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Diet and Fibromyalgia

by Gary F. Zeolla
(a.k.a. Reepicheep)

The following message was posted in the "alt.med.fibromyalgia" Newsgroup.


I have a BS in Nutrition science (Penn State; 1983) and am the author of the book Creationist Diet. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia [FM] on August 27, 2001, I began doing a lot of research on the Internet about FM. And with my background, I paid particular notice of dietary recommendations. And what I found was interesting.

Vegan Diet

The only studies on diet and FM I could find that showed an improvement in FM symptoms were ones using a vegan diet, with an emphasis on raw foods. And many in this group seem to be following a vegan or near vegan diet. However, I did find a couple of Web sites by FibroMites that said they found improvement using basically the exact opposite kind of diet, a low carb/ high protein diet. So I have considered why each kind of diet would be beneficial.

As for the vegan diet, such diets tend to be high in carbs, and FibroMites [i.e. people with FM] tend to be low in serotonin. And studies show that a high carb diet is the best way to boast serotonin levels, which would aid in the sleep problems common in FM sufferers.

Second, evidence shows that those who follow a vegan diet have lower rates of heart disease than the general population. And clogged arteries can cause heart disease. But clogged arteries would not only be found in the arteries surrounding the heart but in other arteries as well. This is important as studies show that FM sufferers have reduced levels of oxygen in the muscles, which is one possible cause of fibro-pain. So clearing out the arteries and thus improving blood flow would help lessen the pain.

Another possibility has to do with pain trigger foods, as discussed by Neal Barnard in his book Foods that Fight Pain. Dr. Barnard believes that different foods trigger various kinds of pain in different people, including FM pain. And he recommends an elimination diet to determine one’s particular trigger food(s). However, he gives a list of the most common pain triggers in his book.

They are:
1. Dairy products
2. Chocolate/ caffeine
3. Eggs
4. Citrus fruits
5. Meats (red meat, pork, poultry, fish)
6. Wheat
7. Nuts and peanuts
8. Tomatoes
9. Onions
10. Corn
11. Apples
12. Bananas (pp.46, 211).

It should be noted that all possible animal foods are included in this list. So it is possible that someone who improves on a vegan diet is doing so by “incidentally” eliminating his or her animal-based trigger food(s).

As an aside, it should be noted that chocolate is a common trigger food. I mention this as a while back some in this group were trying to defend chocolate as being a “healthy food.” It’s not. And given that it’s a common pain trigger, it is especially something that FibroMites should be cautious of.

In any case, a vegan diet can also have various other health benefits as well. And anything that can improve the health in general could aid in lessening FM symptoms.

Low Carb/ High Protein Diet

As for the low carb/ high protein diet, my thoughts here are basically the same as for why many people report that they fair much better with a low carb/ high protein diet than a low fat/ high carb diet. My personal opinion is that such people are probably suffering from low blood sugar or “Syndrome X.” And such problems will improve with a low carb diet.

However, I personally believe there are ways to accomplish the same benefits without resorting to a low carb diet. This would entail reducing the carbs to the not so low level of about 40% of calories and replacing these calories with “healthy” mono-saturated fats. Also, the carbs should be generally “low-glycemic” rather than high-glycemic carbs.

But be that as it may, a low carb diet would help improve low blood sugar which in turn would help to lessen fibro-fatigue.

Another possibility would again be the “incidental” elimination of pain trigger foods. As indicated above, wheat, corn, apples, and bananas are all common pain triggers. And all of these would be eliminated on a low carb diet.

My Diet

As for myself, as I have stated previously in this newsgroup, my FM symptoms have never been as serious as they are for many. And one reason I think this is the case is because I was already following a near vegan diet previous to being diagnosed with FM. The only animal foods in my diet were generally one serving of red meat, poultry, or fish a day, usually at dinner. I also sometimes would use an egg-white based protein powder after my weight lifting workouts. Otherwise, I consume no dairy products or whole eggs. I even use a soy based protein powder instead of milk on my breakfast cereal.

Since being diagnosed with FM, I have eliminated the red meat for two reasons. First, there is the saturated fat thus artery clogging potential of red meat. And secondly, beef seems to be a pain trigger food for me.

But I still consume poultry and fish, each about 2-3 times/ week. On days I don’t consume the poultry or fish I consume a full vegan diet, utilizing some kind of legumes for dinner instead of the meat. The only exception to this is the use of the egg-white protein powder. But I now mix it with a soy based protein powder, both for on my cereal at breakfast and for my post-workout drink. I want to consume some soy right after a workout as studies show that soy helps to reduce post-workout soreness, and it seems to reduce post-workout fibro-pain as well. But I like to mix in some egg protein to increase the quality of the protein.

I kept track of everything I ate this week and used a diet analysis program to analysis my diet. The average caloric distribution is 50.3% carbs, 21.3% protein, and 28.4% fat. So my diet really is not a low carb or a very low fat diet. But it should be noted that 45% of the fat is mono-saturated (mainly from nuts and seeds), while saturated fat are only 5% of total calories. And what is really interesting is that even without eating much animal food and only a limited use of protein powders I am still consuming over 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

As for nutrients, I am well over the RDAs for all nutrients with two not surprising exceptions. The first is vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods. And the second is zinc, for which red meat is the best source. It is for these reasons that vegetarians and vegans are often low in these nutrients and why a supplement containing at least these two nutrients is a very good idea of those following such a diet.

I could try making some changes to my diet for further improvements of my FM symptoms. I could try eliminating the poultry, fish, and egg-white protein so I would have a full vegan diet. But I tried a full vegan diet previously and simply did not “thrive” on it. I have found that I feel better if I eat a small amount of animal protein.

I could also try replacing the 2-3 ounces of nuts and seeds I eat a day with high carb sources like whole grains to decrease the fat level and increase the carb level. But frankly, right now I am having a hard time eating enough to keep my weight up, and I need the concentrated calories of the nuts and seeds to do so. And frankly, I really like nuts and seeds. Fortunately, walnuts are the only kind of nut that seems to be a trigger food for me.

I could also try reducing the protein and again replacing it with carbs. But I am back to lifting weights, and studies I did both back in college and recently convince me that about a gram per pound is ideal for weightlifters. Such a protein level is needed for adequate recovery from workouts. And even though I am lifting at a much-reduced intensity than before, I want to do everything I can to aid recovery as recovery from exercise is a particular problem for FM sufferers.

I could also try going the other way and try a high protein/ low carb diet, but frankly the thought of eating all of that meat is not at all appealing. I have always had a bit of a “vegetarian streak” in me for moral/ ethical reasons. Not enough for me to keep on a strict vegan diet, but enough to not want to eat a large amount of meat as a low carb diet generally entails. Also, I have concerns about the long-term health implications of a low carb/ high protein diet.

Conclusion

I’ve been told not to be so long winded in my posts, and this post is probably too long again (sorry about that). So I will close by saying that since I am doing reasonably well, I will probably stick with my current diet and look to other areas, such as supplements and the role of emotions in FM symptoms for further improvements of my symptoms. But a discussion on those points will have to wait for another time. I'LL just say now that a vegan or near vegan diet is worth a try for FM suffers. The switch in diet for FM sufferers won't break the bank either and force you to get a merchant cash advance.

><> Reepicheep <><
><> 10/6/2001 <><

Follow-up:
Improved Cholesterol Levels

I recently posted a message about my current diet. In it I stated that I am now following a near vegan diet. I began following such a diet about two years ago. Shortly prior to that time I had blood test done. I recently had another blood test done and just got the results. Below are my cholesterol and triglyceride levels from these two tests:

7/13/99:
Total cholesterol: 194
LDL cholesterol: 124
HDL cholesterol: 55
Cholesterol/ HDL ratio: 3.53
Triglycerides: 73

9/27/01:
Total cholesterol: 157
LDL cholesterol: 85
HDL cholesterol: 59
Cholesterol/ HDL ratio: 2.66
Triglycerides: 67

So my total cholesterol dropped 37 points; my LDL dropped 39 points, and with my HDL improving by 4 points, my total cholesterol/ HDL level dropped 0.87 to the very low 2.66. And it is this ratio that is now considered to be most important. 4.97 is given on the test results page I received as being “average” for a male (4.44 for a woman). And this is one time is good to be below average. And my triglycerides even dropped a few points.

My cholesterol wasn’t bad before, but it is very good now. Now other factors may have contributed to this change, such as exercise or maybe even some of the supplements I have been taking. But I am sure diet had a lot to do with it.

So a near vegan diet, with 50-55% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 25-30% fat (with about half of the fat coming from monounsaturated fats and only 5% of total calories from saturated fats) is working very well for me.

><> Reepicheep <><
><> 10/11/2001 <><

Follow-up:
More on "Trigger Foods"

The first message above discussed the possibility of "trigger foods" causing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. I have since learned that yes in fact allergies or sensitivities to foods can cause the various symptoms of fibromyalgia. But there is a much easy way to identify these problems foods than by using an elimination diet. They can be identified through a diagnostic procedure know as "Applied Kinesiology."

And a much better way to deal with problem foods than to avoid them the rest of your life is to be treated for them via NAET allergy treatments. These treatments will enable one to eat such foods without them causing any problems.

I know these procedures work as a series of NAET treatments has significantly improved my symptoms of fibromyalgia, along with the symptoms of stiff person syndrome (a very rare autoimmune disorder). For details on this diagnostic procedure and treatment method, see the pages listed at NAET and Applied Kinesiology. And for a discussion of my experiences in this regard, see the five-part article Stiff Person Syndrome.

9/21/2002

Third Follow-up

In December of 2002, the doctor I had been going to for my NAET treatments determined that contributing to my problems were numerous nutritional deficiencies. For a very long time I was reacting to just about everything I ate. So I was barely eating and lost a considerable amount of weight. In addition, as discussed in the article A Better Approach to Supplements, if one is allergic to a food one cannot properly absorb and utilize the nutrients it contains. Also, one can be allergic to nutrients themselves. And again, if one is, then the nutrient cannot be properly absorbed and utilized. So as a result I became deficient in various nutrients.

Also the near vegan diet I mentioned probably also contributed to these deficiencies. Some of the nutrients I was deficient in, such as zinc, are ones that are commonly low in vegetarian diets. In fact, my problems really began back in the summer of 2000 when I was following a full vegan diet.

So what I believed happened is that my nutrient levels were rather low from the years of following a vegetarian or near vegetarian diet. Then when I tried the vegan diet, this further depleted my nutritional stores. Meanwhile, I was slowly developing allergies to various foods and nutrients. And all these factors together contributed to my developing the deficiencies.

So what this means is, I am no longer following nor particularly recommend a vegetarian diet. I especially would not follow or recommend a vegan diet. Such diets might be good for some people, but many others will run into problems as I did.

Yes, there can be benefits from a vegan diet. But such benefits can be attained from eating a healthy diet that includes animal products, without the risks of a vegan diet. So if I ever publish a new edition of my book Creationist Diet, I will probably re-title the chapter on “Benefits of a Vegan diet” to “The Benefits and Potential Drawbacks of a Vegan Diet.” Let me make it clear, I still stand by most of what I wrote in my book. But I would definitely like to tone down any recommendations for a vegetarian diet.

All that said, I had been able to eat normally and was no longer following a vegetarian diet for some time. I also had been taking some supplements. But in situations like this, it can often take high does supplements to overcome deficiencies. So my doctor prescribed some specific supplements to overcome these deficiencies. Some of these I purchased from her, and others I ordered from WebVitamins.

In time, the new omnivore diet and the supplements enabled me to overcome the nutrient deficiencies. And now, I am mostly recovered from the symptoms of fibromyalgia. So rather than helping my fibromyalgia, the near vegan diet I had been following actually contributed to my symptoms.
7/12/03

Fourth Follow-up

After the last post above, my symptoms seemed to improve for some time. And for a while I was able to start powerlifting again. But then my health took a turn for the worse. But I don't think diet had anything to do with it. I believe it was the after-effects of the NAET treatments. They seemed to work for while, but then my allergies came roaring back to the point that I now suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Basically, I feel like I am allergic to just about everything in my environment and to many foods as well. The NAET treatments really screwed up my immune system. And with the increasing allergies, my fibro-fatigue has gotten much worse. Between the allergies and the fatigue, I am now to the point where I can barely function. So I no longer recommend NAET treatments nor trust Applied Kinesiology.

But I have found that a careful attention to diet does enable me to maintain some degree of functionality. If I go off of my eating plan, I get even worse. I detail my most recent thoughts on diet in my new book God-given Foods Eating Plan. It is an updated and much lengthier version of of my Creationist Diet book. It details how animal foods can and should be a part of a healthy eating plan.
8/10/12

Disclaimer: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any treatment program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.

Diet and Fibromyalgia. Copyright 2001-2003, 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Dealing with Health Difficulties
Dealing with Health Difficulties: Fibromyalgia

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