What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain, fatigue, and tender points around the body. It can be hard to diagnose because many of its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. It can also be hard to treat. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor who has experience treating fibromyalgia.
An estimated 5 million American adults — most of them women — have fibromyalgia, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Aim for a well-rounded diet
Eating a balanced diet is a good idea for anyone, regardless of whether you have fibromyalgia. That diet should include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, such as chicken or fish. Avoid unhealthy foods, including anything processed or fried, and excessive amounts of saturated fats. 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. Avoid sweets, which will only give you a quick sugar boost. Your body will burn right through them, and then you’ll crash. Instead, eat foods that will give you more energy to get through your day. Combine protein or fats with carbohydrates to slow down their absorption. Choose fresh, whole foods high in fiber and low in added sugars, such as:
- almonds and other nuts and seeds
- dark leafy greens
A few studies have looked at how eating certain diets affects fibromyalgia. There’s evidence from 2000 that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, which is high in plant antioxidants, might offer some symptom relief. A study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicinefound that people who ate a mostly raw vegetarian diet had less pain. However, this type of diet is very restrictive, and it’s not for everyone. Read our definitive guide to following a vegan diet.
Avoid foods that trigger symptoms
While there is no single “fibromyalgia diet,” research does reveal that certain ingredients or types of food may be problematic for those with fibromyalgia. These include:
- gluten-containing foods
- food additives or food chemicals
- excitotoxins, such as MSG
Some people do confirm that they 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. Read on to learn about foods that may negatively affect your symptoms.
Fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols (FODMAPs) are certain carbohydrates that are fermented by gut bacteria in the digestive tract and may promote symptoms in some people. A recent study found that those with fibromyalgia had improved symptoms and quality of life and lost weight when following a low-FODMAP diet.
A 2014 study reported that non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia patients who were negative for celiac disease still had significant improvements in pain and/or quality of life indicators when following a gluten-free diet.
Excitotoxins and food additives
In 2016, the journal Pain Management reported that a one-month elimination of aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and altered proteins — like those found in protein isolates and hydrolyzed protein — resulted in significantly improved pain symptoms. When patients added those substances back into their diets, their symptoms returned or worsened.
Maintain a healthy weight
Another benefit of eating a healthy diet is that it can help keep your weight under control. One study in the journal Clinical Rheumatologyfound that people with fibromyalgia who are also obese enjoyed a better quality of life once they lost weight. They had less pain and depression, fewer tender points, and they slept better after taking off a few pounds. This study suggests that weight loss can be an important part of fibromyalgia treatment.
Herbal remedies for fibromyalgia
Some people try herbal remedies and dietary supplements to improve their fibromyalgia symptoms. There isn’t much research to show whether these supplements work. The few studies that have been done didn’t find much improvement in symptoms from natural supplements.
Researchers are looking at a possible connection between low magnesium and fibromyalgia symptoms, as a low magnesium level in the blood (among other minerals) is common. While more research is needed, you can enjoy an Epsom salt bath a few times a week and eat magnesium-rich foods to improve your magnesium levels.