Nutraceuticals for Chronic Pain
Dietary Supplements and Other Nutraceuticals for Chronic Pain
Nutraceuticals may help relieve some types of chronic pain, but as with anything you take, you should fully discuss your nutraceutical options with your doctor before you start taking a nutraceutical. Even though these are natural products, there could be side effects, or even interactions with medications you’re taking.
The term nutraceutical is a combination of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical. Stephen DeFelice, MD, coined the term in 1989. He defined nutraceuticals as “a food (or part of a food) that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease.”1
Some nutraceuticals are dietary supplements, and Congress got involved in 1994 with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). In it, they defined a dietary supplement as a product taken orally (in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form) that contains any chemical ingredient that adds to what a person normally gets in their diet. That includes minerals, vitamins, herbs, and amino acids. It also includes substances made from organs or glands, as well as enzymes, and a dietary supplement can be a concentrate or an extract.
Some examples of dietary supplements are vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C. Fish Oil, also referred to as Omega-3, DHA, or EPA fatty acids, is known to aid in cardiovascular health and is the most popular natural supplement in the US, where some 18.8 million adults reported using it in 2012.2,3
However, the full definition of nutraceuticals isn’t limited just to dietary supplements—as you can see in Dr. DeFelice’s definition. It can be a food that provides health benefits, such as vitamin D milk. A nutraceutical can also be a genetically engineered designer food, such as food that has more antioxidants put into it.
As you may be able to tell, there’s some gray area around just what is a nutraceutical. In fact, the term itself is used mostly in marketing, and there’s no official regulation around it; the only regulation applies to the term dietary supplement.
How Nutraceuticals Work
Nutraceuticals give your body extra nutrients, and those nutrients give your body the energy it needs to run itself. Nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, are broken down by the body in a process can metabolism; that’s the process that gives your body the energy and ability to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing, muscles working, etc.
Some nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, aid in the process of metabolism.
When you have an injury or if you’re ill (especially with a chronic pain condition), your body will require more nutrients, and this is where nutraceuticals can come into play. They can supplement the nutrients you’re already getting from your diet, giving your body more nutrients to use.
Should You Use Nutraceuticals?
While there haven’t been any huge clinical trials proving the usefulness of nutraceuticals, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t use them. You should, however, talk to your doctor about whether they’re right for you.
If you have osteoarthritis (in your hips, knees, or spine), you may want to consider glucosamine combined with chondroitin sulfate. Taking those together can help relieve some of your osteoarthritis symptoms. Glucosamine and chondroitin both occur naturally in our bodies and help with joint function, especially cartilage health, so taking a combination supplement may be beneficial. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate is the second most popular natural product in the US, with 2.6% (6.5 million) of adults haven taken it.4
You can learn more about glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate on SpineUniverse, a sister site of Practical Pain Management.
Some types of neuropathy may be helped by nutraceuticals. You can consider trying acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) or alpha lipoic acid (ALA) for diabetic neuropathy. ALC and ALA may also help with chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, as may vitamin E.
As with anything you try to help you manage your chronic pain, discuss the use of nutraceuticals with your doctor before trying them.
Even though there haven’t been studies showing the effectiveness of nutraceuticals, you may still find benefit from using them.