Whether a person is checking nutrition labels at the grocery store or asking a restaurant server detailed questions, careful monitoring is needed to avoid triggering sensitivities to food ingredients.
Gluten, caffeine, lactose and food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame are often used in surprising ways.
Avoiding Gluten to Relieve Symptoms
People with fibromyalgia have a heightened sensitivity to the environment at large, which includes food and food additives. Gluten intolerance affects a large number of people, both with and without fibromyalgia.
Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. It is also used in a number of other food products and medications. One small research study of people with fibromyalgia showed improvements in symptoms when study participants changed to a gluten-free diet.11
Major reductions in widespread pain were noted in all participants, and a majority experienced significant improvement in other fibromyalgia symptoms. A few participants who had been taking opioid medications stopped taking them because their symptoms had eased. In some cases, the improvement was clear after a few months.
Participants in the study had non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition in which a patient has symptoms consistent with celiac disease, but test results do not show celiac disease. Checking food labels carefully is crucial to completely eliminate gluten from the diet, since gluten is used so widely.
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Other Ingredients to Watch
The following ingredients can also have a major impact on fibromyalgia symptoms for some individuals:
- Aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG). The artificial sweetener aspartame (brand names NutraSweet and Equal) prompts an inflammatory response in the body and has been associated with triggering fibromyalgia-type problems, though research has been mixed.12 One study suggested that both aspartame and the flavor-enhancer MSG, which also promotes inflammation, may contribute to fibromyalgia and irritable bowel symptoms in people with both conditions.13 MSG is common in Asian cooking, but is also used in many other foods.
- Caffeine. Getting deep, restorative sleep is crucial to easing stress and minimizing the pain of fibromyalgia. Caffeine is well known for interfering with sleep, however. If a person feels too fatigued to skip caffeine completely, it is best to limit it to the morning.
- Ingredients in milk. Lactose and other ingredients in milk and other dairy products cause digestive problems for some people with fibromyalgia. Lactose-free milk, milk alternatives, and kefir may be helpful substitutes. When lactose intolerance is not severe, aged cheeses and yogurt that includes live active cultures may be tolerated.
If a major source of nutrients, such as gluten, is removed from the diet, other healthy options should be added to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Rice, corn, and products specifically designed to be gluten-free, for instance, can compensate for the lack of gluten.
Nutritional supplements are sometimes recommended to make up for any potential lack of nutrients when these foods are dropped from the diet. It is ideal, however, to find food sources whenever possible rather than rely on supplements.
- Isasi C, Colmenero I, Casco F, et al. Fibromyalgia and non-celiac gluten sensitivity: a description with remission of fibromyalgia. Rheumatol Int. 2014;34(11):1607-12.
- Ciappuccini R, Ansemant T, Maillefert JF, Tavernier C, Ornetti P. Aspartame-induced fibromyalgia, an unusual but curable cause of chronic pain. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2010;28(6 Suppl 63):S131-3.
- Holton KF, Taren DL, Thomson CA, Bennett RM, Jones KD. The effect of dietary glutamate on fibromyalgia and irritable bowel symptoms. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2012;30(6 Suppl 74):10-7.