While no magic food will prevent every patient’s fibromyalgia flare-ups, a few dietary improvements can make a world of difference and may alleviate even the most daunting symptoms. “With fibromyalgia, one of the most important things is to improve your overall health and well-being,” says Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association. Find out which foods can offer relief — and which should be banned from your table.
Enjoy Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies are typically low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals. That’s good news for those who are, respectively, battling obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or autoimmune disorders — all common among fibromyalgia patients. Plus, natural foods lack the additives that can aggravate symptoms. “Preservatives and coloring tend to have a negative effect on a person with fibromyalgia,” Matallana says. “Eating more natural foods is very important.”
The “good fat” found in cold-water fish and walnuts is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Jeffrey Thompson, MD, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. And while omega 3’s may not offer pain relief across the board, they’re a worthy addition to any diet: “Just for heart health, it’s not a bad idea,” Thompson says.
Enjoy Lean Protein
Reducing your carb intake and packing more protein into your diet can keep blood glucose levels from fluctuating, which can trigger fatigue. “One thing we recommend is the Mediterranean diet, because it helps people avoid those sugar rushes,” Matallana says.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia, but using caffeine to combat this symptom can actually exacerbate the problem. “What we tend to do when we get into that exhaustion phase is self-medicate with caffeine,” Matallana says. “You give yourself a boost, but then you have that drop-off.” Caffeine intake can also trigger headaches and interfere with sleep patterns, which can further perpetuate fatigue.
Avoid Simple Carbs
Like caffeine, sugar and white-flour carbohydrates can provide a temporary surge in energy followed by a crash. As Thompson explains, fibromyalgia patients often experience general hypersensitivity — and that can translate into increased sensitivity to blood-sugar highs and lows.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
While reducing sugar intake can be beneficial, you may also want to steer clear of sweet snacks that use aspartame or saccharine as a sugar substitute. “Anything that has a chemical basis tends to be hard on people with fibromyalgia,” Matallana says. That may seem like a double-edged sword, but you can curb sugar cravings by eating complex carbs or sweet veggies like yams, squash, or carrots.
Keep a Fibromyalgia Food Diary
The benefits of adding or avoiding specific foods are different for everyone, so keeping a food diary may help you to identify your personal triggers for pain and also which foods make you feel good. It may be a trial-and-error process, but rest assured that improving your diet is unlikely to backfire. “People have to realize that it may not be an overnight fix,” Matallana says. “But by eating healthy, you’re working toward a better quality of life because you’ll be healthier overall.”