May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month. Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal disorder behind osteoarthritis, and it’s often misunderstood and misdiagnosed by doctors, because those with fibromyalgia also present symptoms related to many other conditions, especially chronic fatigue syndrome.
But other conditions may also be present, including palpitations, premenstrual syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and temporomandibular joint syndrome.
As with other rheumatic conditions, inflammation and pain play a major role. Certain foods are also thought to contribute to the development of fibromyalgia, so a fibromyalgia diet plan can go a long way towards treating the condition.
In the U.S., fibromyalgia affects an estimated 10 million people, and it’s believed that 80% to 90% of fibromyalgia cases are women. Also, up to 25% to 65% of those who have fibromyalgia also have other rheumatic conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Potential Causes of Fibromyalgia
There are a number of factors involved with fibromyalgia. For instance, some believe that genetics/family history and fibromyalgia are connected. Others speculate that a lower level of serotonin creates a lower pain threshold; that is, a higher sensitivity to pain. Studies have also linked fibromyalgia to sudden brain traumas that develop after an injury. Other factors linked with fibromyalgia include:
- Mental and emotional factors such as stress, grief, anger, and sadness
- Substance abuse and addictions, including the overuse of caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and sleeping pills
- Adrenal gland dysfunction
- Being overweight or obese
- Too little or too much physical activity
- Humid or cold weather
- Conditions such as pneumonia, asthma, or inflammatory bowel disease
- Viruses such as Epstein–Barr, HHV-6, and cytomegalovirus
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea
- Poor circulation
- Structural abnormalities in the soft tissues and spine
- Candida albicans and parasites
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances
- Poor digestion and detoxification
- A buildup of uric acid or phosphate
- Nutritional deficiencies, including iron, vitamin D, and branched-chain amino acids
Serious Signs of Fibromyalgia
In a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, two key factors are present. First, a person will be diagnosed with it when they experience widespread tenderness and pain at a minimum of 11 of 18 trigger points, including the outer elbows, knees, upper chest, hips, the back of the head, and the tops of the shoulders. There is also a widespread and unexplained pain that lasts at lest three months. The following signs and symptoms also present themselves in fibromyalgia:
- Memory and cognitive problems; this is sometimes called “fibro fog”
- Painful menstrual periods
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome
- Restless legs syndrome
- Temperature sensitivity
- Sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises
- Tingling or numbness in the feet and hands
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Morning stiffness
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating
- Heart palpitations
The Fibromyalgia Diet Plan
Although there isn’t one known fibromyalgia diet plan, certain food choices can affect the condition both positively and negatively. Overall, the diet should be based on whole and unprocessed foods, including fruits and vegetables. Vegetables should generally be eaten either raw or lightly steamed or sautéed. Here are fibromyalgia foods to eat that may help improve symptoms:
1. Foods High in Omega-3
It’s highly encouraged to increase the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, especially when inflammation is present in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to create a hormone called prostaglandin, which reduces inflammation. Excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, cauliflower, walnuts, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and wild fatty fish such as herring, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, cod, anchovies, and rainbow trout.
2. Probiotic Foods
It’s a good idea to add probiotic foods that can help combat Candida, IBS, and other conditions related to fibromyalgia, such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha tea. Probiotic foods and supplementation can help improve immunity and digestive function.
3. Lean Protein
A fibromyalgia diet should also include lots of lean protein to keep a steady supply of energy to the muscles. Good protein sources include chicken, fish, turkey, raw nuts, and beans. This increase in protein can help control blood sugar levels, which is important since fluctuating blood sugar levels can trigger fatigue, which is associated with fibromyalgia. It’s also important to remember that it’s best to choose organic, grass-fed, and free-range for meat-related protein sources.
4. Magnesium Foods
Fibromyalgia has been associated with magnesium deficiency, so it may be a good idea to increase the intake of magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, zucchini, broccoli, basil, cucumbers, pumpkin seeds, kelp, ginger, mustard seeds, buckwheat, and black beans.
5. Antioxidant-Rich Vegetables
Antioxidant-rich foods will help fight free radicals in the body, which is a potential root cause of fibromyalgia. Antioxidants include vitamin A (found in, for example, carrots, parsley, and romaine lettuce), vitamin C (broccoli, cabbage, lemon juice, and tomatoes), and vitamin E (sunflower seeds, almonds, and olives).
In a study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology, researchers found that a gluten-free diet in fibromyalgia patients can improve fibromyalgia-related symptoms.
Treating Fibromyalgia: Foods to Avoid
A number of foods should be on the “do not eat” list for fibromyalgia patients, as certain food intolerances or allergies are linked with the condition. In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2012, researchers found that 71% of fibromyalgia patients demonstrated digestive symptoms; the study included 84 patients with perceived food sensitivities or allergies. Surveys have also indicated that seven percent of fibromyalgia patients suffer from food intolerances or allergies, and that 30% would make dietary changes to relieve symptoms. It may help to keep a food diary, which will help you to identify triggers. Here are some fibromyalgia foods to avoid:
While sugar does provide energy for the body, it can leave fibromyalgia patients fatigued. Too much sugar can result in weight gain, and in turn, increased pain. Studies have even linked obese fibromyalgia patients with severe sleep issues and stiffness. Sugar may also weaken the immune system, reduce energy, increase pain, disturb sleep, and encourage Candida overgrowth. Common sources of sugar to avoid include candies, sodas, and even honey.
2. Food Additives
Food additives are known to activate the neurons that intensify a person’s sensitivity to pain. Be sure to read food labels, or better yet, avoid processed foods as much as possible. Some food additives include aspartame, monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, and aspartame.
It’s definitely tempting to combat fibromyalgia-related fatigue with coffee or other caffeinated drinks—but that wouldn’t be a good idea. Caffeine interferes with proper mineral absorption, which is important to note since mineral deficiencies are linked with fibromyalgia. Caffeine can also contribute to the sleep problems related to fibromyalgia.
4. Dairy Products
Dairy consumption is largely linked with digestive problems such as gas and bloating. Dairy is also a common food sensitivity and this may result in symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, and weight gain. It’s a good idea to eliminate dairy and milk products from the diet to help improve fibromyalgia symptoms.
5. Gluten and Wheat Products
Gluten is another common food sensitivity/intolerance which may also trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt products. In a study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology in 2013, researchers found that a gluten-free diet in IBS/fibromyalgia patients can improve fibromyalgia-related symptoms. Try replacing wheat and gluten products with rice or quinoa.
Natural Remedies to Treat Fibromyalgia
In addition to a fibromyalgia diet plan, there are various natural remedies that can also treat the condition, including:
1. Vitamin D
Although a link between low vitamin D and fibromyalgia is uncertain, vitamin D deficiency is associated with widespread pain. Fibromyalgia patients with a vitamin D deficiency have been known to relieve their pain after increasing their vitamin D levels. Natural vitamin D3 supplementation is available in capsule or liquid form.
A three-week, randomized study published in the journal BMJ in 1992 found that electro-acupuncture was a benefit to 60% of fibromyalgia patients. Another study published in the Journal of Family Practice in 1999 suggested that real acupuncture is more effective than fake acupuncture for improving fibromyalgia symptoms. Acupuncture points used for fibromyalgia include bladder 38 (B38), pericardium 6 (P6), liver 3 (Lv3), stomach 36 (St36), and conception vessel 17 (CV17).
Meditation may benefit patients with fibromyalgia by altering neurophysiology. In a three-year follow-up study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2007, results indicated that mindfulness-based stress reduction had long-term benefits for 26 female patients with fibromyalgia. The deep levels of personal inquiry and the act of focusing on the present moment in meditation are also good for reducing symptoms linked with fibromyalgia.
4. Herbal Remedies
There are several herbal remedies that can help treat fibromyalgia. For instance, cooking with turmeric and ginger may help some fibromyalgia patients. Boswellia is another herb with analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Other herbal remedies that treat fibromyalgia include olive leaf extract, passionflower, valerian, arnica oil, ginkgo biloba, black cohosh, and cordyceps sinensis.
A study published in the journal Rheumatology in 2004 found that individualized homeopathic remedies showed positive effects when compared to a placebo when given over a three-month time frame; the study included 62 patients with fibromyalgia. Common homeopathic remedies used for fibromyalgia include arnica, bryonia, calcarea carbonica, causticum, cimicifuga, ignatia, magnesia phosphorica, nux vomica, pulsatilla, and rhus toxicodendron.
6. Other Natural Remedies
Other natural remedies used to treat fibromyalgia include 5-hydroxytryptophan, S-adenosylmethionine, methylsulfonylmethane, ribose, coenzyme Q10, malic acid, nattokinase, acetyl-L-carnitine, calcium, brown seaweed, grape seed extract, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetylcysteine, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, dehydroepiandrosterone, natural thyroid hormone, natural progesterone, fish oil, evening primrose oil, and melatonin.
Cooking with turmeric and ginger may help some fibromyalgia patients.
Other Natural Tips for Fibromyalgia
Now you know the benefits of a fibromyalgia diet plan, but what else can help treat fibromyalgia?
- Adequate water consumption: To help flush toxins from the body and reduce pain, drink a glass of water every two hours.
- Moderate exercise: Exercise, such as a brisk walk or swimming, is great for fibromyalgia patients. Various studies show that fibromyalgia patients who get regular exercise have fewer symptoms inactive patients.
- Proper sleep: Rest is very important for fibromyalgia patients. Eight hours of sleep is recommended for the average person, however, those with fibromyalgia may require a little more.
- Essential oils: Lavender, chamomile, and rosemary are examples of essential oils known to reduce inflammation.
- The Natural Treatment Proven Most Effective Against Fibromyalgia Symptoms
- The Top 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Turmeric
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Bell, I.R., et al, “Improved Clinical Status in Fibromyalgia Patients Treated with Individualized Homeopathic Remedies versus Placebo,” Rheumatology, 2004; doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keh111.
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