As a debilitating chronic condition that causes severe pain throughout the body, fibromyalgia has a profound impact on those who suffer from it. While no cure exists, there are lifestyle changes that can still help.
Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic pain syndrome that has deeply affected the lives of an estimated 5 million Americans, of which 75-90% are women. Symptoms include fatigue, widespread muscle and soft tissue pain, stiffness, sleep disturbance, chemical and environmental sensitivities, migraine, and memory and concentration issues. There are also overlapping conditions that some may experience, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety and depression, TMJ disorder, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Although no cure exists for fibromyalgia yet, there are treatments and lifestyle modifications that can be made to ease symptoms.
The severity of symptoms can wax and wane, flaring up or going into remission for a period of time. While there’s no one diet that works for all people with fibromyalgia, here are a few things that can help address symptoms and support overall health.
1. Address nutrient deficiencies through plant-based eating
Low levels of magnesium and selenium have been linked to individuals with fibromyalgia, so it’s important to have your doctor test for any nutrient deficiencies. Whether this contributes to the symptoms of fibromyalgia, or is a result of the disorder is unclear. Studies have shown a correlation with chronic pain and low vitamin D. One small randomized controlled study showed promise of pain reduction in women with fibromyalgia who supplemented with vitamin D.
The first line of defense to prevent nutrient deficiencies is to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need from food when possible.
That means improving nutrient status through plenty of colorful fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans, peas, lentils), as well as foods high in magnesium including beans, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and chia seeds, dark leafy greens like kale, and whole grains. Selenium can be found in high amounts in Brazil nuts. Just one large Brazil nut can contain over 2x the recommended daily allowance of selenium. Beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are also great sources.
Beyond the nutrients in food, a few studies have shown that switching to a vegan diet can help reduce fibromyalgia pain and other symptoms in some participants. These were small, preliminary studies, though, and more research is needed. Regardless, greatly increasing your plant food intake can provide numerous health benefits, such as the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
2. Investigate Possible Food Sensitivities
Along with environmental sensitivities, some people with fibromyalgia have food or food additive (such as MSG or aspartame) sensitivities, especially if IBS or migraines are an issue. It’s important to note that food sensitivities differ from food allergies; the former is triggered by the digestive system while the latter is from an immune response.
If a food sensitivity is suspected, it is highly advised to work with an experienced health practitioner before attempting an elimination diet.
The goal of an elimination diet is to determine the culprits that may be causing digestive issues or other symptoms, while still including the widest variety of foods that do not cause symptoms. Elimination diets can sometimes trigger disordered eating behaviors in some people, so it must be treated with care if one has a history of an eating disorder. It’s also important to note that people with fibromyalgia are prone to digestive issues (bloat, nausea, constipation, diarrhea) due to hyperactive nervous systems. Working with a gastroenterologist may help improve quality of life for those with severe symptoms.
3. Hydrate well.
This is important for everyone, but people with fibromyalgia will want to especially make sure to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, irritability, and constipation–all things that can make you feel worse. Watching your intake of alcohol and caffeinated drinks can be helpful as well. Switch to herbal teas, sparkling water infused with fruit or herbs, and mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) if you want something other than plain water.
By focusing on a well-balanced diet and working with health professionals, it is absolutely possible to still have a life you’re meant to live.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER: JO SONN
Angela Wortley, RDN is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Michigan. She specializes in plant-based nutrition to help her clients feel their best, as well as to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a special interest in helping women with fibromyalgia live well with this painful condition. Learn more and connect with Angela.