Fibromyalgia Diet: Good & Bad Foods

What Should You be Eating... and Avoiding?

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Diet can play an important role in managing your fibromyalgia. There's not necessarily a "fibromyalgia diet" that works for everyone with this condition, but many people have been able to ease their pain and other symptoms by finding out what foods do and don't work for them. For most of us, it takes time and experimentation.

We don't have a ton of research on fibromyalgia and the diet, but the pool of information is growing.

What we learn from studies can help guide you by providing a place to start. You may want to use an elimination diet to give you a clean slate to start from.

Antioxidants

You've probably heard a lot of hype about "antioxidant superfoods," and this may be one case where there's something behind the hype—especially when it comes to fibromyalgia.

Antioxidants are substances in foods that, essentially, protect your cells from the damaging effects of oxygen. Some antioxidants are vitamins you've heard of, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Others have less-familiar names, such as polyphenol and reservatrol.

One theory of fibromyalgia involves oxidative stress as a major causal factor. Research on antioxidant consumption appears promising, which lends credence to this theory.

A 2016 study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research suggested that consumption of antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, was linked with lower numbers of fibromyalgia tender points and better quality of life.

The specific foods indicated were:

  • Coffee
  • Pears
  • Red fruits
  • Dark chocolate

Another study from 2016, this one published in Biological Research for Nursing, looked at the effects of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) on oxidative stress in fibromyalgia. Researchers concluded that EVOO in the diet may help reduce oxidative stress, improve function, and boost health-related mental health.

They said EVOO performed better than other types of olive oil, possibly because the different types contain different antioxidants.

Other antioxidant-rich foods include:

  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Pecans
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Red wine
  • Tea
  • Russet potatoes

Possible Pain-Causing Foods

Studies suggest that certain foods may cause or exacerbate pain in people with fibromyalgia. They are:

A 2016 review of the research into these foods, published in Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics states that while eating these things is associated with more pain, cutting them out of the diet helped some people, but not everyone.

Notice that at least one study has said that coffee improved fibromyalgia symptoms while this one said that caffeine made symptoms worse. This is a good example of how none of this research is definitive; we still need more research, and each person with this condition needs to experiment with potential problem foods to see what impact they may have.

Fibromyalgia & The Low-FODMAP Diet

A June 2017 study led by A.P. Marum, MD, looked into the possibly benefits of something called a low-FODMAP diet.

FODMAP is an acronym of a lot of hard-to-pronounce terms that all mean types of sugar or sugar alcohols that are broken down by bacteria in your large intestine. (For those who want the big words, it's "fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.")

FODMAPs are found in some natural foods and are commonly used as food additives.

Researchers were interested in this diet for fibromyalgia because studies suggest it's effective for irritable bowel syndrome, and there's a big overlap between these conditions. This study was small—just 38 participants—but encouraging. Researchers reported significant improvements in:

It may be difficult to follow a low-FODMAP diet if you have other food restrictions, as many foods that are generally considered healthy are high in FODMAPs.

Some high FODMAP foods include:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Barley
  • Wheat
  • Ice cream
  • Margarine
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Sweeteners ending in –ol
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower

Some low FODMAP foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Brown sugar
  • Table sugar
  • Butter
  • Almond milk
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Sunflower seeds

If you're interested in trying a low-FODMAP diet, be sure to do your research and talk to your doctor to make sure you're going about it safely.

Mood Symptoms & Your Diet

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics followed nearly 500 women with fibromyalgia for more than a year. Its goal was to see what impact diet had on overall mental health, depression, and optimism.

Depression and other mood problems are common symptoms/overlapping conditions with fibromyalgia, while studies suggest that optimistic people are better able to cope with the illness and find successful treatments and management strategies.

What foods were tied to better mental health, according to researchers?

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish

It's worth noting that fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, and that fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to be beneficial in fibromyalgia.

More depression and less optimism were linked to:

  • Cured meats
  • Sweetened beverages

We can't say for sure, however, whether eating more fruits, vegetables, and fish led to better health, or if less depressed, more optimistic people are simply more likely to choose those foods. It could be that depression causes people to rely more on packaged foods. It'll take more research to say what the exact relationship is.

Gluten & Fibromyalgia

For the past several years, gluten has gotten a lot of attention. It's become one of the better researched areas of diet and nutrition for fibromyalgia.

So far, we can't say for sure whether being gluten-free improves fibromyalgia. Some compelling research has been done, though. Get an in-depth look at gluten intolerance in fibromyalgia to help you make an informed decision.

A Word From Verywell

Dietary changes cause dramatic improvements in some people with fibromyalgia and no obvious changes in others. Be sure that any changes you make are toward a healthier diet, and stay away from extreme diets or fads.

Involve your doctor in your decisions and, if you're feeling confused or overwhelmed, you may want to see a nutritionist, as well. It may take time and patience to find the ideal diet for you, but if it means feeling better, it's well worth the effort.

Sources:

Cairns BE. Influence of pro-algesic foods on chronic pain conditions. Expert review of neurotherapeutics. 2016;16(4):415-23. doi: 10.1586/14737175.2016.1157471.

Costa de Miranda R, et al. Polyphenol-rich foods alleviate pain and ameliorate quality of life in fibromyalgic women. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. 2016 Nov 21:1-10. 

Marum AP, et al. A low fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccarides and polyols (FODMAP) diet is balanced therapy for fibromyalgia with nutritional and symptomatic benefits. Nutricion hospitalaria. 2017 Jun 5;34(3):667-674. doi: 10.20960/nh.703. 

Ruiz-Cabello P, et al. Association of dietary habits with psychosocial outcomes in women with fibromyalgia: the al-Andalus Project. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017 Mar;117(3):422-432.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.023. 

Rus A, et al. Extra virgin olive oil improves oxidative stress, functional capacity, and health-related psychological status in patients with fibromyalgia: a preliminary study. Biological resources for nursing. 2016 Jul 21. pii: 1099800416659370.​

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