer for fibro. It wont work. Like I mentioned bf, must be an individualized program.

@SherrieSisk If a person comes to me and says they live a hi stress life, eat fast food everyday, wont sleep at night, etc, & then say that…

@SherrieSisk They want rid of symptoms but don’t want to make any changes. just a supplement 2 fix it. It’s not possible. I can’t help them.

@SherrieSisk If you are happy with your treatment plan and have no side effects or fear of long term issues, then don’t change it.

Then she said something nice about my writing. 😉  I thanked her, and said:

@debdrake I understand completely. I’m not “PRO”-meds – except when they work and are taken properly. I’m PRO-anything that helps.

@debdrake It’s just that for me, I don’t see the proof that alt remedies really work as well as meds, & there’s a TON of bias against meds

@debdrake … that ticks me off, frankly. No #fibro ptnt should B scared away from ANYTHING that works. Alt remedies, meds, yoga, ANYTHING.

My Position on Alternative Remedies and Prescription Pain Medication for Fibromyalgia

Let’s clarify what we’re talking about when we talk about “alternative remedies” for fibromyalgia.

As I use the phrase, I’m referring to nutritional supplements, acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, Ayurveda … pretty much the world of treatment outside prescription pain medication, surgery, and exercise/physical therapy-based treatments.

I realize some might disagree with me that yoga isn’t really an alternative therapy, but I consider any movement-based program to be in the same ballpark as any kind of exercise, including walking.

I wrote about nutritional supplements, and described my experience with them, on this blog previously. I realize now that I sort of shied away from my true feelings about natural or alternative remedies in that post, and I apologize for that. But there was a reason for my reserved approach, and it’s echoed in my statements to Deb above: I don’t want anyone with fibromyalgia to be persuaded not to try something that might help them.

See, I agree with Deb in a few respects here. Until we have a cure, there will never be one single treatment that works for everyone and every symptom.

One place where I part company with her is in the why: Deb thinks no one thing causes fibromyalgia and that’s why no one treatment will work. I think it’s entirely possible that one thing does cause fibro, although it possibly depends on a more complex mechanism or series of events to really get going.

The point: We don’t know what causes fibro. We don’t know what the cure is yet.

And with respect to alternative remedies, by and large, we don’t know whether they “work” to either cure, lessen, remedy, heal, or alleviate fibro. We have some evidence, mostly anecdotal, that certain treatments have a beneficial effect more often than others. We have very little empirical evidence, though, especially with respect to nutritional supplements.

Here’s my beef with the whole alternative field: I’ve read a lot of those books detailing the supplementation regimens recommended for fibro, and the regiments simply aren’t practical. I’ve tried a lot of those regimens — the expense coupled with the not-insignificant hassle of taking handfuls of pills every day at different times means, for me, that in order to be worth that hassle, that regimen better produce some impressive results pretty darn quickly.

They never have. For me. Others say that their mileage varied — they believe the regimens worked and they feel a lot better. And that’s great for them.

Let me make this clear, once more: I support wholeheartedly any fibromite’s treatment regimen if it works for you and is safe. Heck: even if it isn’t safe, if you’re fully informed and make a deliberate decision to try it anyway, knowing the risks, then I support that, too, as long as it poses no risk to anyone else.

Where I get irritated is when folks make claims that fibro can be cured by natural means — or frankly, by any means. It can’t. Not yet. I also get irritated when medication is presented as something unnatural — in the sense that it’s bad, or wrong. It sends the message that anyone who chooses medication is somehow weak, or doing the wrong thing, or harming herself.

It’s just not true. I resent it, it gets my hackles up, and it’s dangerous, to boot.

Medication wasn’t something I chose lightly. I looked for more conservative measures for four entire years before I finally agreed to give prescription pain medication a try.

But when I did — when I found what worked for me (tramadol plus acetaminophen) — the change in my quality of life was striking, immediate, and long-lasting. I’ve been on this cocktail for six years now, and have increased my dose only once (three years ago).

Far from being addicted to it, I’m indebted to it, but I take it in order to live my life, not to get high or to avoid withdrawal. I take it, in short, in order to function. It works for me, plus any side effects are minimal and can be managed completely by simply following the instructions for taking it.

Basically, what I’m saying is this: don’t be swayed away from any possible treatment — including nutritional supplements, and – yes – including prescription pain medication — by questionable value judgments placed on the treatment by others. Don’t reject prescription pain meds, when nothing else works, just because people tell you that they’re somehow wrong or objectionable, based on some faulty science or a personal agenda. By the same token, don’t go running to your doctor for tramadol just because I’m saying it worked for me.

And with respect to alternative remedies, I’d love to see some harder science on their efficacy. To my knowledge, only acupuncture has any studies supporting its usage in fibro treatment; it would be awesome to have more options for all of us. All I can do is tell you what worked — and what didn’t — for me:

  • Tramadol, gentle yoga, minor diet adjustments: yes.
  • Supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, and just about everything else, including massage (damn it, ’cause I do love massages!): not really, or not in the least.

And, as always, your mileage may definitely vary.




* – (Twebate=Twitter debate. And I promise, that’s the last time I’ll ever coin a “tw”-starting word to describe something on Twitter.)

Do Nutritional Supplements for Fibromyalgia Really Work?

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Many fibromyalgia experts  and texts recommend nutritional supplements as a way to offset or eliminate fibro symptoms. But do those supplements really work?

Following is a rundown of a few of the most-often recommended supplements, as well as my own personal experience with some of them.

CAUTION: Remember that, as with every potential treatment, you should always consult with your physician before trying any of these supplements out. Even so-called natural remedies can interact dangerously with other remedies and medications, so talk to your doctor first.

Malic Acid and Magnesium

Particularly when taken together, experts suggest, malic acid and magnesium can alleviate the more painful fibro symptoms. Malic acid is derived from tart apples, while magnesium is, of course, an essential mineral necessary for more than 300 bodily biochemcial functions.

Among the most important of these functions are muscular function and the creation/processing of ATP in the body. (ATP, briefly, is adenosine triphosphate, and results from the enzyme-catalyzed processing of sugar and fat.) Magnesium activates the process, and malic acid helps the body make ATP more efficiently.

Past research also suggests that magnesium may work to dampen the processing of some types of pain signals in fibromyalgia sufferers.

You can view more information on magnesium at the NIH fact sheet here, and an abstract of one study’s results looking at the combination of malic acid and magnesium can be found here (results: “significant reduction” in pain symptoms in increased dosages in open trial). However, it should be noted that an earlier double-blind phase of that same study showed no appreciable effect on FM patients who took magnesium/malic acid supplements.

Possible side effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or diminished appetite
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Hypotension
  • Adverse interactions with some medications (including osteoporosis drugs, certain hypertension medications, antibiotics, and muscle relaxers)

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

A naturally-occuring chemical compound found in the human body, SAMe plays an important role in several critical functions, including the immune system response and the creation and processing of chemical neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Some research indicates that SAMe might be beneficial for FM patients.  In one double-blind study looking at SAMe’s effects on 17 fibromites (more than half of whom also had been diagnosed with depression), both the number of painful tender points and assessed depression decreased appreciably with SAMe as compared to the placebo group. While intriguing, the relatively small number of subjects in this study warrants caution in evaluating its results.

Other study results conflict with each other. In one slightly larger study (44 subjects), there was appreciable decrease in some symptoms (pain, tiredness) but not others (tender points, mood). Another study delivered SAMe via IV, but found no measurable decrease in tender points.

Possible side effects:

  • Indigestion and other digestive disorders
  • Insomnia
  • More rarely: diarrhea, acid reflux
  • Caution: FM patients who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder should not take SAMe; it may increase the occurrence and severity of manic episodes. SAMe may be contraindicated for those taking antidepressants; consult your doctor first (as you should before taking any new supplement or medication).

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)

There is some promising research on 5-HTP and fibromyalgia, showing that it can reduce tender points and increase serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.

There is no fact sheet for 5-HTP at NIH, but you can find good information on it at this site. While it’s found in low levels in some foods (turkey, for one), most will want to choose a supplement form.

Possible Side Effects:

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pupil dilation
  • Muscular coordination problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Irregular cardiac rhythms
  • Caution: Do not take 5-HTP if you’re currently taking any antidepressant.

Vitamin B12

A few studies with relatively small subject numbers indicate that FM patients may have lower levels of vitamin B12. As B12 is an essential vitamin, it’s certainly worth looking into your intake.

Good dietary sources of B12 are animal products — meats, fish, eggs — and fortified cereals. It’s not usually found in fruits and vegetables. The current RDA for mature men and women ranges from 2.4 to 2.8 micrograms.

You can also take a multivitamin that has B12 in it, or an individual supplement pill for B12 or B Complex (includes B12 as well as B1, B2, B3, and B6).

You can read more information on Vitamin B12 at the NIH website’s fact sheet.

Possible side effects:

  • B12 has a very low risk of toxicity but it can be contraindicated with certain medications. As always, talk to your doctor.

Vitamin D

Some researchers have found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and general musculoskeletal pain. Certainly, vitamin D is generally recommended for overall nutritional health and wellbeing.

The current recommended intake level for vitamin D in the US is 200 I.U. for men and women up to age 50, rising up to 600 I.U. for older patients.  Toxicity has been established at 50,000 I.U.

It’s difficult to get all the Vitamin D you need from foods, but it is present in fortified milk products and certain fatty fish (particularly the skins). You can also increase your body’s own production of the vitamin with sunlight exposure without sunscreen (just a few minutes a day are all that’s required).

Get more info from the NIH Fact Sheet on Vitamin D.

Possible Side Effects:

With too-high intakes of Vitamin D, certain side effects are known:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constipation
  • High blood levels of calcium may also lead to confusion and irregular heart rhythms

Personal Experience With Supplements for Fibromyalgia

Of these commonly-recommended supplements, I’ve given two-month trials to malic acid and magnesium (taken together); vitamin B12; SAMe; and 5-HTP. I’m currently experimenting with vitamin D.

I experienced no measurable relief with malic acid and magnesium. While on increased levels of B12 (a multivitamin plus an additional supplement, providing a total of 580 mcg, I did notice a slight increase in my energy level, but no decrease in pain symptoms.

SAMe and 5-HTP both produced some interesting results. I believe my pain symptoms leveled off — I had fewer flare-ups, and when I did experience increased pain days, it seemed that my “lows” weren’t quite as low as previously. Also with 5-HTP (but not SAMe), I felt my neck/shoulder tender points were a little diminished in terms of sensitivity.

Of course, in each of these try-outs, I knew what I was taking. My results could be attributable to a placebo effect (although that doesn’t explain why I didn’t experience any benefit with malic acid and magnesium; 10 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, it was the first- and most-often-recommended supplement).

You should never take any one person’s recommendation for a treatment option. Do your own research, talk to your doctor, and if you do want to try one of these supplements, try going in without any expectations.

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