Does Your Diet Affect Your Fibromyalgia?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on November 29, 2022
4 min read

When you have fibromyalgia, chances are you want to look into everything that could possibly help, including changes in your lifestyle. Could tweaking or even overhauling your diet mean less pain and more energy?

Although there’s no diet that’s proven to help everyone, some people find that eating or avoiding certain foods has a major impact on their symptoms.

Here are some dietary changes that might be worth a try. When in doubt, check with your doctor or a dietitian.

Some experts say that an anti-inflammatory diet can make a big difference to anyone with a chronic pain disorder. If you're not eating that way now, the traditional Mediterranean diet is a pretty safe bet.

it might ease your fibromyalgia symptoms. And even if it doesn’t, it's a healthy way of eating that's long been linked to a lower risk of other conditions like heart disease and some cancers. It may also help you lose weight.

The basics: lots of vegetables and some fruit and whole grains, limited dairy, and lean protein --especially fish -- with little to no red meat.

Vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, or fish. Vegans also eliminate dairy, eggs, and some even avoid honey -- anything that comes from an animal.

Does it help with conditions like fibromyalgia? Most studies on the topic are mixed or limited because of their small size, but one study of more than 600 people found that those who tried a vegan diet (meaning they had no animal products at all) had lower levels of an inflammation marker (C-reactive protein) after only 3 weeks.

As with the Mediterranean diet, there are no guarantees that going vegan or vegetarian will make you feel better. After all, you could eat a vegetarian or vegan diet that’s full of processed foods that aren’t that good for you. But if you do eat more plants and less meat, that can still be a smart health move.

Just make sure you cover all your nutritional needs. For the most part, you can do that through a well-rounded, plant-based diet rich in greens and other vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruit. And you’ll need a vitamin B12 supplement if you go vegan.

Some research has found that people with chronic health issues such as fibromyalgia are more likely to be low on vitamin D. Would taking a supplement help? At least one small study suggests that it might. Others studies have found that people who take vitamin D supplements have had improvements in mood, sleep, and overall well-being.

Although experts need to learn more about this topic, there's usually little harm in taking extra vitamin D as long as you stay within the safe dose levels. Ask your doctor if you need a supplement and if so, how much you should take.

If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance as well as fibromyalgia, it's important to avoid gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) because it will cause inflammation in your body.

Your doctor can test you for celiac disease, but figuring out if you're gluten intolerant (and if it makes your fibromyalgia symptoms worse) isn't so clear-cut. A few studies have found that people with fibromyalgia who thought they were sensitive to gluten felt better after cutting it out, but these were very small studies and the results aren't iron-clad.

If you want to try going gluten-free, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian first.

Some researchers say that a group of food additives called excitotoxins make fibromyalgia symptoms worse. But that’s not for sure. Excitotoxins are found in monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the artificial sweetener aspartame. A few studies have found that people with fibromyalgia who cut these additives out of their diets say they felt better, but other research has found that it made no difference at all.

Food sensitivities are often personal, so what bothers you may not bother someone else with fibromyalgia and vice versa. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about whether you should try an elimination diet. It involves temporarily cutting out all suspected triggers (perhaps gluten, dairy, corn, soy, MSG, and aspartame) and then slowly reintroducing them one by one to see how you feel.