Fibromyalgia (FM) is a complex condition that includes widespread muscle and joint pain, where everything seems to ache and is associated with severe exhaustion and fatigue. It affects up to 4% of the population (woman > men), with no known cause and no known cure. With these facts, it’s not surprising that many sufferers have turned to diet as a means of trying to improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting dietary recommendations for FM, some completely contradicting the other, leaving both the patient and doctor confused as to who or what to believe.
FM can be primary (of unknown cause) or secondary (caused by a different specific condition). Because many conditions can give rise to FM, it’s not surprising that there is no one diet that works universally for all FM patients. However, many FM sufferers respond from eliminating one or more of several types of foods according to experts interviewed by WebMD, and utilizing these recommendations can prove highly effective. They specifically identified seven foods to avoid in the management of FM:
- Aspartame: All of the experts interviewed by WebMD agreed a large majority of FM patients could worsen by eating or drinking foods sweetened by aspartame.
- MSG (monosodium glutamine) and nitrates: MSG is a common additive to enhance flavor in many processed and frozen foods (like lunch meat) as well as in some Asian (eg., Chinese) foods. Hence, these types of foods should be avoided.
- Sugar, fructose, and simple carbohydrates: Though no study has clearly identified that these foods directly worsen FM symptoms, eliminating foods like cake, white bread, and sugar in general, will decrease the risk of developing secondary conditions such as yeast infections that can give rise to FM. Eliminating foods with high levels of fructose corn syrup has been reported to help some FM patients.
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, colas/soda, and chocolate): After a brief stimulating effect (energy boost), there is a longer-lasting sedative affect that is amplified in FM patients. The good news is that most of the caffeine is out of the body within a week of discontinuing use.
- Yeast and glutens: These two are not related but are frequently used together in foods like cake, donuts, and bread and both contribute to FM symptoms. Yeast gives rise to yeast fungus where an overgrowth may cause or exacerbate FM symptoms resulting in joint and muscle pain. Glutens can cause stomach and other GI problems, which in turn can give rise to fatigue.
- Dairy: Regardless if its low or high fat, some reports indicate that dairy products, particularly milk, can increase the symptoms of FM and avoiding these can help.
- Nightshade plants: Tomatoes, chili and bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplant can trigger flare-ups of FM and various forms of arthritis.
Some GOOD dietary approaches include a heart-healthy diet—that is, one that is low in saturated fat and includes lean meats and poultry, fresh fruits, and vegetables. This diet improves one’s overall health, thus reducing the risk of secondary FM and allowing the body to better fight off other disease processes. This diet is also anti-inflammatory, the common link found in many health conditions. A vegetarian diet comprised of mostly whole foods was also reported as helpful. High potency vitamin supplement and specifically omega 3 fatty acids (main ingredients—EPA and DHA) included in fish oil, flax seed, walnuts, some fortified cereals, and eggs also help reduce inflammation.