February was a tumultuous month. March wasn’t much better as end of the year accounting, contract deadlines and tax calculations were on the menu. I became stressed out, failed to get enough sleep, and didn’t monitor my diet as well as I should have. The result was a fibromyalgia flare-up from which I am now recovering.
We do know that eating a balanced diet of whole foods helps everyone’s body function at its best but there’s little scientific evidence to support any single diet for all of those with fibromyalgia. There are many dietary approaches and that’s not surprising given the fibromylagia syndrome manifests in a wide variety of associated conditions and symptoms.
Foods affect the body’s inflammation response and different foods affect each individual differently. Some people with fibromylagia have severe food allergies to certain foods or food groups like dairy, wheat, corn, nightshade family plants, etc. whereas others do not. For example, legumes trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in me.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is characterized by stomach cramping, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation, is a common symptom of fibromyalgia. IBS can be triggered by stress, hormonal changes, certain foods, or even antibiotics, and it can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes.
Interstitial cystitis (IC) is an inflammation of the bladder, and people with any autoimmune disease such as fibromyalgia, scleroderma, lupus, or Sjögren’s Syndrome are more susceptible to interstitial cystitis. Cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections.
There are no specific food rules for people with fibromyalgia but there are seven food groups to consider avoiding to improve your life.
1. Aspartame (NutraSweet) can exacerbate pain. Other artificial sweeteners such as splenda, saccharin, and stevia do not appear to have the same effect as aspartame.
2. Food additives including MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrates can intensify pain.
3. Sugar, fructose, and simple carbohydrates. There is no clear evidence that cutting out simple carbohydrates like sugar, cake, or white bread will have an impact on fibromyalgia. What it can do is reduce symptoms of chronic yeast infection, help reduce fatigue and some of the related pain.
4. Caffeine including coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate are false sources of energy that quickly exacerbate fatigue. It’s recommended that coffee, chocolate, soda and alcohol be completely eliminated from the diet.
5. Yeast and gluten. Yeast is suspected of fostering overgrowth of the yeast fungus which may cause or exacerbate joint and muscle pain. Gluten intolerance results in a variety of stomach ailments and other digestive problems and is also associated with fatigue in patients with fibromyalgia.
6. Dairy products do contain calcium to build bones and protein to build muscle but some people with fibromyalgia may experience and increase in symptoms from consuming dairy products.
7. Nightshade Plants: Tomatoes, chili and bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplant are nutritious plants that some believe trigger flares of various types of arthritis, including fibromyalgia.
Taking charge of your diet
You can discover your own food sensitivity by experimenting with an elimination diet. Keep a food diary, track your pain and symptoms and eliminate foods that trigger pain. By comparing your diary to what’s known or suspected you may discover that certain foods may trigger allergies or pain.
The Elimination diet. This diet involves not eating foods that you think may be causing you to have an allergic reaction or symptom. You replace the food with another source of the same nutrients. For example, if you think corn is causing you a problem, you replace corn with another carbohydrate, such as rice. If allergy symptoms go away after the food is taken out of your diet, and then they come back when the food is eaten again, a diagnosis may be made. This diet is generally done with the guidance of a doctor or a dietitian.
The Rotation Diet.This diet is useful for you if you have allergies to a variety of foods. Ideally, you eat foods you are not allergic to on a 4-day rotation basis. This allows your body a recovery period before the same food is eaten again. It also reduces the likelihood of you developing an allergy to more foods. This diet can be quite restrictive, and it is generally done with the guidance of a doctor or dietitians.
Educating yourself about how your body reacts to different foods so you can practice good nutrition and create a diet that works for you is the best thing you can do yourself to treat fibromyalgia. Sticking to the diet that’s best for you is the hard part. But if first you don’t succeed — try — try again.
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