Fibromyalgia: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Eating whole foods and avoiding excitotoxins may ease fibromyalgia symptoms.

Ever since Ellen Wildman was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, 20 years ago, she’s made her self-care a full-time job, and that includes eating the right foods.

For Wildman, 60, who lives in the Ft. Lauderdale area in Florida, good nutrition helps take the edge off her symptoms and reduces pain.

But what constitutes good nutrition for a person with fibromyalgia?

The nutritional neuroscientist Kathleen Holton, PhD, an assistant professor of health studies at the American University in Washington, DC, has researched the effects of a variety of dietary components and nutrients on the brain, and she’s developed specific guidelines to help people with fibromyalgia better manage their condition through what they eat.

“No drug on the market is as important to optimal health as a well-balanced and healthy diet,” Dr. Holton says. “While many people like to call nutrition ‘alternative medicine,’ in reality it is the basis of all human health. We can’t be optimally healthy without giving our bodies the nutrients they need, and that applies to anyone with fibromyalgia.”

10 Tips for Choosing Foods for Fibromyalgia

Holton’s research has focused largely on the effects of dietary excitotoxins, chemicals that “excite” neurons in the brain and that can be toxic if consumed in excess. The most common forms of dietary excitotoxins in the Western diet are food additives used to enhance or sweeten the flavor of foods.

Some early research showed that eliminating excitotoxic food additives from the diets of some individuals with fibromyalgia reduced their symptoms. While results of subsequent research have been mixed, eliminating food additives from the diet remains a low-cost treatment option with few if any side effects and the potential to help.

1. Avoid Foods That Contain Added Glutamate

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that occurs naturally in the body and in some foods, but it is also added to foods as a flavor enhancer.

The most common form of dietary glutamate is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which must be listed on the label when it’s included in foods.

Ingredients that include the terms “hydrolyzed,” “autolyzed,” “protein concentrate,” or “protein isolate” are also likely to contain naturally occurring monosodium glutamate. (2)

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