An introduction to diet and fibromyalgia
Many people suffering from fibromyalgia find that the food they eat can have an impact on the symptoms they experience.
However, to date, no-one has designed a dietary programme that has been shown consistently to improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia. This isn't surprising when you consider that everyone with fibromyalgia experiences their own, unique set of symptoms. This is also the reason why the condition is so difficult to diagnose.
The better approach is to tailor any dietary changes to your own experience, rather than search for a 'one size fits all' plan. This is achieved through the use of a diet diary.
A diet diary
A diet diary isn't a big commitment, it's just a case of remembering to keep it handy. Every time you eat or drink, make a note of what it was. Also note down the symptoms you experienced that day, throughout the day, using the time of day markings on the page. You could end up with a day worth of entries that look like this:
- 2am woke up, toilet, back to sleep.
- 7am alarm. Feel achy, exhausted.
- 8am Breakfast - coffee, weetabix, milk.
- 8.45 - Toilet, diarrhoea.
- 10am - coffee at work
- 10.40 - Toilet (again!!)
- 12.00 - neck and shoulders bad today
- 12.30 - cheese sandwich on white. Coffee.
- 2pm - tummy grumbling, headache.
- 3pm - headache, feel lousy and back hurts. Can't focus on work.
- 6.30 - still aching, didn't want to cook so went out for Chinese. Glass of wine.
- 12pm - can't sleep. Mind racing aaarh! So tired.
Recognising a pattern between the foods you eat and the onset of symptoms is the best way to create your personal dietary plan.
In the example above, I would have commented that coffee is being used to compensate for poor sleep but that it is also overly stimulating the bowel. You'll also see that in the example, wheat-based foods are eaten at every meal and may account for the bowel sensitivity (IBS).
The cheese at lunch would be the likely cause of the headache as it contains the known trigger L-tyramine. The sleeplessness may be down to the Chinese meal because these commonly contain MSG, a known excitotoxin to the nervous system known to cause insomnia. Excitotoxins, which also include aspartame, are also known to increase pain perception.
The other thing that is easily overlooked is that the example drank no water at all during the 24hrs - another recipe for a headache and lower back pain.
The above example might contain a few day’s worth of symptom episodes condensed into 24hrs but it's quite conceivable that many people with fibromyalgia would think this was a typical day!
You'll need to keep the diary for a fortnight before any meaningful patterns become apparent and to eliminate the possibility that a symptom may have arisen by chance, but most food sensitivities will trigger symptoms within 2 hours, so you'll soon begin to construct links along the way.
6 Golden rules
Regardless of any personal dietary patterns, there are a few golden dietary rules to follow and these should form the basic diet to which any personal discoveries should be added:
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- Eat oily fish for their anti-inflammatory oils and failing that, linseeds
- Eat as many colourful foods as possible to combat the oxidative stress of this inflammatory ailment. By this, I mean foods such as carrots, beetroot, red grapes etc.
- Replace tea, coffee and nicotine as they are all anti-nutrients and stimulants
- Watch out for the common allergens such as dairy, wheat, citrus and eggs
- Cut down or eliminate sugar and salt as they are anti-nutrients. Salt can cause calcium retention and so tight muscles. Sugar lowers immunity, causes fatigue and bloating
- Drink water! Dehydration causes headaches, mental fog, backache and fatigue
Other things you can do
Make every effort to eat slowly, get some sunshine and improve your sleep quality.
These three measures help you slow down, improve mood, reduce stress and aid cell repair and energy levels. You can't always change the nature of your commitments, so don't try, but only you can improve your diet, lifestyle and sleep quality.
For more advice on lifestyle and sleep there's a great deal of information on our stress and sleep pages. Imagine the impact on your fibromyalgia if you improved those!