Diffuse aching pain, poor sleep, frequent headaches, crippling fatigue, and foggy brain. Sound familiar?
This is the reality of fibromyalgia which really has a way of sucking the life out of you! No one is entirely sure what causes fibromyalgia but it is believed to be triggered by certain events such as physical or emotional trauma or infections (example: Lyme disease).
So what can be done to get some much needed relief? Think there’s nothing you can do? Not so.
There is more that can be done besides popping pills and “just dealing with it”. Did you know that changing your diet can help with some of those pesky symptoms? Yes, food, the stuff that we need to eat day in and day out has the power to help fight fibromyalgia pain!
These days, there is a lot of talk and controversy about gluten. Is it really that bad?
As you might know, gluten is a substance found in many grains to give dough that elastic texture. It gives baked bread that chewy, satisfying texture.
Most people tolerate gluten just fine. However, gluten can cause big problems for some. For example, Celiac disease involves the body treating gluten as a foreign invader. Others have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity causing nasty symptoms such as belly bloating and pain, diarrhea, tiredness, and depression.
There’s even research showing that a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms of fibromyalgia. Researchers observed that many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia overlap with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity and thought “hey, why not try a gluten free diet?”
It turned out that chronic widespread pain improved dramatically in all test subjects with most achieving complete remission of fibromyalgia. Amazing, right? Therefore, taking a stab at a gluten-free diet may help relieve some of your bothersome symptoms. And fortunately, a gluten-free diet is fairly easy to execute nowadays given the availability of gluten-free products. And many restaurants now cater to the needs of gluten-free customers.
I also suggest going to and searching for a good book to learn all the tricks of sticking to a gluten-free diet.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame are food additives that contain the molecules glutamate and aspartate.
These molecules act as excitatory neurotransmitters. And they can cause neurotoxicity when used in excess, leading to pain such as in fibromyalgia and migraines. Think of them as continuously firing electric pain signals in your brain and throughout your body. Ouch.
As you might know, MSG enhances flavor and is commonly found in foods such as soy sauce, fish sauce, and aged cheeses. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener often found in diet sodas, gum, and yogurt.
Good news is, there’s evidence to suggest that cutting out MSG and aspartame from the diet leads to fibromyalgia symptom relief.
An observational study in a small group of women showed complete resolution of fibromyalgia symptoms after eliminating MSG and aspartame from their diets. And on the flip side, symptoms returned after reintroducing these substances. There’s definitely need for a bit more research on a larger scale before a definitive conclusion can be made, but it’s an interesting start.
To steer clear of aspartame, avoid foods with artificial sweeteners in favor of natural sweeteners like (a little bit of) real sugar, honey, or fruit.
MSG is commonly used in preparation of Chinese food. So, the next time you get takeout, make sure your go-to restaurant does not use MSG.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols. (bonus: now you know why it’s abbreviated.)What on earth is a FODMAP might you ask?
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the gut resulting in abdominal pain and bloating. Certain fruits, vegetables, dairy, and wheat products contain high amounts of FODMAPs. Other big offenders when it comes to containing high levels of FODMAPs are artificial sweeteners and alcohol. (No, not alcohol!)
So what can you do?
Think about focusing on more berries, citrus fruits, non-dairy milks, and lean meats. Do less of beans, wheat, dairy products, and dried fruits.
A low FODMAP diet was originally found to help with symptoms from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, but there is evidence that a low FODMAP diet provides a positive impact on fibromyalgia symptoms, especially with painful hypersensitivity.
Double bonus: this diet was also found to be nutritionally balanced and promoted weight loss.
Want to try a low FODMAP diet? See below:
Weight loss is not only good for our long-term well-being and longevity, but also for chronic pain relief. And, let’s face it, most of us could stand to lose a few pounds.
Research suggests that weight loss improves pain, especially in joints. Symptoms of fatigue, trouble sleeping, and depression also improved in participants.
Losing greater than 10 percent of body weight will achieve the maximum benefit.
Weight loss is easier said than done, I know.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We are all different-- age, gender, and body type. So as always, it is best to consult your doctor before making dramatic changes to your diet for safety reasons. Also, a good dietician with a proven track record is an excellent resource.
Are you ready to work off the calories at the gym but don't know where to start? Hiring a personal trainer may be helpful starting out to advise the best types of exercise for you as well as keeping you accountable. Bonus: exercise may help with pain, sleep disturbance, and low energy levels associated with fibromyalgia!
If you’re new to the diet and exercise thing, there is an abundance of wearable technology devices available to help keep you on track. Fitbits and Apple Watch are popular devices that keep track of number of steps, time spent being active, sleep patterns, heart rate, and more.
You can also keep track of calorie and water intake through the apps on your phone to help you gauge your daily requirements. Personally, I lost 20 pounds in a period of five months with the help of my Fitbit. I would recommend wearable devices to anyone!
Dietary interventions for fibromyalgia symptom relief is not meant to be an all-or-nothing approach.
Try one thing at a time and give it at least a few weeks to a a few months to see if it is working. Remember, patience and determination go a long way on your path to recovering from chronic pain.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.