Understanding the Fibromyalgia-Diet Connection

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in a person's muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as multiple tender points and fatigue. The condition affects about two percent of the population in the U.S., with women more likely to develop the disorder than men, according to the Mayo Clinic. Medical experts report that there is still no known cause or recognized treatment for fibromyalgia that works for everyone. For this reason, many people have turned to diet as a way to relieve some of their symptoms.

Michael McNett, MD, director of the Fibromyalgia Treatment Centers of America, headquartered in Chicago, says that fibromyalgia is not a specific illness and that it is more like a symptom complex, and different people appear to have different reasons why they get this symptom complex. So what works for one person very frequently does not work for another.

And this, say experts, includes dietary measures.

Kent Holtorf, MD, medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection Related Illness in Torrance, California believes that medical experts are at the point where they know diet plays a role in fibromyalgia—it's just not the same diet for everybody. And not everybody is helped in the same way.

In other words, there's little scientific evidence to support any single eating plan as a way to deal with fibromyalgia.

What You Can Do

With this said, many doctors have found that there are other conditions that fibromyalgia sufferers also have (such as gluten intolerance), which may be "overlapping" with their fibromyalgia symptoms. For these conditions, diet has been proven to help.

Even if your fibromyalgia isn't specifically helped by your diet, there could be another condition that you have, which will allow you to feel much better by monitoring what you eat.

Below are some findings that may help you to gain relief for your fibromyalgia symptoms.

Some foods you should avoid:

  • Aspartame has been found to make fibromyalgia symptoms much worse. This substance is thought to trigger the event in the central pain receptor of the brain that causes pain to go from acute to chronic.
  • MSG and nitrates have been shown to cause the same effects as aspartame.
  • Sugars and simple carbohydrates have been shown to cause fibromyalgia symptoms to become worse because of the likelihood of chronic yeast infection, which has been found to be a secondary condition to fibromyalgia.
  • Gluten intolerance is another secondary illness that is sometimes found in fibromyalgia sufferers. Try a gluten-free diet for a while to see if your symptoms improve.
  • Caffeine (including chocolate, coffee, tea and soda) has been found to make fatigue associated with fibromyalgia worse. The crash that comes when the caffeine wears off can cause your fatigue to worsen. For some fibromyalgia sufferers, cutting caffeine out of the diet has shown to result in improvements for within a week.
  • Dairy products have been shown to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Some people, however, have actually found that milk helps them, so this is subjective to individual cases.
  • Nightshade plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, bell and chili peppers have been found to make fibromyalgia pain worse in some people. Eliminate these foods for a while and see if you experience any improvement.

Some foods to add:

  • Turmeric. One teaspoon a day to experience the anti-inflammatory benefits.  Turmeric is often found in Indian food.
  • Ginger. Cut a third of a piece of ginger and mix it with hot water to make a tea. Drink up to three ginger teas a day. Another option is eating ginger slices with your sushi.
  • Cherries. These are another natural anti-inflammatory. Add these to your diet and enjoy.

While the jury is still out on the fibromyalgia-diet connection, many fibromyolgia sufferers have experienced improvement in their condition from altering their diet. Consider the above findings and take the appropriate actions to see if diet can improve your condition.


Mayo Clinic Staff. Fibromyalgia. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079. Accessed Feb. 17, 2010.

Smith, S. Fibromyalgia Cures. http://www.fibromyalgiacures.net/the-connection-between-low-vitamin-d-and-fibromyalgia. Accessed Feb. 17, 2010.

Teitelbaum, J. Dietary and Nutritional Solutions for Fibromyalgia. FoxNews4. http://www.fibromyalgiahealthydiet.com/fibromyalgia-diet/dietary-and-nutritional-solutions-for-fibromyalgia. Accessed Feb. 17, 2010.