The concentration of the active ingredient in many of these remedies may not always match what is claimed on the label.
CFS patients should be wary of the following remedies:
- St. John's wort. This herbal remedy is being investigated for mild depression. In one study, St. John's wort lessened fatigue in CFS patients, even in those who did not consider themselves to be depressed. However, the substance may have some serious side effects; for example, it can interact with blood thinning medications.
- Melatonin. Some patients use melatonin, based on the association between CFS and possible sleep abnormalities. However, the small amount of available research has not shown melatonin to be helpful.
- Gingko. Although the risks for gingko appear to be low, there is an increased risk of bleeding when it is taken at high doses. In addition, gingko can interact with high doses of vitamin E and anti-clotting medications. Commercial gingko preparations have also been reported to contain colchicine, a substance that can be harmful in pregnant women and in people with kidney or liver problems. Some brands of gingko have no effect.
- Comfrey. Comfrey is an herbal remedy used for a number of inflammatory problems. Recently, evidence has emerged that comfrey can be toxic to the liver, and animal studies have reported a possible cancer risk. Comfrey is banned in Canada and other countries, but is still widely available in the U.S., although the FDA has asked supplement manufacturers to remove it from their products.
- Products containing the ingredient Ma Huang. This ingredient contains the stimulants ephedrine and kola nut, a caffeine source. Serious adverse reactions, including seizures, psychosis, and several deaths, have been reported in people taking this supplement.
Other alternative remedies with no proven benefit and possible toxic and dangerous side effects include:
- Bee pollen (can cause an allergic reaction)
- High colonic enemas
- Hydrogen peroxide injection (can cause blood clots or strokes)
- Injections of liver extract
- Megadoses of vitamins (can be toxic and have shown no benefits)
- Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
Review Date: 01/10/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.