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Fibromyalgia and Diet

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Around 3 to 5% of the world population suffers from a widespread painful disorder called fibromyalgia. Females are affected more often than males.

There are multiple tender points and other symptoms like sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and fatigue that may severely disable the patient and interfere with daily functioning affecting quality of life.

For each individual the symptoms and time course are variable and may wax and wane with time, never really going away.

Most recommendations do not suggest a special therapeutic diet for this disease. However, it is known that all patients with rheumatoid diseases may have nutritional deficiencies. Diet for fibromyalgia thus focuses on:-

  • Prevention of nutritional deficiencies
  • Including components of a healthy and balanced diet to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Regular physical activity to help maintain a proper food intake and rest.

There are several sources of information prescribing and proscribing certain diets among fibromyalgia sufferers. This may confuse patients.

There is no scientific evidence that any special diet helps. However, for most patients there are certain foods that are known to trigger fibromyalgia pain.

Thus the ideal diet for each patient is individualized and different for different people. This is because of the co-existing conditions with fibromyalgia include gluten intolerance, gout and irritable bowel syndrome.

What foods should fibromyalgia patients avoid?

Some of the foods that fibromyalgia patients should definitely avoid include:-

  • Aspartame – this increases pain perception by increasing a pain receptor of the nervous system called the NMDA. As pain turns from acute to chronic the NMDA receptors are activated. NMDA receptors are activated by aspartame. People with fibromyalgia already have an overly activated NMDA receptors and aspartame thus worsens the condition. Aspartame is present in artificial sweeteners.
  • Food Additives like MSG and Nitrates – MSG has the same effects as aspartame on fibromyalgia. These are found in oriental foods.
  • Simple Carbohydrates like fructose and sugars – complex carbohydrates from plant sources are best for fibromyalgia patients. These release sugars slowly in blood. Sugar rich foods should be avoided to maintain weight loss and reduce fatigue as it is assimilated faster that complex carbohydrates.
  • Caffeine – many fibromyalgia patients may take caffeine in energy drinks, colas and coffee to combat with fatigue. These agents, however, can give a quick boost to energy after which the fatigue returns.
  • Yeast and Gluten – gluten present in wheat should be avoided by patients with gluten intolerance
  • Dairy foods – some fibromyalgia patients are unable to tolerate dairy products and lactose. These patients should avoid milk and associated products.
  • Some vegetables may trigger flare up of symptoms in fibromyalgia patients. These include tomatoes, chili, eggplant and bell pepper. This also varies between individuals.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2013

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