What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes fatigue, and pain all over your body. It also can cause sleep, memory, and mood problems. Experts think that fibromyalgia increases painful feelings by changing the way the brain handles signals of pain.

For some people, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are triggered by physical trauma, surgery, infection, or psychological stress. For others, fibromyalgia symptoms add up over time without a single sparking event.

Experts think the brains of people with fibromyalgia are affected by changes in brain chemistry. The exact causes of these changes are unknown, but the following elements are thought to contribute to fibromyalgia:

Genetics

Experts have found genetic links to fibromyalgia. Certain gene mutations may put people at a greater risk of developing the condition.

Infections

Certain illnesses seem to trigger or worsen fibromyalgia symptoms.

Stressful Physical or Emotional Events

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may contribute to fibromyalgia.

What Are the Symptoms of Fibromyalgia?

People with fibromyalgia usually experience some or all of the following symptoms:

Pain All Over the Body

People who have fibromyalgia often experience a constant, dull, or aching pain that lasts for at least three months on both sides of the body, both above and below the waist.

Fatigue

You may find yourself waking up tired, even after a long night of sleep. Your sleep may be disrupted by pain. Sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS) or sleep apnea, may also be present.

Problems with Cognition

A mental haziness, sometimes called “fibro fog,” makes it more difficult to think clearly.

Other Health Issues

People with fibromyalgia also experience other health issues. These may include:

  • tension headaches
  • temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • depression 

How Can Diet Affect Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Foods and additives that trigger fibromyalgia are thought to alter brain chemistry and increase the amount of pain the body perceives. No specific diet is known to cure fibromyalgia, but studies suggest there are certain foods that may trigger fibromyalgia symptoms.

The National Fibromyalgia Research Association suggests cutting certain things from your diet to help your symptoms. These include:

  • refined sugar
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • fried foods
  • red meat
  • highly processed foods

Research has also shown that cutting out additives such as MSG and aspartame can help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. But otherwise, studies haven’t found a strong link between certain foods and fibromyalgia. Weight loss is recommended to help reduce symptoms.

What Foods Can Help Manage Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Diet changes will affect everyone differently. A good way to find out which foods worsen your symptoms is to try an elimination diet.

An elimination diet involves eating very basic foods for several days, such as chicken, rice, and broccoli. After several days on a limited diet you should slowly add other foods into your diet. This will allow you to see how each food affects your fibromyalgia symptoms.

In general, eating guidelines for people with fibromyalgia are the same as those for people without the condition. This means eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and a sufficient amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein each day.

Eat the Rainbow

Do your best to incorporate as many colorful fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible. Different colored foods have different vitamins and nutrients, which are all important to help your body stay healthy and as pain-free as possible.

Stay Away from Refined or Processed Foods

You should focus on eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid eating processed and packaged snack foods, which contain food additives that are often not rigorously tested enough to determine safety of long-term consumption. Some food additives are classified as excitotoxins, which may trigger or perpetuate fibromyalgia symptoms. It’s also a good idea to limit “white” carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as sugary foods, sweets, and sweetened beverages. These refined carbohydrates cause an increase in blood sugar with a resulting insulin spike that may also exacerbate symptoms. Focus on whole grains and complex carbohydrates that provide fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

It can be challenging to find the energy necessary to cook and prepare healthy foods when you have fibromyalgia. But it’s important to eat well to keep your body healthy and your energy levels up. Look for steamer bags of vegetables in the produce and freezer sections of grocery stores, and bagged salads. These options help to cut down on the time required to wash, prep, and prepare produce, and may help you consume it more often.