What can you do for the aching joints of arthritis or the sore muscles and soft tissue of fibromyalgia? Many sufferers are caught in a difficult dilemma: without relief for the pain, they have trouble moving, exercising or just living their lives. On the other hand, the medications that can offer pain relief may have intolerable side effects. NSAIDs have a litany of undesirable actions, from the well-known digestive tract irritation to less well-recognized cardiovascular complications or kidney injury. Additionally, drugs for fibromyalgia, including duloxetine (Cymbalta), milnacipran (Savella) and pregabalin (Lyrica), have some challenging adverse effects. Are there any natural compounds, such as bromelain or boswellia, that could offer pain relief?
Q. I am an advanced practice registered nurse with ailing joints and suspected fibromyalgia. Does it make sense to try bromelain or other anti-inflammatory enzymes?
The Benefits of Bromelain:
A. Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes extracted from pineapple. It has been used to promote wound healing and fight inflammation (Rathnavelu et al, Biomedical Reports, Sep. 2016). This natural product dampens the activity of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) somewhat like celecoxib does. The pineapple enzymes seem to have fewer side effects, however.
In addition, research shows that volunteers taking bromelain got as much pain relief for their arthritic knees as those taking the prescription NSAID diclofenac (Kasemsuk et al, Clinical Rheumatology, Oct. 2016). Moreover, bromelain together with other natural enzymes was as effective as diclofenac for jaw arthritis pain (Jayachandran & Khobre, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, June 2017).
You can learn more about these and other natural anti-inflammatory compounds in our book, The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.
Bromelain and Fibromyalgia:
We could not find research evaluating the use of bromelain to ease the pain of fibromyalgia. Anecdotally, one physician who also suffers fibromyalgia suggests taking the anti-inflammatory spice turmeric. In addition, she recommends myofascial release and topical creams containing arnica or capsaicin, the hot stuff in hot peppers. A review of treatments for chronic pain found evidence for capsaicin (Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment, Oct. 2006). You will find additional information on this compound in Alternatives for Arthritis.
Finally, some people with fibromyalgia use acupuncture to get pain relief. While it may not be adequate on its own, this could be a part of a natural treatment regimen.