Easing the Painful Grips of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain and stiffness in the tendons, muscles and ligaments, coupled with trouble concentrating, sleep disruption and fatigue. Those dealing with FM are forced to live with these uncomfortable symptoms every day of their lives. But there’s some evidence that certain diet and lifestyle changes can help.

Who Gets FM?

Although no one knows what causes FM, about 2% of the U.S. population is affected by this complex disease (1). Women tend to develop FM more often than men, and one’s risk of getting the disease increases with age. FM symptoms usually begin after an emotional or physical trauma; but, many times, there are no apparent causes of this condition (1). Researchers, however, believe FM is linked to how the central nervous system processes pain. There is currently no known cure.

Functioning with Fibromyalgia

While information is not plentiful, some studies connect allevitating FM symptoms to a healthy diet and lifestyle (2). Author, speaker and FM sufferer Mary Moeller has kept her symptoms in check with such changes. She suggests excluding four things from one’s diet:

• Over time, alcohol coupled with other drugs, stress and lack of rest will cause an unhealthy buildup of toxins in the body (3, 4).

Chocolate contains sugar and caffeine, stimulants that can make fatigued FM patients even more tired (2). Caffeine also may affect blood sugar release and uptake by the liver and is a central nervous system, respiratory and heart stimulant (3, 4).

Coffee and carbonated beverages are important to avoid because they, too, contain caffeine.

Moeller also reccommends avoiding food additives such as the artificial sweetener aspartame. Large quantities of aspartame can upset the neurotransmitter–amino acid balance in the body (4). Those with FM also should avoid butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which affects liver and kidney function (4). FM sufferers should eat foods that are low fat and rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals (3).

Proper exercise also is imperative for those with FM. Such evidence comes from one study published in the journal Pain, which involved 53 women who had FM for an average of 12 years (5). Participants either took part in weekly two-hour yoga classes designed for those with FM or were put on a waiting list; classes included group discussions, breathing exercises, gentle poses, meditation and yogabased coping instruction (5). Each participant continued her normal care routine, which may have included taking medication. The yoga group was advised to practice yoga everyday while at home, too.

Eight weeks later, remarkable findings were reported. According to standardized measurements, there were declines in depression, fatigue, pain, tenderness and stiffness. On the other hand, there were increases in sleep, memory, strength, balance and agility (5). And, nearly 91% of the yoga group, compared to 19% of those waiting to take the yoga course, reported feeling better during the end of the study, versus when they first started. Furthermore, the yoga group also adapted to more productive coping strategies for dealing with FM symptoms (5). These techniques included prayer, relaxation, problem-solving, participating in activities regardless of pain and acceptance of FM.

Some dietary supplements may benefit those with FM, with the approval of his/her healthcare provider. First, L-carnitine may support the mental and general health of FM sufferers. In one trial, researchers studied the effectiveness of L-carnitine in 102 participants with FM. Overall, symptom improvements were seen in the group which took L-carnitine versus the group which took a placebo (6).

Another supplement FM sufferers may want to consider taking is 5-HTP, a building block of serotonin. Low serotonin levels may play a significant role in FM pain, trouble sleeping and depression (6). The Alternative Medicine Review, published a study in which supplementation with 5-HTP improved FM pain, anxiety, symptoms of depression and insomnia (6).

Persons who are deficient in magnesium are more likely to experience intensified symptoms of FM and chronic fatigue syndrome, but by increasing one’s intake of magnesium, FM symptoms are believed to improve (7). A 24-person study of those with FM suggests that a tablet containing magnesium and malic acid may help some of the tenderness one may experience as a result of having FM. Other studies suggest that calcium and magnesium combined may be helpful for individuals, too (8).

St. John’s Wort also is said to be helpful for FM sufferers, in that it is often used to support healthy moods (6). And, d-ribose may help individuals feel more energetic, sleep better and have better mental clarity (9).

Caring for FM usually requires the help of your doctor or physical therapist, and may involve other healthcare professionals (10). Nevertheless, FM sufferers may take comfort in knowing that FM is not a progressive disease; it is not fatal and does not cause damage to internal organs, joints or muscles. In fact, several people have reported that their FM has improved as time progressed (10). WF


1. Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia,” www.mayoclinic.com/health/fibromyalgia/DS00079, accessed Nov. 3, 2010.

2. C. Bouchez, “Fibromyalgia: The Diet Connection,” www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/ guide/fibromyalgia-the-diet-connection, Nov. 22, 2010.

3. C. Brown, “The FM Diet: Eating for a Better Quality of Life,” www.fmaware.org/site/ News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6729, accessed Nov. 4, 2010.

4. M. Moeller, et al., The Fibromyalgia Nutrition Guide (Salt Lake City, UT: Woodland Publishing, 2000).

5. Oregon Health & Science University, “Yoga Can Counteract Fibromyalgia, Study Suggests,” press release distributed Oct. 14, 2010.

6. “Herbs and Supplements for Fibromyalgia,” www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/fibromyalgia- herbs-and-supplements, accessed Nov. 23, 2010.

7. C. Dean, The Magnesium Miracle (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2007).

8. University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/magnesium-000313.htm, Nov. 22, 2010.

9. J. Teitelbaum, R. McGrew and J. Jandrain, “Effective Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia with d-Ribose (Corvalen),” BioEnergy poster, 2010.

10. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, “Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia,” www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Fibromyalgia/default.asp, accessed Nov. 23, 2010.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2011