Fibromyalgia (FM) is a complex pain disorder characterized by muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue. It affects over ten million Americans, (4% of the population), primarily women. Although there is no known treatment that works for everyone, following a healthy diet by eliminating processed foods, caffeine, aspartame (artificial sweetener), food additives and nightshades may reduce the symptoms.
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a very real condition that affects millions of Americans and its symptoms include chronic widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disorders, joint pain, problems with cognitive functioning, migraines, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), anxiety, depression, and environmental sensitivity. Unfortunately, FM is a condition rather than a specific illness and presents itself as an array of complex symptoms; believed to be caused by biological, psychological, and environmental factors and there is no specific universal treatment for the condition.
Sufferers of FM may be able to find some relief by following a healthy diet, which includes eliminating some foods while adding or increasing others. Kent Holtorf, M.D., Medical Director of the Holtorf Medical Group says, “We’re at the point now where we know diet plays a role in this disease – it’s just the same diet for everybody. And not everybody is helped in the same way.” However, there are a number of secondary health conditions such as gluten intolerance, gout (a form of arthritis), and restless leg syndrome that coexist with fibromyalgia causing an overlapping of symptoms or exacerbating the FM symptoms. Treating secondary conditions through dietary control may also bring some relief to the pain and fatigue brought on by fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia: Seven foods to avoid
Due to the nature of fibromyalgia that it is non-specific condition, these dietary guidelines may not be right for all FM sufferers but appear to make a difference for a significant number of those suffering.
1. Aspartame (NutraSweet)
Aspartame is classified as an excitotoxin, which stimulates NMDA pain receptors, which are already overly active with fibromyalgia.
2. Food additives including MSG (monosodium glutamine) and nitrates
MSG is an additive or flavor enhancer and nitrates are preservatives. Both are found in many processed foods and are also classified as an excitotoxin. Nitrates and MSG can often difficult to tolerate in people without fibromyalgia and are extremely difficult to tolerate in those who do.
3. Sugar, fructose, and simple carbohydrates
There is not clear evidence that cutting out simple carbohydrates will have an impact on fibromyalgia but it will reduce symptoms of chronic yeast infection, which may be a secondary condition contributing to the pain of fibromyalgia.
High fructose corn syrup, which is found in carbonated beverages, is prone to cause a metabolic reaction resulting in much more sugar pouring into the blood at a quicker rate. The quick rise is followed by a fast fall with can exacerbate the fatigue element of fibromyalgia.
4. Caffeine – including coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate
Caffeine does create a boost in energy; however, it is followed by a longer and deeper sedative effect. People with fibromyalgia already suffer from fatigue therefore amplifying the downside.
5. Yeast and gluten
Yeast and gluten are frequently found together, particularly in baked goods. Cutting both out can have equal benefit. Cutting yeast out of a diet may yield yeast fungus overgrowth, which may cause or exacerbate joint and muscle pain. Cutting gluten can improve digestive problems, stomach ailments, and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
Dairy has been known to aggravate symptoms in some fibromyalgia sufferers but not all. If avoiding diary does not seem to relieve symptoms, then drinking skim milk provides calcium to build bones and protein to build muscle.
7. Nightshade Plants
Common nightshade plants include tomatoes, chili, bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. However, there are over 2,000 other varieties of “nightshades.” Edible nightshades can trigger flares on various types of arthritis and symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. If by eliminating nightshades there is no noticeable relief from symptoms of FM, then bring them back into your diet because these are some of the most nutritious vegetables.
Nutritionist, Samantha Heller, MS, RD, says, “When you body is healthier overall, you may be better able to cope with any disease, and better able to respond to even small changes you make.” A vegetarian diet consisting mostly of raw whole foods has shown to reduce symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. It also produces improvement of mitochondria dysfunction, which according to Holtorf, “This is the area of the cell where energy is made. Consequently, it’s necessary to have high levels of nutrients to get the mitochondria to work and for energy to by produced.”
Included in a healthy diet should be a high-quality vitamin supplement as well as supplements containing omega 3 fatty acids and eating “good fat” foods such as foods rich in fish oil, flax seed, walnuts, some fortified cereals and eggs. All of which have been show to have an impact on inflammation.