The Fibromyalgia Diet
What the Science Says
Can the foods you eat help your fibro symptoms? Possibly. But the scientific evidence for nutrition-as-pain-therapy isn't quite there yet. Still, studies suggest at least some -- if not all -- people with fibromyalgia may experience some benefit by changing their diet. It may or may not work for you -- the way people's bodies respond to dietary changes is very individual. But a trial period couldn't hurt, and may very well help. So we've gathered the evidence on foods and nutrients that may help tame fibro pain, fatigue, and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Enjoy Fresh Produce
Oxidative stress -- a cell-damaging process -- is often higher in the bodies of people with fibromyalgia and is therefore thought to play a role in the development of the condition. Which suggests that eating lots of fruits and vegetables could be a smart move for people with fibromyalgia. Produce is full of antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative stress. And in a handful of studies, a high-in-produce, raw vegetarian or vegan diet even reduced fibro pain and stiffness in study participants.
Benefit from Seafood and Omega-3s
In a very small preliminary study involving people with nerve impingement syndromes, burn injuries, and fibromyalgia, omega-3 fatty acids from fish appeared to significantly reduce pain. More research is needed to confirm the pain-relieving benefit of omega-3, but ask your doctor whether a fish oil supplement is worth trying for your fibro pain -- and at what dose. You can also add more cold-water fish to your diet, like salmon and tuna.
Suspect Caffeine Sensitivity
There's no evidence that caffeine aggravates fibromyalgia -- but too much of the stuff can cause dips and spikes in energy throughout the day, give you the jitters, exacerbate tummy troubles, and make it hard to sleep. So you might want to nix the java or keep it to a morning ritual if you have caffeine sensitivity. If you suspect caffeine could be causing you trouble, try weaning yourself over a few days, and track your symptoms in a journal.
Skip the Sugary Treats
Cutting back on sugary desserts, candy, fructose-sweetened beverages, and even simple carbs (like refined pasta, bread, and white rice) may not affect your fibro. But it may help you sidestep hypoglycemia -- a fatigue-inducing dip in blood sugar that can happen when people overindulge in foods with a high glycemic index, like sugary treats. And avoiding hypoglycemia is extra important for fibromyalgia patients, considering that some studies suggest people with fibromyalgia may have an impaired ability to produce the hormones necessary to keep blood sugar stable.
Avoid Sweeteners and Additives
There is little to no evidence that artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free beverages and packaged foods actually worsens fibromyalgia. But in a handful of case studies, nixing aspartame improved or eliminated fibro pain and fatigue. And some experts suggest that certain food additives, like the flavor-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) or the nitrates in processed meat, might make living with fibromyalgia more difficult if it triggers any unpleasant symptoms or side effects. More research is needed, but you can try an elimination diet if you'd like to see if food additives may be affecting your symptoms.
Watch Out for Food Allergies
Some people are allergic or sensitive to certain foods and food ingredients, including gluten (found in wheat) and lactose (found in dairy products). Side effects can range from an upset stomach, to fatigue, to depression. And although no evidence exists about whether these foods help or hurt fibromyalgia symptoms, it's important to know whether you have allergies or sensitivities to them, since they could be making your fibro symptoms worse. Ask your doctor about allergy testing or elimination diets.
A multivitamin may be a good idea. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that appeared to quell oxidative stress and pain in a small study. And research has shown that a big number of fibro sufferers are deficient in vitamin D and that boosting levels may help improve anxiety and depression. Also, similar studies suggest a connection between chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain and low levels of vitamin D. Another type of supplemental nutrition worth investigating? Amino acids. Certain amino acid supplements may help with mood and pain. But ask your doctor for advice and dosing instructions.
Manage Gastric Upset
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sometimes accompanies fibromyalgia. If you have frequent gastric upset -- such as constipation, diarrhea, painful gas, or abdominal bloating -- ask your physician whether you could be suffering from IBS. And learn to avoid the foods and habits that trigger your symptoms. High-fat foods, caffeine, and alcohol often are culprits. At the same time, upping your intake of high-fiber foods may help these and other fibro symptoms.
Use Your Symptoms Journal
Keeping track of your diet in a daily symptoms journal may help you and your rheumatologist better discern what foods may be causing your fibro symptoms and other trouble, and what foods seem to help. Devise a tracking system that feels easy and works best for you, such as an Excel spreadsheet, a journal, a daily planner or calendar, or a personal digital assistant (PDA). You should track all of your activities, feelings, stress levels, and fibromyalgia treatments there as well.