Fight Fibromyalgia Symptoms with a Healthy Diet

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

Fibromyalgia — an unpredictable, chronic disease that causes widespread pain throughout the body — still isn’t fully understood by doctors and researchers.

Symptoms vary between patients and mimic those of other conditions, making diagnosis especially difficult. In addition, there is no one specific treatment used for the 5 million Americans with fibromyalgia, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Instead, patients may benefit from a combination of education, exercise, medication and lifestyle changes. Creating an awareness of nutrition and healthy living can also help manage the condition, and several dietary guidelines may be especially helpful, say the experts.

How does a healthy diet help with fibromylagia?

Following a more nutritious, organic eating plan is important for everyone, but it’s crucial for patients with fibromyalgia. A growing body of scientific evidence links dietary intake to obesity and sleep quality for sufferers. Obesity is also associated with sleep apnea, and sleep disruption or poor sleep quality may worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia in patients with this condition.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, patients with fibromyalgia should follow a diet that’s high in fiber and includes vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains. Patients should avoid eating too much animal fat to sidestep the confounding digestive problems that affect fibromyalgia sufferers too. These include:

  • Pain in the abdomen and soft fibrous tissues of the body
  • Flu-like achiness and stiffness all over  

One way to find out if certain foods cause your fibromyalgia symptoms to flare up is to keep a detailed food diary, says The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association. Patients should record everything they eat over a period of a few weeks and note any signals or symptoms they experience. It may take some trial and error to determine which foods make symptoms worse and should be avoided.

The role of vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for keeping bones healthy and preventing them from becoming brittle and weak. A deficiency can result in osteomalacia, a condition that’s often associated with muscle and bone pain. Although a vitamin D deficiency doesn’t seem to cause fibromyalgia, it may prove a contributing factor for some people.

According to the NIH, doctors should consider a vitamin D deficiency when diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia; the recommended dietary allowance for adults ranges from 600 to 800 international units (IU). Patients with fibromyalgia may be encouraged to eat foods containing more vitamin D like salmon, swordfish, tuna, milk and yogurt.

Sun exposure is another source of vitamin D, but because ultra-violet rays can have negative health effects, doctors may recommend getting adequate vitamin D from food sources or supplements instead.

Replace caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar...

Although some people with fibromyalgia may think that drinking caffeinated beverages may combat fatigue, it can actually aggravate your symptoms. Since sleep difficulties are common with fibromyalgia, limiting caffeine intake could help patients fall (and stay) asleep. Avoiding caffeine or alcohol for several hours before bedtime is generally recommended to promote good sleep, says the NIH.

Some fibromyalgia patients report that reducing their consumption of refined sugar from soda, candy and ice cream products seems to help too. Long term, eating healthfully can help ward off obesity, which in turn improves sleep quality and digestive disturbances for some fibromyalgia patients.  

...with Omega-3 fatty acids

The well-known health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include reducing inflammation and protecting against heart disease, but there may be additional perks. Doctors often recommend that people with fibromyalgia eat foods rich in omega-3 to help reduce joint pain and stiffness.  Though evidence for this particular use in fibromyalgia isn’t definitive, results of a small NIH study involving 12 fibromyalgia patients appears promising.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include tuna, salmon, walnuts and flax seeds. Supplements are an option if you find it difficult to get adequate fatty acids from diet alone. If omega-3 supplements cause a stomach upset, try taking enteric-coated supplements instead.

Take the next steps

Although modifying your diet is just one aspect of treatment for fibromyalgia, it’s an important one. Certain foods may increase pain and fatigue, and others may help reduce your symptoms. Remember, there is still a lot that’s unknown about fibromyalgia and effective ways to treat it.

Until additional research sheds more light on prevention and definitive treatments, lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet can be an effective way to curtail your symptoms.

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