Food choices can have a major impact on daily life with fibromyalgia. Certain foods cause symptoms to flare, while other foods may help ease the pain.
The first step in developing a healthier diet is understanding the relationship between food and fibromyalgia:
- Food can promote inflammation in the body, which makes the body's pain receptors more sensitive. In effect, the body is responding to these foods as it would to an injury. For people with fibromyalgia, who already have an enhanced sensitivity to pain, this makes a difficult situation worse.
- Sensitivities to foods may trigger symptoms. Food intolerance is common in people with fibromyalgia,1 though the problematic foods are not the same for everyone. A food allergy can also cause a spike in pain.
- Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions that often occur with fibromyalgia may be reduced through changes in diet.
It is useful to keep in mind that there is no single diet for people with fibromyalgia. Just as patients with the same diagnosis may react to medications differently, people with fibromyalgia can react to foods differently.
This article reviews nutrition-related issues for people with fibromyalgia, including the relationship between food and fibromyalgia symptoms.
What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The typical American diet—heavy in processed food, fried food, sugar, and carbohydrates such as bread and pasta—can trigger an inflammatory response in the body.
As the name indicates, an anti-inflammatory diet helps control inflammation. Fresh foods, rather than processed food, are favored. Vegetables, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, fruits, seeds, healthy fats, and whole grains are major elements. The Mediterranean diet is a well-known anti-inflammatory diet and includes many of these foods.
While inflammation is a natural response to an injury or disease, inflammation can cause pain and other health problems if it becomes chronic. An anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the body's sensitivity to pain.
Evidence points to inflammation playing a part in fibromyalgia, though it is usually not considered an inflammatory condition.2
What to Expect When Changing Eating Habits
Individuals should not be discouraged if dietary changes do not have an immediate impact.
Changes in the diet may not be obvious for several weeks. Responses often vary considerably from one person to the next, with coexisting conditions common in fibromyalgia—such as irritable bowel syndrome—also affecting the outcome.
Other lifestyle measures may also result in significant reductions in fibromyalgia symptoms. Two measures—aerobic exercise and reducing stress by increasing the amount of deep sleep—often lead to improved daily functioning.