How can diet affect fibromyalgia symptoms?
There is no definitive known cause of fibromyalgia and there is no cure. However, medicines are available that can reduce symptoms and help manage the condition. In addition to these prescription medications, people with fibromyalgia may use complementary therapies and treatments, such as diet management, as a means to reduce painful symptoms.
How might diet impact fibromyalgia?
An anti-inflammatory diet is recommended for people with fibromyalgia. One example of this is eating a large range of fruits and vegetables daily.
Dietary changes are not part of the standard treatment or treatments for fibromyalgia. However, a nutritious diet can almost always help a person with fibromyalgia live as healthy a life as possible.
The Cleveland Clinic recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for those who experience chronic pain. An anti-inflammatory diet isn't a specific diet, but rather a set of principles and guidelines regarding food choices.
Examples of anti-inflammatory diet choices include:
- Eating eight to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Choosing colorful fruits and vegetables whenever possible ensures the greatest range of nutrients. Examples of especially nutrient-packed foods include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage.
- Choosing whole grains. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates can have inflammatory properties. Examples of healthier whole grain foods include barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, wheat, and spelt.
- Limiting excess dairy intake. While dairy is a source of calcium, having too much in a diet can cause inflammation.
- Reducing red meat. Red meat should be an occasional food, not an everyday one. Replace red meat with turkey, fish, and vegetarian foods. Boneless, skinless chicken is also a good option, but may not have the anti-inflammatory benefits that some other foods have.
While an anti-inflammatory diet isn't necessarily a weight-loss diet, it is one that often helps a person maintain a healthy weight, which is of great benefit to those with fibromyalgia.
What foods should a person with fibromyalgia avoid?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, food additives called excitotoxins may worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. Examples of these foods include glutamate, aspartate, and L-cysteine. These are often added to sugar substitutes such as aspartame.
Another food additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG), is often added to many Asian and frozen foods. Research hasn't fully concluded that these additives can make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. However, some people with fibromyalgia have found that they experience less pain when they remove these additives form their diet.
In addition to avoiding additives, some people with fibromyalgia have found relief by avoiding the following foods:
- Dairy products
- Gluten-containing foods
- Refined flour
While avoiding these isn't necessarily going to eliminate all symptoms, those with fibromyalgia may benefit from keeping a food journal and commenting on any symptoms they may experience after eating particular foods. If a person identifies patterns between foods they have eaten and painful symptoms, they may consider removing particular foods from their diet.
What foods may help a person with fibromyalgia?
Vitamin D may help to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. Egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D.
Dietary sources of vitamin D can be found in:
- Egg yolks
- Low-fat yogurt fortified with vitamin D
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- Tuna, canned in water
- Whole grain cereals fortified with vitamin D
Although foods containing vitamin D may not help every person with fibromyalgia, eating them is very beneficial as vitamin D helps build healthier bones.
A person with fibromyalgia should also always talk to their doctor before starting to take any supplements, even if they are labeled "natural."
The NIH caution people that natural health products and even vitamin supplements are not always safe to take. It is possible to take too many vitamins and natural health products. These products can also interfere with any medications a person with fibromyalgia may be taking. For this reason, anybody considering taking supplements or other substances should discuss them with a doctor or pharmacist to ensure that no adverse interactions will take place.
For example, people with fibromyalgia often take antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These medications include sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), and escitalopram (Lexapro). Alcohol and St. John's wort are two examples of substances that may interact with SSRIs.
Other lifestyle measures that may help
Yoga may help people with fibromyalgia to reduce symptoms and fatigue.
While specific dietary measures have not been well-studied regarding those with fibromyalgia, other methods have been proven to help reduce symptoms. One example is aerobic exercise.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, engaging in aerobic exercise for 20 to 30 minutes a day for 2 to 3 days per week can help to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms and fatigue in those with fibromyalgia.
In addition to aerobic exercise, the following exercise types may also help those with fibromyalgia:
- Tai chi
Getting regular sleep and practicing good sleep habits can help a person manage their fibromyalgia symptoms better. Examples of ways to get a good night's sleep include:
- Keeping a regular schedule of sleeping and waking times helps the body to maintain its natural rhythm for sleeping.
- Adopting a nighttime routine that includes a period of relaxation before bed. Examples could include reading a book, listening to soothing music, or meditating.
- Maintaining a cool and comfortable sleep environment. Ideally, the room temperature should be 60-67°F. The bedroom should be dark, which gives the brain a visual cue to wind down. If noise is a problem, a person can wear ear plugs or invest in a white noise machine that can help to drown out ambient noise.
- Reducing exposure to electronics before bed. Examples include avoiding cell phone and computer use. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the light from these devices can stimulate the brain, causing a person to have greater difficulty going to sleep.
In addition to these measures, taking steps to reduce stress also may help relieve fibromyalgia. Examples of these practices may include:
- Massage therapy
- Relaxation training
- Counseling or therapy
Seeking out a fibromyalgia support group may also be an option. People with fibromyalgia can share their personal stories and struggles with others who are experiencing similar symptoms. Contacting organizations such as the National Fibromyalgia Association and the American Chronic Pain Association may be a good place to start.
What is fibromyalgia?
According to the NIH, an estimated 5 million Americans experience fibromyalgia. Of those 5 million, 80 to 90 percent are women.
Fibromyalgia causes a person to experience a set of symptoms that can vary from mild to severe. The currently held belief is that the disease alters a person's pain pathways, causing them to experience stronger pain sensations than most people do.
Those with fibromyalgia should always keep in contact with their doctors. They should have regular check-ups to ensure medications and lifestyle changes are helping to manage their pain and other related symptoms.
However, there are some times when a person with fibromyalgia should see their doctor outside of a regular schedule. These instances include when:
- A person's fibromyalgia symptoms are getting worse
- A person is experiencing new symptoms that may or may not be related to fibromyalgia
- A person has tried a new medication or treatment that isn't working or may be causing other unpleasant symptoms