By Prachi Patel, Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietician
Food habits play an essential role in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Each body is different and reacts differently, and understanding your own trigger points through food can greatly assist in achieving a better lifestyle. Since it can be challenging to diagnose it is also challenging to treat. Some people may benefit from making lifestyle adjustments, such as dietary changes, to control their symptoms, and like in most other struggles of fibromyalgia, which foods trigger or assist, is a self-diagnoses requirement.
There are a few things that could be done in order to help control the symptoms:
AIM FOR A WELL-ROUNDED DIET
Everyone should have a balanced diet, regardless of whether they have fibromyalgia. However, patients with fibromyalgia should pay special attention to receiving the correct combination of nutrients.
Reduced symptoms may result from diets high in antioxidants and provide sufficient levels of minerals, such as vitamin B12.
A balanced diet should include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Low fat dairy
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats
- Plant protein / lean protein, such as chicken or fish
Try to avoid foods that are low in nutritional value, which are more likely to negatively affect your health, including excessive amounts of saturated fats and anything processed or fried. Also limit the amount of salt and sugar in your diet.
EAT FOR ENERGY
Fibromyalgia can make you feel tired and worn out. Eating certain foods can give you more energy to get through your day. To slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, combine them with protein or fats. Choose fresh, whole foods high in fiber and low in added sugars, such as:
- Buts and seeds
- Dark leafy greens
Avoid sweets, which only give you a quick sugar boost. Your body will burn right through them, and then you’ll crash, or immediately lose that high-energy feeling.
A few older studies have looked at how eating certain diets affects fibromyalgia. A small study concluded that eating a raw and vegan diet might offer some relief from symptoms such as stiff joints and poor sleep.
A study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (now BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies) in 2001, found that people who ate mostly raw and vegetarian foods had less pain. Their diets included items such as salads, carrot juice, nuts, and fruits. More recent research has also touted the benefits of a raw and vegetarian diet. According to a 2019 literature review, people who adopted this type of diet for a few months reported improvements in parameters such as:
- Sleep quality
- Morning stiffness
- Emotional health
While meat-free diets are typically healthy and high in plant antioxidants, raw food diets are very restrictive and aren’t for everyone. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional or a nutrition expert before adopting a mostly or completely raw diet.
While there’s no single “fibromyalgia diet,” research does indicate that certain ingredients or types of food may cause problems for some people with fibromyalgia.
- Fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols (fodmaps)
- Foods containing gluten
- Excitotoxins, a category of food additives
Some people feel better when they eat or avoid certain types of foods. You may need to keep a food diary to find out which foods seem to trigger or improve your symptoms. FODMAPs are certain carbohydrates that are fermented by gut bacteria in the digestive tract. They may promote symptoms in some people.
Foods high in FODMAPs include:
- Dairy products
- Barley and rye
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower
- Fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears
A study done in 2017 found that those with fibromyalgia had improved symptoms and quality of life when following a low-FODMAP diet. They also lost weight.
ROLE OF GLUTEN
One study done in 2014 reported that non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia who tested negative for celiac disease still saw significant improvements in pain or quality-of-life indicators when following a gluten-free diet.
ROLE OF EXCITOTOXINS
Excitotoxins are substances that stimulate the tongue’s taste receptors. Examples include monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, and altered proteins like those found in protein isolates and hydrolyzed protein. In a 2012 study, people with both fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported significantly improved pain symptoms after eliminating excitotoxins for 1 month. When the study participants added MSG back into their diets, their symptoms returned or worsened. On the other hand, a 2013 study concluded that eliminating MSG and aspartame from the diet for a few months had no effect on fibromyalgia symptoms. Larger studies are still needed.
Avoiding excitotoxins might not benefit everyone. However, you can try eliminating these compounds from your diet and seeing whether that helps relieve your individual symptoms.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Another benefit of eating a healthy diet is that it can help you manage your weight. One 2012 study published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology found that people with fibromyalgia who also have obesity enjoyed a better quality of life once they lost weight. They experienced less pain and depression, had fewer tender points, and slept better after taking off a few pounds. This study suggests that weight loss can be an important part of fibromyalgia treatment. A 2019 literature review also suggests that weight loss and eating a low calorie diet can contribute to less pain and inflammation and an improved quality of life.
Some people try to improve their fibromyalgia symptoms with herbal remedies and dietary supplements. There isn’t much research to show that these supplements work. The few studies that have been done didn’t find much improvement in symptoms. Nevertheless, researchers are still looking at a possible connection between certain nutritional deficiencies and fibromyalgia symptoms. A 2017 literature review concluded that vitamin and mineral deficiencies have no effect on fibromyalgia. Other research including a 2018 literature review, has linked fibromyalgia pain to low dietary intake of and low levels of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D. More studies are needed, but eating magnesium-rich foods (like nuts) has been shown to help improve your magnesium levels. Enjoying a warm Epsom salt bath a few times a week can help relieve symptoms such as pain. Many foods that are naturally high in calcium or vitamin D are animal products, such as salmon and yogurt. People following vegan or vegetarian diets will have to plan carefully to get these nutrients into their diets. If you’re meat-free, reach for almonds, mushrooms, tofu, and fortified foods to help ensure you’re not missing out on either of these nutrients.
The bottom line is there’s no cure for fibromyalgia, and there’s limited research on the impact that diet has on the disease. However, making changes to your diet may help relieve some of your symptoms. Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and be mindful of which foods seem to aggravate your symptoms.
Prachi is an Ahmedabad based Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietician with a mission to instill confidence and education in patients so that they can manage their health successfully and sustainably. With a Bachelors in Pharmacy and a Masters in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the US, Prachi has a keen understanding of human physiology and the interaction between medicine and diet.
Address: B-313 Stellar, Sindhu Bhawan Road, Sindhu Bhawan, Ahmedabad
Check out a few recipes that ease chronic inflammation from Kitchen Therapy
and here are some products from our #sip+eat range that help with inflammation
CHAI MASALA a delightful hand-pounded spice blend based on Ayurveda to help with soothing the digestive system with warmth and nourishment
EUCALYPTUS HONEY to eat a spoonful raw to work as a natural laxative, boosts metabolism, improves immunity and helps avoid seasonal pollen allergies and flu
CALMING BREW a herbal, caffeine-free brew blend to help with better sleep and helps with reducing inflammation in the body
PLUM + ROSES BREW refreshing antioxidant black tea with stone fruits to help boost the metabolism and natural sweetness of cacao nibs and anti-bacterial rose petals
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain in the bones and muscles. The medical community finds the condition difficult to diagnose due to its similarity with other chronic pain illnesses like osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis. The difference between these conditions and fibromyalgia is in the areas of pain – in the former, you are racked with pain in specific areas, but in fibromyalgia, the pain is widespread. That's why diagnosis is made by the process of elimination. Here's an interesting fact: records show over 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women.
DISCLAIMER: All opinions and suggestions shared are from our Founder’s detailed research and experiences in managing symptoms in her own battle with fibromyalgia