Fibromyalgia and Diet

Specific Dietary Recommendations for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic musculo-skeletal pain, fatigue, impaired deep sleep, headaches, confusion, irritable bowel, and nervous symptoms like depression or anxiety.  Many symptoms of this disease mimic those of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and arthritis.  Approximately 70% of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia meet all the criteria for CFS.  It is now estimated that up to 10 million Americans, usually women, suffer from fibromyalgia.  There is no known cause for this condition.  However, there is a strong connection to liver and gastrointestinal impairment, leaky gut syndrome, and nutrient deficiencies.  Although this disease is labeled untreatable and incurable, the best therapy integrates nutrition, mind/body work, exercise, and lifestyle modification.

 

Issues to Consider:

  • One of the most common findings in individuals with impaired immune function is gastrointestinal overgrowth of Candida albicans.
  • A deficiency of virtually any nutrient can produce the symptoms of fatigue and render the body more susceptible to infection.
  • The mind and body play a critical role in determining the status of the immune system and energy levels. Therefore, stress management and emotional support are very important.
  • Food allergies/sensitivities – especially wheat and dairy.
  • Hypothyroidism – symptoms of fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism are similar.

Candida is a naturally occurring yeast that lives in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts and on the skin.  In small amounts, this fungus is harmless. However, when there is an overgrowth, it can be destructive and can cause numerous health problems. Candida thrives on sugar (including natural forms from fruit), carbohydrates, preserved, processed and refined foods. These are foods to avoid in the treatment of candida overgrowth Candida overgrowth often time causes sensitivity to molds, fermented foods/beverages and yeast, thus should be avoided as well.  For more details regarding candida, refer to the candida handout.  The essential guidelines:

  • avoid all sugar and refined grain products
  • avoid all fermented foods and drinks
  • eat three meals daily
  • maintain a high fiber intake

 

The Serotonin Connection

Although fibromyalgia is multi-facetted, a possible cause of the musculo-skeletal pain is a low level of serotonin. Chronic low levels of serotonin exaggerate the sensation of pain.  There is a serotonin friendly way of eating. Many times sugar and refined starches can affect your brain serotonin. Therefore, minimizing these refined products can help balance serotonin levels. Some recommendations to help avoid consuming and craving refined sugar and refined flours follow. Eat three meals a day at regular intervals, which include a balanced breakfast that includes some quality protein. Eat complex carbohydrates, such as colorful vegetables and beans. Lastly, eat healthy protein and fat with each meal, such as almonds, avocados, wild game, grass-fed beed, organic eggs, poultry, coconut, free-range poultry, and olive oil. Protein, fat, and fiber slow down digestion and stabilize blood sugar levels, which curb sweet and starch cravings. Additionally, healthy fats have other healthful properties that are important in the treatment plan for fibromyalgia, such as anti-inflammatory actions and immune system strengthening capabilities.

 

Inflammation and Food

Fish contains the fatty acids EPA and DHA, which reduce inflammation. Foods containing healthful essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and linoleic acid (LA), also reduce inflammation in the body.  Food sources of these fatty acids are green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, grass-fed meat, organic DHA rich eggs, nuts and seeds, and wild cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines).

 

The Importance of Magnesium

The mineral magnesium is important in the treatment of fibromyalgia. Many people with this condition have low magnesium levels. Magnesium is critical to many cellular functions, including energy production, protein formation, and cellular replication.  Furthermore, magnesium takes part in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, particularly those related to energy production. Low magnesium equals low energy. Most Americans consume a low-magnesium diet due to high consumption of refined/processed foods and processed meats along with a lack of vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Magnesium rich foods include legumes, figs, soy, grapefruit, almonds, dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Good food sources of magnesium include kelp, wheat bran and germ, millet, almonds, and soy.

The most sensible way to consume vital vitamins and minerals necessary for the treatment of fibromyalgia is through a whole foods diet. This involves choosing and eating foods in their natural, whole form, or eating foods as close to how they occur in nature as possible. This means eating no over-processed, boxed or canned foods. During the processing, a large percentage of the nutrients found in the original food are destroyed. Cook foods minimally and base the diet on vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruits, unrefined oils, organic eggs, wild cold-water fish, free-range chemical free poultry, grass-fed meats, and fermented dairy products. Be sure to rule out food sensitivities, as everyone responds differently to certain foods.

 

A Review of Dietary Recommendations:

  • Try an elimination diet.
  • Minimize sugar, Nutrasweetâ, white flour, and partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Include a quality fat and protein in each meal.
  • Emphasize antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Fibromyalgia is characterized by high oxidative stress. Therefore, antioxidants are needed to prevent damage to body cells.
  • Eat foods that reduce inflammation, such as green leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, nuts and seeds, and wild cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel).
  • Eat foods rich in magnesium, including figs, grapefruit, dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat a whole foods diet, which includes foods in their natural form and limits over-processed and refined foods.

 

References:

Murray, Michael N.D. & Pizzorno, Joseph N.D. 1998. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine 2nd Ed. Prima Pub.

Page, Linda Rector, Ph.D. 1996.  Healthy Healing, 10th Ed. Healthy Healing Pub.

Written by Jen Allbritton, CN Updated 5/02