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Gluten-Free Diet for Fibromyalgia Improvement

By Linda Tarr Kent

Fibromyalgia affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population, with women being more susceptible to the disorder than men. With this chronic condition, you have widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons. Fatigue and muscle tender points are other symptoms. While there is no standard, accepted “fibromyalgia diet,” anecdotal evidence suggests some foods alleviate symptoms better than others. Also, some people who have fibromyalgia also have food allergies or intolerances. For example, 1 in 133 people in the United States have a gluten intolerance. Removing gluten can help such people reduce inflammation, alleviate aches and pains and improve symptoms.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is the protein in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, Kamut and triticale. For those who are allergic or intolerant to gluten, removing it can lead to improved skin, including fewer problems with breakouts, eczema and psoriasis; fewer migraines; and a lessening of vague, general symptoms of malaise. Avoiding foods that cause secondary symptoms like inflammation and gastrointestinal problems can sometimes alleviate your fibromyalgia, according to nationally known nutritionist Anne Collins.

Foods to Avoid

People who go gluten free with the aim of improving fibromyalgia symptoms must avoid foods made with grains in general unless they are specifically labeled “gluten free.” This includes pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, cookies, cake, gravy, pie, salad dressing, candy including licorice, processed lunch meat, imitation meat or seafood, sauce including soy sauce and croutons.

Reading Labels

Going gluten free means grocery shoppers must read food labels. The Food and Drug Administration requires food labels to clearly state if there is wheat or one of the other top eight U.S. allergens. A food is not safe, however, just because you don’t see a statement telling you the food contains wheat. Food manufacturers are not required to warn you about allergens that might come from cross-contamination that may happen during processing or packaging. Also, manufacturers often change ingredients in their foods, so a product that is safe one week may not be so the next. Many stores such as Trader Joe’s offer shoppers listings of their gluten-free products.

Safe Foods

Foods that are safe on a gluten free diet for fibromyalgia include meat, poultry and fish that is not marinated, breaded or injected with broth, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, potatoes, rice, gluten-free flours like teff, rice, corn, soy and potato. You can also eat products labeled “gluten free,” but do not grab “wheat free” items--these can still have barley or spelt. Also check food additives such as malt flavoring and products that touch your mouth like stamps, toothpaste, lipstick, medicines and vitamins.

Mindful Eating

Eating a more healthful diet, in general, is thought to improve fibromyalgia symptoms, though there is little scientific research on the subject. “The Fibromyalgia Nutrition Guide by Mary Moeller and Joe Elrod,” 1999, recommends avoiding several foods including white sugar and white flour, for example. Moeller is in remission from fibromyalgia and says she got there with lifestyle changes like eating properly. Going gluten free can help you eat more healthfully because eliminating gluten naturally leads to consuming less unhealthy processed food and increases awareness of what you are eating, says Judy D. Simon registered dietitian with the University of Washington’s Family Medicine Department in Seattle, Washington.

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