Gluten-Free Diet: Impact on Fibromyalgia & IBS Symptoms

Does it Help?

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You hear a lot about the supposed benefits of a gluten-free diet, but is it hype or fact? In at least one case, it appears to be hype.

According to a study published in 2014, a one-year gluten-free diet had "almost no effect" on symptoms in people who had both fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Researchers looked at the diet's effect on these two conditions, which commonly occur together, as well as cases where they also occurred with a third condition, called lymphocytic enteritis (LE).

(Lymphocytic enteritis is an inflammatory disease of the small intestine that is identified through a biopsy.)

What researchers found was that the people who had all three conditions – fibromyalgia, IBS and LE – did have a slight but statistically significant difference in all symptoms. However, the same didn't hold for those with only fibromyalgia and IBS.

It appears that the impact of the gluten-free diet was, therefore, linked to LE.

What It Means for Us

What this study means for those of us with fibromyalgia is that we continue to have no clinical evidence that having gluten in our diet is a problem.

However, that does contradict the personal accounts you may have seen of people who cut gluten out of their diets and saw their symptoms drop considerably. So what's behind that contradiction? Which is true?

We can't say for sure, but it's possible that some people with fibromyalgia have gluten sensitivity and, for some reason, no one with it was included in the study.

We don't have studies showing whether gluten sensitivity is more common in us than in the general population. It could also be common in a particular subgroup but not the rest.

Certainly, with all the hype about going gluten free, a lot of people have claimed results that aren't scientifically supported.

Some may have experienced a placebo effect or the effects of just eating healthier, while some may have a legitimate problem with gluten that we don't yet understand.

It's also possible that some people with a severe gluten problem were misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, when their problem was gluten intolerance all along. Until we know more about gluten intolerance in general, as well as how it relates to our illness, we won't be able to answer many questions.

Read More: Should You be Gluten-Free with Fibromyalgia?

My Experience

I used to eat a gluten-free diet, but not because of fibromyalgia or IBS (I have both, but the IBS was diagnosed well after I started the diet.) I first went gluten free in response to digestive problems as well as fatigue and other symptoms, and it helped. However, it turned out that my issue was related to a larger medical problem that has since been resolved. I went back on gluten and haven't seen any ill effects.

Diet is a really individual thing, as are fibromyalgia and IBS.

Each of us needs to figure out what foods, if any, help and hurt us. When making dietary decisions, be sure to involve your doctor, research, and common sense.

My rheumatologist recommends an elimination diet for just about all of her patients. If you haven't tried one, you may want to read the article below and give it some thought.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any drastic dietary changes, though -- that's the best way to make sure you're not doing something that could have a negative impact on your health. We really don't need things like vitamin deficiencies on top of everything else we deal with!

Helpful Articles:

Rodrigo L, et al. Arthritis research & therapy. 2014 Aug 27;16(5):421. Efect of one year of a gluten-free diet on the clinical evolution of irritable bowel syndrome plus fibromyalgia in patients with associated lymphocytic enteritis: as case-control study.

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