Little Evidence of a Diet Link to Fibromyalgia

Q. Is there a diet I can follow to treat my fibromyalgia?

A. Not really. Despite popular book titles to the contrary, there is no real “fibro- myalgia diet.” Little progress has been made in unraveling a diet connection to what causes fibromyalgia, though the latest thinking is that diet may play a role in helping reduce the pain that accompanies the condition. Trouble is, experts aren’t quite sure yet exactly which foods are best or whether avoiding certain foods would help.Fibromyalgia Defined. Fibromyalgia is a nonspecific disorder’some say syndrome’that’s described as a constellation of symptoms causing muscle pain and unrelenting fatigue. Sufferers have “tender points” on the body, generally on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms and legs, as well as sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Though less well known and certainly less well understood, fibromyalgia is actually more common than rheumatoid arthritis. The condition affects about 3% to 5% of Americans?women more than men. The incidence seems to increase with age; in women aged 55 to 64, it may be as high as 8%.

Experts don’t know what causes the condition, but one of every two sufferers attributes the onset of symptoms to an injury, infection or other stress. There also may be an inherited susceptibility.

Changes That May Help. Fibromyalgia is not a specific disease, but a collection of symptoms that vary from person to person. There is no single dietary change that reliably improves symptoms. However, two small studies from Finland and the U.S. suggest that a vegetarian or vegan diet may provide some relief. Others suggest that the artificial sweetener aspartame and the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) stimulate pain receptors, aggravating symptoms. But no one has studied avoiding these additives.

A better bet for relief of symptoms might be the National Institutes of Health’s recommendation of regular exercise. Researchers in London found that aerobic exercise helped reduce the unrelenting pain and fatigue of the condition.

EN‘s Bottom Line. No diet therapy for fibromyalgia has proved effective. You might monitor your diet to see if any foods seem to aggravate your symptoms. Then eliminate the offending foods or ingredients (one at a time); if symptoms abate, see if they return when you add that food back. For now, however, exercise may be your best bet.

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