Diet for Fibromyalgia
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
– Foods to avoid with fibromyalgia
– Low oxalate foods suitable for fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a painful condition that affects the connective tissue responsible for holding muscular cells in place. Connective tissue connects all organs and body parts, such as our ligaments, tendons etc.
With fibromyalgia, the connective tissue becomes acidified and hardened which creates swelling and inflammation in many points of the body.
This occurs because thickened and acidified connective tissue does not allow enough oxygen and nutrients to make their way through to the cells, so the muscles, bones and organ tissues must give up some of their own oxygen, minerals, vitamins and trace elements to make up the short fall.
Once this second line of defence is exhausted, the connective tissue cells become increasingly filled with cellular debris, metabolic waste, and toxic compounds which then thicken and harden the connective tissue. Microbes start coming to the scene, attacking the accumulated waste matter, which may lead to secondary inflammation and resultant pain.
All of this can create multiple symptoms, including chronic musculoskeletal pain, headaches, constant tiredness, tension, reduced ability to concentrate, dizziness, numbness and tingling sensations, fluid retention, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea or constipation. Symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the congestion, where the congestion focuses, other stress factors, and even the weather.
The primary treatment goals for fibromyalgia are to raise serotonin levels, improve sleep quality, eat suitable low reactive foods, and ensure adequate magnesium levels.
Certain foods appear to make the pain of fibromyalgia worse while other foods appear to reduce the pain, but before you change your diet, speak with your doctor or health practitioner.
Medically the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. However, some consider that fibromyalgia is initiated by congestion and insufficient drainage of lymphatic waste.
This is commonly due to:
- lack of regular exercise
- not enough fresh air
- being too long in air-conditioning
- acid-forming foods such as dairy products, gluten and grains in general, red meat, sugar, cakes, lollies, chocolate, pastries, soft drinks/sodas
- an inability to clear oxalic acid caused by eating high oxalate foods
- poor fat digestion, which also decreases the ability to clear oxalic acid
- gut microbial imbalance (too many bad bacteria – not enough good ones)
- irregular lifestyle habits
In healthy digestion, most oxalic acid from food is cleared by the gut. However recent research shows that people with poor fat digestion (usually picked up with a comprehensive digestive stool analysis – CDSA) have less ability to clear oxalic acid found in many healthy foods such as dark leafy greens. This means that oxalic acid levels will be elevated in the body due to poor clearance. This gives rise to increased inflammation in the joints.
On top of that, if you have low levels of good bacteria, which normally help to break down oxalates, and high levels of bad bacteria or candida yeast overgrowth which increase the body’s own production of oxalic acid, then this combo can create serious amplifications of pain and inflammation.
To make matters even worse, oxalates deplete the body of a key antioxidant called glutathione which helps us to detoxify and keep our cells healthy. Oxalates can also change how zinc, a vital mineral, works in our body. Zinc plays a key role in supporting our immune system. So low oxalate foods are an important component of a diet for fibromyalgia.
When I worked for forensic medicine back in 1979, part of the job was to go to the autopsies for samples. One thing I noticed was that the bodies were often full of mucus, which lined every cavity and organ. When I asked the morgue doctors about this, they said that was due to the person’s lifestyle and wasn’t considered normal. A healthy body didn’t have this muck.
I couldn’t help thinking that this was probably unknown to the person when they were alive. When I talk to clients about mucus forming or congestive foods, they often think I am just speaking about sinus congestion or chesty mucus (which it can be). However, they don’t realise that congestion can be throughout the body.
Once congestion has been cleared, you can really feel the difference with a clean body that has less congestive symptoms and more vitality.
Diet and digestion has the greatest influence on either the creation of fibromyalgia, or the potential resolution of fibromyalgia.
Regular consumption of certain animal proteins, dairy foods, refined and hardened oils and fats, as well as most processed foods are notorious for causing acidity-related and lymphatic congestive problems.
These foods not only rob the body of vital nutrients but also damage the probiotic essential bacteria of the gut, which are our first line of defence against harmful substances and adverse invading organisms.
Most complementary health practitioners agree that avoiding dairy, gluten, additives such as aspartame and MSG, sugar, simple carbohydrates, grains, caffeine, yeast, nightshade plants (tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, chilli), high oxalate and high fat foods, and increasing the low oxalate magnesium rich foods (i.e. anything green) have been effective to reduce pain levels for many clients with fibromyalgia.
A diet for fibromyalgia excludes foods that are high in oxalates (see below). At the same time, it’s important to include foods rich in magnesium, lots of anti-inflammatory type foods, good quality proteins and loads of healthy low oxalate vegetables and low sugar fruits. This will help to minimise the congestion in the body and improve general health.
The idea is to eliminate foods considered detrimental and include foods that support your body to do its natural job of healing. While healthy foods will be a big help to resolve symptoms, realise that what is left out of the diet is really important.
Drinking alcohol or coffee (with or without milk) and snacking on foods not recommended can all have detrimental effects and slow your progress towards good health and vitality.
Foods to avoid with fibromyalgia
A low oxalate diet is defined as less that 50mg of oxalates per meal
The following foods have more than 50mg of oxalates per serve
A serve is defined as 3.5oz/100g
Note: the symbol ~ = approximate
- Beetroot and beet greens ~800mg
- Spinach (all types) ~750mg
- Swiss chard aka silverbeet ~650mg
- Rhubarb ~500mg
- Grains and grain products ~up to 250mg (except rice)
- Okra ~150mg
- Parsley ~100mg
- Sweet potatoes ~150mg
- Figs (fresh or dried) contains ~100mg per medium fig
- Blueberries, other berries and gooseberries ~10 to 100mg
- Beans: Soy products (all types), black beans & navy beans ~50mg
- Almonds including almond spread ~450mg
- Other nuts ~ between 40-450mg
- Cashews, cashew spread, cashew mylk, cashew cheese ~250mg
- Peanuts and peanut butter ~180mg
- Potato, potato chips and fries ~65mg
- Chocolate ~250 to 500mg depending on the percentage of cacao. The more cacao the more oxalic acid
Low oxalate foods suitable for fibromyalgia
The following foods have less than 50mg of oxalates per serve
A serve is defined as 3.5oz/100g
Meats: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood and eggs are all low, but bear in mind that proteins break down to amino acids which can create oxalates via metabolic processing, so take care with quantities eaten.
Vegetable proteins: include coconut, black-eyed peas, green peas and yellow split peas, flax seeds.
Spring and filtered water, apple juice, chamomile tea.
Herbs and Spices
Basil, cilantro/coriander, mustard, nutmeg, salt, saffron, tarragon, vanilla and white pepper.
Mayonnaise, mustard and vinegar.
Coconut oil, and all vegetable oils including olive, canola and safflower. Be careful with the amount of fats you consume unless you know you digest fats well.
White sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup and honey.
Rice (white, brown and wild), rice products, fruits such as apples, avocados, cherries, cranberries, all melons, mangos, seedless grapes both red and green, peaches, pears and plums. Vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, rocket/arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, endive, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions (yellow and white), peas, radishes, red sweet peppers (capsicum), squash (zucchini, acorn, and yellow), turnips, water cress and water chestnuts.
You can have plenty of the vegetables listed above with the carbohydrates so you still have variety.
Medium oxalate carbohydrates
Carrots, celery, green beans, corn, parsnips, summer squash, tomatoes and turnips are all medium oxalate vegetables, so limit these quantities. Small amounts of white potato can be tolerated by some.
Exercise is important in your recovery from fibromyalgia.
Initially you may not be able to do much, but it is essential to move your body gently as much as your body allows you to. Your ability to move without pain will increase over time on this program.
By avoiding congestive foods and moving with gentle exercise, the body will slowly release toxic congestion and reduce the pain triggers. It can be a long process, but then again, it took a long time to accumulate. With loving, gentle care and attention to the body, fibromyalgia can clear.
Important: Before you commence a new diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
Note: During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Michelle first came to me when I used to do massage, along with naturopathy, as she wanted relief from her long-term fibromyalgia pains. She had so much pain that she needed morphine plus ‘normal painkillers’ along with various nutritional supplements to help her go to the toilet, due to the side effects of the medication.
The pharmaceutical drugs had a huge impact on her liver which created more problems, but she felt she had nowhere to go with it because if she reduced her medication the pain was unbearable.
When I massaged her I could feel her lymphatic system was very congested. Even though she said the massage felt good at the time, afterwards her pain intensified for a few days which necessitated even more pain relief. I suggested to stop the massage for a while and focus on her diet and lifestyle to see what could be done.
Fortunately, she was prepared to do almost anything to feel better so compliance was great. First it was important to ensure all organs of elimination were functioning well to help clear the build-up of toxins.
I prescribed large doses of magnesium to help her go to the toilet without the use of laxatives, which helped to reduce the intensity of the pain. Magnesium is hydrophilic, meaning that it attracts water to itself, which hydrates the bowel.
We also included simple things to reduce the toxic burden on her body. We arranged to filter her water from chlorine, fluoride and bromides, including her shower and bath water. Her pool and spa water was changed to an ozone system to purify, instead of add toxins. Magnesium was included with the pool and spa water to help relax her muscles, joints and connective tissue.
We abolished all chemical personal care products, including her toothpaste and favourite perfume and changed them over to natural chemical free products.
These things alone were significant as she started to detoxify immediately, albeit with increased pain initially. After settling, her pain levels reduced from 9/10 to 7/10. She was still on existing medication at this stage.
We then tackled her diet to remove all grains, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. She thought a glass of red wine a night made her feel better, but it was only temporary. We also removed dairy products and certain fruits such as bananas which can be mucus forming for some people.
Vegetables from the nightshade family, which can be damp and form congestion, were also removed. These included eggplant (aubergines), tomatoes, chilli, capsicum (peppers) and potatoes. This meant eliminating her favourite comfort food, hot potato chips.
But it was more important for Michelle to feel comfortable rather than ‘eat comfort’.
Basically, she ate fish, chicken and plenty of appropriate vegetables and fruits and drank lots of purified water. She initially found the diet boring until I showed her how to use herbs and spices to liven up meals, then she was happy.
She also loved the comfort of chocolate, so I shared some raw cacao delights recipes with her, but only as a once-a-week treat because they contained a little sugar from rice malt or maple syrup. Chocolate is also high in oxalic acid which Michelle needed to avoid to reduce her pain levels.
These changes were gradual because with each change she would further detox which temporarily resulted in increased pain, headaches and tiredness which she initially put down to a lack of caffeine and simple carbs. However these symptoms cleared quickly and she had more energy than she could remember.
Michelle gradually cut back her meds to half dose and her pain dropped to 5/10. She had not had this low level of pain for 20 years.
As she felt better, we next looked at movement, because she really needed to get her lymphatic system moving to clear the rest of the stagnation from her body. She was reluctant as exercise brought on lactic acid pains, but I asked her to be gentle and start with a short walk around her house each day for two weeks.
At her next appointment, she was then walking the block and feeling much better. We recommenced massage therapy to help move the accumulated lymphatic waste. Later she introduced social dancing and swimming in the ocean and longer walks.