By Lana Barhum, Columnist
Having lived with fibromyalgia most of my adult life, I know my diet may worsen or improve my pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms. I am not alone in this belief, but the research disagrees.
Most studies have not shown any specific evidence that fibromyalgia patients should avoid certain foods or add any to their diets to manage symptoms. Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to take a look at how some foods influence how you feel.
MSG, Gluten and Vitamin D
At least 42% of fibromyalgia patients have reported worsening symptoms after eating certain foods, according to a study in Clinical Rheumatology. Other studies on fibromyalgia and diet have focused on food additives, gluten, and vitamin D, and found some evidence that they may affect fibromyalgia pain.
A 2012 study published in Clinical Experimental Rheumatology, assessed fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients who had excluded monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame from their diets. After four weeks, 84% of the study participants reported their symptoms had improved by about a third. Adding MSG back into their diets resulted in a return of symptoms.
The researchers concluded that MSG did, in fact, have an adverse effect on some fibromyalgia patients and removing it from their diets was an easy solution.
"This novel research implicates glutamate as a major adverse excitotoxin in some FM (fibromyalgia) patients. Dietary manipulation is a relatively simple and low cost non-pharmacological intervention that warrants further exploration," reported lead author Kathleen Holton, PhD.
But another study, published in Rheumatology International, found no relationship between MSG and fibromyalgia pain and symptoms. The researchers reported no symptom improvement in the group that removed MSG and aspartame from their diets and the group that did not.
While there has been little specific evidence pointing to gluten as a fibromyalgia trigger, some research shows patients respond well when they avoid eating gluten. Spanish researchers reported in Rheumatology International that fibromyalgia patients who removed gluten from their diets showed notable improvements in pain and symptoms.
There may also be a link between fibromyalgia pain and low levels of vitamin D, according to a 2014 study out of Austria. That research, reported in the journal Pain, found that study participants who took vitamin D supplements experienced less pain and morning fatigue.
A 2015 report from the journal Pain and Therapy, also makes a case for a link between Vitamin D deficiency and pain. "Significant improvements in assessment of sleep, mood, pain levels, well-being, and various aspects of quality of life with vitamin D supplementation have been shown,” said researchers Elspeth and Edward Shipton.
More research is needed to further determine if diet and fibromyalgia are actually related. But doctors do agree eating healthy foods can help patients to feel better and tweaking your diet may improve symptoms.
Making Diet Changes
Here are some ways to help you figure out which foods help and which ones hurt.
Keep a Food Journal. Many people with fibromyalgia have food sensitivities, but specific “trigger” foods will vary from person to person. A good way to identify which foods worsen fibromyalgia symptoms and pain is to keep a food journal. If you find your symptoms consistently worsen after eating certain foods, try eliminating those foods from your diet and see if your symptoms improve.
Eat Healthy. It makes sense for everyone to eat healthy, not just people with fibromyalgia. Eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
A balanced diet will also give you more energy and improve overall health.
Pick the Right Foods. There are certain foods that may help improve fibromyalgia symptoms and minimize flares. Vitamin D is one, as studies show deficiency can cause joint and muscle pain.
Vitamin D is one, as studies show deficiency can cause joint and muscle pain. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish (tuna and salmon), dairy products fortified with vitamin D (orange juice, milk, and cereal), beef liver, and egg yolks. Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, walnuts and flax seed, may also ease fibromyalgia symptoms by reducing soreness and inflammation.
I am strong believer in taking your health into your own hands and experimenting with alternative treatments, including a healthy diet. Through trial and error, I have figured out which foods help and which foods hurt as I continue to learn how to successfully cope with fibromyalgia.
Aspartame (Nutrasweet), food additives (especially MSG), sugar, fructose, simple carbohydrates, caffeine, gluten, fried and junk food, dairy and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes) are all foods that I have either eliminated or minimized from my diet. Cutting them out of my diet has made fibromyalgia flares less frequent.
In addition, I take vitamin D supplements, since my levels are often low, and eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish, walnuts, and eggs, to manage inflammation, as I also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
While I don’t know for certain if my diet is the reason for fewer flare-ups, I do know that avoiding certain foods and eating healthy ones benefits my overall health. And when my body feels healthier, I am better able to cope with fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.
The specific foods that help and hurt will be different for you, but a healthy diet can help you manage fibromyalgia symptoms and pain and improve your health overall. And, it is definitely worth a try to find out.
Lana Barhum is a freelance medical writer, patient advocate, legal assistant and mother. Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, Lana uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness. She has written for several online health communities, including Alliance Health, Upwell, Mango Health, and The Mighty.
To learn more about Lana, visit her website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.