Fibromyalgia and Diet
Chronic inflammatory diseases are a common day epidemic. Every year the number of individuals with debilitating chronic inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, mental depressive conditions, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome grow.
These inflammatory conditions are commonly associated with a hyper responsive immune system. Fibromyalgia is a chronic inflammatory condition consisting of muscular and joint pain and fatigue. 3-5% of the population suffers with this condition with over 80% being women. Although this is one of the fastest growing disabling conditions in the US, if you or someone you love is suffering from fibromyalgia, I would recommend looking into natural lifestyle strategies.
Fibromyalgia is classically diagnosed with a positive reaction to 11 of 18 specific tender point sites on the body. Other classic findings include chronic fatigue, sleep challenges, normal blood tests and a history of widespread pain particularly in the neck and back. This is believed to be a chronic inflammatory condition of the muscle fascia. Chronic inflammation is a sign of a mal-coordinated hyper responsive immune system.
So What Are The Causes Fibromyalgia?
While the actual cause or causes of fibromyalgia are yet to be definitively determined, numerous studies have shown a link with the consistent consumption of aspartame, also known as Equal, an artificial sweetener that is found in literally thousands of foods and drinks. Other studies have shown a link between the occurrence and severity of fibromyalgia and the consumption of another common excitotoxin, monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. Excitotoxins such as MSG and aspartate are molecules that act as excitatory neurotransmitters and can lead to neurotoxicity. The presence of MSG in food is extremely difficult to detect since the terms "natural flavor," "flavoring," or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)," all may appear on food labels and actually refer to MSG. According to current FDA food labeling codes HVP typically contains 10-30% MSG. There may well be other causes of fibromyalgia, such as exposure to or consumption of other neurotoxins, antibiotics, vaccines or physical trauma that results in chronic inflammation, muscle pain, and depression.
The Natural, Healthy Lifestyle Approach
The natural approach begins with rebuilding the intestinal wall, de-inflaming the body, and optimizing vitamin D levels. Rebuilding the intestinal wall is both the first and the most critical step. Besides correcting the dietary imbalances, skeletal and muscular issues can be addressed through chiropractic, bodywork like massage and trigger point therapy, and regular exercise like walking, yoga and swimming.
The Fibromyalgia Diet- Addressing Reactive Hypoglycemia
Reactive Hypoglycemia contributes to fibromyalgia, particularly muscle tightness, fatigue and brain fog. Reactive hypoglycemia symptoms occur 2-3 hours after a meal high in carbohydrate. There is a rapid release of carbohydrate into the intestine, followed by rapid absorption of glucose and subsequent production of a high amount of insulin. This results in rapid conversion of glucose to fat causing low blood sugar. Your brain and muscles become starved of energy. This is the main cause of fibromyalgia although other factors can contribute. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, irritability, chronic fatigue, poor memory and concentration, shakiness, muscle fatigue and craving of carbohydrate. Reactive Hypoglycemia causes your muscles to become tight which in turn causes your posture to be out of alignment, commonly your head will come forward and you will get a “widow’s hump”. Reactive Hypoglycemia is not typically picked up in the more common fasting hypoglycemia test. Fasting hypoglycemia is low blood sugar when you do not eat. The correct test for Reactive Hypoglycemia is a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT). Blood sugar readings are taken every ½ hour for 4 hours after glucose is consumed on an empty stomach.
What to Do About Reactive Hypoglycemia?
Change your diet to exclude simple sugars (e.g. table sugar, glucose), refined carbohydrate (e.g. white rice, bread, pasta) and starchy foods (e.g. potatoes). Reduce intake of fruit. Caffeine and chocolate can aggravate fibromyalgia, avoid or limit to occasional treats. Once you have modified your diet and stuck to it for several months your body will be more tolerant to the occasional deviation.
Chronic Inflammation and Leaky Gut Syndrome
Most individuals with chronic inflammatory based pain have what is called a “leaky gut” that allows large food particles to pass thru easily and end up in the bloodstream. This condition is caused by dysbiosis, an overpopulation of antagonistic organisms in the gut that damage the intestinal wall. When undigested food particles are recognized by the immune system and tagged as foreign invaders in the body, the immune system then unleashes an assault of inflammation causing a systemic allergic reaction. This results in varying levels of insensitivity and allergenic reactions that damage many systems of the body. To effectively de-inflame it, completely avoid all man-made foods, sugars, and food allergens. The most common food allergens to avoid include gluten containing grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, kamut, & spelt. Soy products, different nuts, eggs, and heavy proteins are often not tolerated well. Other common allergens include those of the nightshade family such as eggplant, tomatoes, & onions.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Lifestyle
A lot of people with these conditions take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen), but many studies have shown these drugs are known to have negative long-term effects on health. Instead, you can reduce inflammation by adding foods containing natural anti-inflammatories to your diet. An anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle are critical with these conditions. Anti-inflammatory foods help to modulate the immune system and give it a more accurate pair of eyes so as to not over-inflame when stimulated. Anti-inflammatory foods help to modulate the immune system and reduce inflammatory activity in the body. The best researched ones include:
Flavonoids: Apples, grapes, cranberries, strawberries
Carotenoids: Carrots, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, corn, pumpkin, beets
Turpenes: Citrus, spinach
Allyl sulfides: Garlic, chives, leeks, onions
Isothiocyanates: Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, kale, turnips, mustard greens and chard
Great anti-inflammatory foods also include sources of good fats such as coconut products, avocados, and olive oil. Healthy meat sources such as grass-fed beef, wild game, wild-caught salmon, free range organic poultry and eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids and have been proven to reduce inflammation in the body and nourish the hormonal system, resulting in less depression and a more positive outlook on life. These long chain omega 3 fatty acids contain EPA and DHA which powerfully de-inflame the body by restoring natural balance to the lipid wall of the cell membrane. Spices such as ginger and turmeric, used for centuries in India to make flavorful curries, are also known to be powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Other anti-inflammatories such as boswellia, cinnamon, rosemary, & oregano should be used as much as possible.
Fermented Foods are Key to Rebuild the Gut
The most effective way to rebuild the intestinal wall to include loads of healthy vegetable juices such as wheatgrass and cabbage juice. Wheatgrass is known for its incredible chlorophyll content and ability to purify the bloodstream. Cabbage is a great source of the amino acid L-glutamine which is the primary amino acid in the gut wall. Fermented foods such as a homemade sauerkraut, kombucha, kvass, and coconut water kefir provide beneficial microorganisms for the gut. Fermented dairy products from grass-fed cows/goats are also highly advisable. These include raw milk kefir, fermented whey drinks and raw cheese. A probiotic that contains a wide variety of different bacterial strains and over 50 billion organisms per serving is also highly recommended as a daily supplement to re-inoculate the intestines. Non-denatured whey protein from grass-fed cows is also very good for rebuilding the gut. Whey is loaded with L-glutamine and enhances cellular glutathione stores which are both needed to repair the intestinal wall and de-inflame the body.
Healthy Vitamin D3 Levels
A balanced immune response in the body is also dependent upon healthy vitamin D levels. Among many other benefits, Vitamin D helps the body recognize between foreign and its own “self-proteins”. This reduces inflammation and auto-immune reactions. Additionally, healthy Vitamin D levels also stimulate natural Killer cells and macrophages that destroy antagonistic microbes & other pathogens. Unfortunately, the vast majority of society is extraordinarily deficient in vitamin D. A healthy range for vitamin D3 (25-hydroxy cholcalciferol) is between 60-100 ng/ml which is much higher than the medically acceptable 32 ng/ml. Be sure to know your levels and get them over 60 ng/ml. Spend 20-30 minutes a day in the sun or supplement with 10,000-50,000 IU of high quality emulsified vitamin D3 for a period of time until you reach the desired levels. It is always advisable to monitor this with your healthcare provider.
Specific Chiropractic Care
People with fibromyalgia, chronic pain and fatigue are highly likely to have neurological dysfunction in their upper neck. Subluxation, or neurological interference, at the bottom of the skull, C1 & C2 alter endorphin release into the body. This leads to increased states of pain, fatigue, anxiety and accelerated stress as well as mal-coordinated immunity. Well trained chiropractors can analyze these regions of the spine and give specific corrective adjustments to restore balance and optimal neurological expression in these regions.
Take Good Care of Yourself
Take time to eat according to the prescribed plan, get adequate sleep, take hot mineral baths, get regular massages, and have a daily exercise routine. Gentle yoga, swimming and walking are ideal to relieve muscle soreness, improve detoxification and reduce symptoms of depression. If you are currently suffering from fibromyalgia, the most important thing to know is that the symptoms are real, that you are not alone, and that support is available to help you find your way back to health and happiness.
1. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6 Suppl 63):S131-3. Epub 2010 Dec 22. Aspartame-induced fibromyalgia, an unusual but curable cause of chronic pain. Ciappuccini R, Ansemant T, Maillefert JF, Tavernier C, Ornetti P. Department of Rheumatology, Dijon University Hospital, Burgundy University, Faculty of Medicine, Dijon, France.
2. Ann Pharmacother. 2001 Jun;35(6):702-6. Relief of fibromyalgia symptoms following discontinuation of dietary excitotoxins. Smith JD, Terpening CM, Schmidt SO, Gums JG.
Malcolm Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Gainesville, FL, USA.