January 28, 2012

Fibromyalgia: What to Eat, What Not to Eat

Fibromyalgia: What to Eat, What Not to Eat

If you're living with fibromyalgia, your food choices could be making your pain worse. There's no one-diet-fits-all plan, but limiting certain items might help.

By Jennifer Acosta Scott
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

Many people with fibromyalgia know the importance of taking it easy when pain flares. But it’s less well-known that specific food items and ingredients may worsen your fibromyalgia pain or other fibromyalgia symptoms. According to a recent dietary survey of 101 fibromyalgia patients published in Rheumatology International, about 7 percent had food allergies or intolerances, and 30 percent had made changes in their diet to help their condition.
While there is no specific diet recommended for fibromyalgia treatment, says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist in San Francisco, poor food choices can indirectly affect fibromyalgia.
“Fibromyalgia sufferers seem to have too much of a dependence on comfort foods, especially if they are finding it hard to exercise regularly,” Batayneh says. “This can lead to weight gain, and being overweight or obese can make your symptoms worse.”
Check out this list of questionable foods for fibromyalgia, along with healthier alternatives.

This artificial sweetener, also known by the brand names Equal and NutraSweet, is used to sweeten certain beverages, yogurts, frozen desserts, and other foods without adding calories. There have been case reports linking aspartame to fibromyalgia. In one of these, a 50-year-old woman who had been living with fibromyalgia for 10 years experienced improvement of her painful symptoms when she vacationed in a foreign country and did not use aspartame. However, her symptoms reappeared when she returned home and began aspartame use again. In the other instance, a 45-year-old man found that his forearm, wrist, hand, and cervical pain stopped when he discontinued aspartame use.
More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it may be a wise idea to avoid aspartame if you have fibromyalgia. Try using a small amount of natural sugar instead. You can even add beets to some dishes for a touch of sweetness. If you must use artificial sweeteners, try using sucralose, which is calorie-free and derived from sugar.

It may be tempting to combat fibromyalgia symptoms like fatigue with a steady dose of coffee or cola drinks, but caffeine can interfere with your ability to get restful sleep — a big factor in minimizing painful fibromyalgia symptoms. A Norwegian study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism also suggests that sleep problems may actually play a role in fibromyalgia development. If you enjoy drinking caffeinated beverages, consume them during the first half of the day only to minimize sleep problems.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, a substance that provides energy for the body, and this often appeals to people whose fibromyalgia leaves them fatigued. However, too much sugar can pack on the pounds, leaving fibro patients in even more pain. An article in the Journal of Pain found that obese fibromyalgia patients suffer more severe symptoms, including pain, stiffness, and sleep problems. If you’re craving something sweet, Batayneh says, go for something with natural sugars, like a piece of fruit.

MSG and sodium nitrite. 
These substances are used as preservatives and flavor enhancers in many processed foods, such as cured meats and sauces. They are also full of salt, which can aggravate pain or swelling in some fibromyalgia patients. To minimize the impact of MSG and nitrites on your fibromyalgia, avoid prepackaged foods as much as possible and focus on whole foods like lentils, brown rice, and fish.

Many people, whether or not they have fibromyalgia, are lactose-deficient and have bloating and gas that can slow them down after they drink milk or eat dairy products. Try eliminating milk-based products from your diet for a few weeks to see whether your symptoms improve. If you do feel better, seek out calcium-rich dairy alternatives, like soy milk, as well as salmon, broccoli, and tuna.

Celiac disease, which is an intolerance to the gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye products, is a condition that may overlap with fibromyalgia in some people. There is no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet unless your doctor diagnoses you with gluten intolerance, but if you would like to try doing so, eliminate traditional pastas, breads, and grains. You can substitute gluten-free alternatives, such as those made with rice or corn. Note that many sauces, marinades, and even candies may contain gluten.
To see whether any or all of these foods affect your fibromyalgia symptoms, consider eliminating them one at a time and keeping a journal to note any improvement. If you find yourself cutting them all out, consider working with a nutritionist to develop a healthy diet that won’t cause your fibro to flare.

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