For many years, fibromyalgia sufferers have had to endure the pain and symptoms of a condition that, although more and more prevalent, is not well understood. While there is still much to learn, physicians and health professionals are now recognizing the pain and symptoms associated as a real medical condition that can have a prominent impact on day-to-day life.
Fibromyalgia: The Basics
While consistent and often widespread pain plagues sufferers, other ambiguous symptoms contribute to the confusion surrounding fibromyalgia. The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown and is likely a combination of factors. The American College of Rheumatology believe potential triggers may include central nervous system abnormalities that change how the brain reacts to pain, nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health, poor sleep patterns and even infection.
Much like the potential triggers, fibromyalgia symptoms can be difficult to pinpoint. Symptoms may include stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and arthritis. Like the rest of the population, those suffering from fibromyalgia may also have food allergies, which can exacerbate the pain and other symptoms. Pain can eventually lead to a convenience-food diet as well as decreased activity. Of course, both of these can lead to weight gain, making symptoms even harder to manage.
Fibromyalgia: The Nutrition Intervention
Though fibromyalgia does not have a definitive treatment yet, dietary choices often help manage and minimize factors like inflammation, poor gut health and excess body fat that can increase the severity of pain. That’s why it’s important to know what dietary tweaks can potentially provide relief – and what foods may be contributing to your symptoms.
Foods for Symptom Relief:
Whole foods: Processed foods often contain more fat and additives that can contribute to weight gain and worsening symptoms. But a minimally processed diet can play a large role in maintaining a healthy body weight. Pick whole, fresh foods, and you will get a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber that work synergistically to provide health benefits.
Color: Fruits and vegetables come in an array of colors and each contain different phytochemicals, antioxidants and micronutrients. When selecting produce, choosing the rainbow can help ensure you’re covering all your nutrition needs. Furthermore, the antioxidants in fruits and veggies help fight off free radicals in the body, which can reduce inflammation and the associated pain.
Unsaturated fats: Speaking of reducing inflammation, unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, can provide anti-inflammatory benefits in addition to supporting heart health. Include more salmon, tuna, walnuts, almonds, ground flaxseed, chia seeds and olive oil to boost your unsaturated fat intake.
Prebiotics/probiotics: Poor digestive health, whether a result of poor nutrition or antibiotics, is thought to be a common trigger for fibromyalgia symptoms. Prebiotics and probiotics work together in the gut to create a balanced environment that can improve immunity and increase nutrient absorption. At mealtime, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables in order to get beneficial prebiotics. And throughout the day, make sure you’re incorporating probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kimchi and kefir.
Potential Fibromyalgia Triggers:
Caffeine: Many of those with fibromyalgia suffer from fatigue associated with consistent pain that makes it difficult to sleep. Add a late-afternoon cup of coffee to the mix, and your body will struggle even harder to shut down. Your best bet is to cut out caffeine, so you don’t exacerbate sleep issues and further contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms. If that’s too tall an order, try only drinking caffeine in the morning.
Aspartame and MSG: These common additives, found in many processed products, can over-stimulate neurotransmitters, worsening the widespread pain associated with fibromyalgia. Minimize dining out and place an emphasis on whole foods to decrease intake of both aspartame and MSG.
Gluten and lactose: Whether it’s an allergy or intolerance, sensitivity to gluten and lactose are becoming more prevalent in the general population. If a sensitivity is present in those with fibromyalgia, consuming gluten and/or lactose can contribute to increased pain. Before you eliminate these foods completely, though, try removing gluten-containing products and dairy individually for a few weeks. Monitor changes in pain, and then decide the best course of action for your body.
In addition to what you eat, how you eat is also important. Minimizing distractions and becoming mindful of hunger cues can help prevent overeating that leads to weight gain and an increase in symptoms. While the pain associated with fibromyalgia can make implementing some of these strategies challenging, the payoff is worth it for those with the condition. Introducing small dietary improvements can help begin to alleviate pain and other symptoms, making everyday life more enjoyable.