The lack of a single medication to treat all the symptoms of fibromyalgia has led many people to pursue alternative approaches, including dietary supplements. Vitamins, minerals, herbs, and probiotics are among the most common types of supplements.
Typically sold in pill form—but also available as capsules, liquids, or energy bars—supplements are used to treat a wide range of physical and psychological issues. Fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain, sleep disruption, fatigue, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety may respond well to supplements.
Supplements may be natural, but that doesn't mean they are always harmless. Choosing a supplement carefully and keeping the doctor informed about supplements being taken is advised.
What to Know About Supplements
While supplements may sometimes be used—like medication—to relieve pain and other symptoms, it is helpful to understand some important differences.
Unlike medications, supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The government does not ensure that supplements are effective before they are sold. The FDA inspects facilities where supplements are manufactured, but does not determine whether a supplement’s potency is the same from brand to brand, or within brands.
Consumers can get some guidance from seals of approval from U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. These seals are related to manufacturing quality, though, not safety and effectiveness. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) is another seal to look for that supports quality assurance for the product.
The need for care in selecting a supplement was underscored by a study using DNA analysis of the ingredients in a number of supplements sold in the United States and Canada. The study found that the ingredients on the container often did not match the label.1
How the Doctor Can Help with Supplements
The doctor can be a useful resource when taking supplements. In one survey of 101 women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were taking at least one nutritional supplement on the advice of a health care provider. The women surveyed also reported that magnesium was the supplement their providers were most likely to recommend.2
Consulting the doctor about specific types and brands of supplements is advised. A prescription-strength supplement may be recommended in some cases, and is more likely to be covered by health insurance. The doctor can also:
- Determine the best dose of the supplement. Dosages for supplements are not as clear-cut as with medications, and too much of a supplement may be harmful.
- Alert the patient about dangerous interactions. Supplements can limit the effectiveness of medications or interact in other ways with medications and other supplements. Bringing a list of all medications and supplements—and the dosages—to medical appointments is recommended.
- Explain the risk of side effects. Supplements can cause major or minor side effects. Anyone experiencing a serious reaction to a supplement should contact the doctor, who may report the incident to the FDA. Individuals can notify the FDA of a harmful reaction themselves by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or visiting www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/default.htm.
It is particularly important to consult the doctor before a dietary supplement is taken by children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers, because many supplements have not been thoroughly tested in these populations.