Could your favorite snack or dessert be triggering symptoms of fibromyalgia? Tender pain, fatigue, trouble with memory and digestive problems are just a few of the problems experienced by women with fibromyalgia. But emerging research shows that diet can play a role in stopping the pain. Try these 7 easy steps and see if your symptoms improve…
Not even medical experts can figure out fibromyalgia. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are tough to pinpoint, doctors don’t know what causes it or why and patients typically see nearly a dozen physicians before getting a definitive diagnosis.
But physicians agree that stress, an unhealthy lifestyle and a bad diet can aggravate symptoms of fibromyalgia.
While a healthy fibromyalgia diet can quiet flare-ups and make you feel better.
“The most powerful tools fibromyalgia patients have are their forks, because foods become cells,” says Deidra Rawlings, N.D., a naturopath and author of Foods that Help Win the Battle Against Fibromyalgia (Fair Winds Press).
“What we eat provides the body with what it uses to build cells, tissue and organs,” she explains. “Getting the right nutrients is important” to alleviating symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Though symptoms of fibromyalgia vary, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), all fibromyalgia patients have common physiological abnormalities, including:
* Too much of Substance P, a pain neurotransmitter
* Too little tryptophan, an essential amino acid
* Not enough serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that helps people feel good
* Abnormalities in muscle cells, specifically mitochondria that provide cell energy (ATP)
All but Substance P are connected to your diet, so eating the right foods may make a difference in the severity of your fibromyalgia symptoms.
“Although there are no magic foods proven to cure fibromyalgia, research shows that there are some positive nutritional measures you can take to heal your body,” agrees Harris H. McIlwain, M.D., co-author of Fibromyalgia Handbook (Holt Paperbacks).
Read on for 7 ways foods and supplements can help you manage symptoms of fibromyalgia:
1. Eliminate food triggers.
The first step is to avoid foods that lead to digestive problems. According to the NFA survey, 40% of fibromyalgia patients report irritable bowel problems and food sensitivities that triggered intestinal pain, diarrhea and headaches.
Foods that commonly trigger allergies are monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, food coloring, chocolate, shrimp, dairy products, eggs, gluten, yeast, milk, soy, corn, citrus, sugar and aspartame.
When aspartame was removed from diets, symptoms of fibromyalgia subsided, according to a 2010 study at Burgundy University in Dijon, France. That’s because aspartame (and MSG) are neurotransmitter stimulants.
2. Talk turkey.
Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in turkey and other foods, can help fight chronic fatigue and depression, common symptoms of fibromyalgia. About 40% of patients report suffering from these energy zappers, according to a 2007 survey of 2,596 of fibromyalgia patients conducted by the NFA.
Your body can’t make the amino acid – it’s acquired only through food – and without tryptophan, the body can’t make serotonin. Called the “happiness hormone,” serotonin boosts mood and makes melatonin, which helps you sleep soundly.
One way to combat fibromyalgia fatigue is to kickstart the tryptophan-serotonin cycle with diet, says Rawlings.
That’s why she stresses the importance of eating proteins rich in tryptophan, such as eggs, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, anchovies and mackerel), nuts and seeds, soy (soymilk, tofu and soybeans), turkey and yogurt.
These foods also contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which boosts levels of brain neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals aid in cell messaging and alertness.
Tyrosine-rich foods also can help with cognitive confusion, often described as “fibro fog” by people with fibromyalgia, says McIlwain.
3. Learn to love sardines.
Muscle pain is one of the most frequent symptoms of fibromyalgia. As many as 63% of the NFA survey participants said lower back pain was a problem.
Recent studies point to one possible cause: a dietary deficiency of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a nutrient essential for muscle function that’s found in sardines and organ meats.
Fibromyalgia patients were 40% deficient in CoQ10, which may cause muscle-cell abnormalities, leading to fatigue and pain, according to two pilot studies led by Mario Cordero at University of Seville in Spain (published in 2008 and 2011). About 30% experienced less pain after taking 300 milligrams (mg) of CoQ10 daily for nine months, Cordero said.
Because organ meats and sardines aren’t everyone’s favorite food, supplements are the preferred source of CoQ10. Take it – and other supplements – only after consulting your doctor.
4. Reduce pain with red fruit.
Cherries and raspberries are more than sweet summer treats. They’re also potent pain reducers. That’s because these fruits contain a compound called anthocyanins, with 10 times the anti-inflammatory relief of aspirin, research shows.
A 2010 study at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland showed that runners who consumed 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily one week before a race and on the day of the event, felt less muscle pain after a 26-mile run.
Tart cherries also may relieve another symptom of fibromyalgia: sleep problems. Insomniacs (age 60 and older) who drank two 8-ounce servings of tart cherry juice (made from 50 cherries) for two weeks reported a modest improvement in sleep, according to a 2010 study at the Sleep and Neurophysiology Research Laboratory in Rochester, N.Y.
5. Fish fights inflammation.
The omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and anchovies reduce inflammation, and may relieve chronic pain in fibromyalgia sufferers, according to several studies.
When fibromyalgia sufferers consumed 2,400 mg-7,200 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid daily (two components of omega-3 fatty acids), they had a significant reduction in pain and improved mobility, according to a 2010 pilot study at the Canadian Centre for Integrative Medicine and the Physiatry Interventional Pain Clinic in Toronto.
6. Eat like a Greek.
Banish butter and replace it with extra-virgin olive oil. Your joints will thank you because it relieves one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia: chronic pain.
Credit oleocanthal, a compound in newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil that causes a slight stinging sensation in the throat, according to a 2005 study at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. This compound acts like anti-inflammatory drugs used for pain relief such as ibuprofen, says center director Gary Beauchamp.
To get the throat burn, buy fresh oil, advises Beauchamp. Extra-virgin olive oil loses potency over time (it lasts 18 months at most).
Trouble is, almost 70% of the low-priced, imported olive oils sold in grocery stores are poor quality or old, according to a 2010 University of California Davis Olive Oil Center study.
To get the freshest oil, look for a date on the bottle indicating when the oil was pressed and buy from small regional suppliers.
Combine fish oil and extra-virgin olive oil, and the anti-inflammatory benefits are even greater. A 2005 study at Londrina State University in Brazil found that subjects who consumed 3 grams of fish oil and 1 tablespoon of olive oil daily for 24 weeks were better able to get out of their cars, bend to pick up light items and climb out of bed in the morning with less pain and stiffness and better mobility.
7. Get back to basic PH levels.
A good fibromyalgia diet high in alkaline-forming foods (mostly raw fruits and vegetables) can reduce inflammation. Eating too many acid-forming foods, such as butter and bread, can lead to migraines, diarrhea and fatigue, says Rawlings.
But whether a food is acid forming or alkalizing has nothing to do with taste or even its intrinsic acidity. What counts is its effect after digestion.
A citrus is considered alkaline because it removes hydrogen ions from the body, Rawlings says. On the other hand, butter and sugar are acid-forming foods because they add hydrogen ions to the body.
Acid-forming foods include bread and flours – including oats and wheat – butter and margarine, red meats, lobster and certain nuts, such as cashews and hazelnuts.
Alkaline-forming foods include cantaloupe, honeydew, lime, nectarine, raspberry, watermelon, tangerine, broccoli, collard greens, daikon radish, garlic, kale, lentil, onion, parsley, sea vegetables and pumpkin seeds.
Consult your doctor if you think you’re experiencing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. And for more expert advice and information, visit our Fibromyalgia Health Center.
Kimberly Lord Stewart is a food and health journalist and author of Eating Between the Lines (St. Martins Press).
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