Fibromyalgia and Diet

Millions suffer from fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by months of widespread pain, as well as “fatigue, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, [cloudy thinking], headaches, low back pain,” and other illnesses. It “has an enormous impact on the quality of life…of patients who [may] experience a reduced…capacity to carry on the activities of daily living; every day activity becomes more difficult, more time consuming, or simply impossible.” Its cause is unknown, and there is no effective treatment for this illness.

What can we do for those who suffer? Well, according to the latest review on fibromyalgia and nutrition, a vegetarian diet “could have some beneficial effects.” But, based on what kind of evidence? Well, back in 1991, a survey was sent to a few hundred folks suffering from various chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia, asking if they found any success trying different diets. Some folks tried a vegetarian diet; some folks tried a vegan diet. Some reported the various diets helped with pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Vegan diets were reported to reduce disease symptoms more effectively than the vegetarian diet, with rheumatoid arthritis. But, what we needed was to put these diets to the test, in formal studies. First one was in ’93; ten fibromyalgia patients were put on a vegetarian diet for three weeks. The measured levels of oxidation, and inflammation, and cholesterol went down; no surprise.

But, “[o]f interest from a clinical point of view is the positive effect of the treatment upon pain status of most of the patients.” Seven out of ten felt better. They weren’t sure if it was the improved condition of the fibromyalgia patients in this course of treatment with a vegetarian diet, whether it was due to the improvement of their antioxidant status, or what it was about a meat-free diet that seemed to help so much.

A vegan diet was first put to the test in 2000 in Helsinki. You can tell English is not the researchers’ first language, with sentences like “Plants face heavy load of light.” The point they’re making is good, though. “UV light generates [free] radicals in their tissues…All this means [is] that plants must be [very] well prepared to meet the challenges of the oxygen radical stress and contain a broad variety of antioxidant[s].” That’s why plants don’t get sunburned and their DNA damaged, hanging out all day in the sun without any sunblock on.

So, what would happen if you had people “live exclusively on plant items?” In other words, what might be the effects of a “strict vegan diet on the symptoms of fibromyalgia?” In fact, this study used a raw vegan diet. “The rheumatoid patients [said they felt better] when they started to eat [the] living food diet, and the symptoms got worse, when they returned back [to] their previous omnivorous diet.”

But, what about the fibromyalgia patients? “Both groups reported having quite a lot of pain at rest in the beginning of the study, but there was a significant decrease in the [raw vegan] group,” which [gradually] “disappeared after shifting back to the omnivorous diet.” They also found other significant changes, such as improvement in the quality of sleep, reduction of morning stiffness, and improvement in measures of general health.

So, for example, here’s morning stiffness. The light bar represents those about to go on the raw vegan diet, and the dark bar is the omnivorous control group. They started out about the same. But, after about a month and a half, those eating vegan felt significantly less stiff, which continued through the end of the three-month study. And, when they went back to eating their regular diet, the stiffness returned. What about pains at rest? Same thing. So, significant improvements in fibromyalgia stiffness, pain, and general health on a plant-based diet.

The study only lasted three months, but it can be concluded that eating vegan has “beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms at least in the short run.”

L.-I. Arranz, M.-A. Canela, M. Rafecas. Fibromyalgia and nutrition, what do we know? Rheumatol. Int. 2010 30(11):1417 – 1427

K. Kaartinen, K. Lammi, M. Hypen, M. Nenonen, O. Hanninen, A. L. Rauma. Vegan diet alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms. Scand. J. Rheumatol. 2000 29(5):308 – 313

M. Haugen, J. Kjeldsen-Kragh, B. Y. Nordvaag, O. Forre. Diet and disease symptoms in rheumatic diseases–results of a questionnaire based survey. Clin. Rheumatol. 1991 10(4):401 – 407

A. T. Hostmark, E. Lystad, O. D. Vellar, K. Hovi, J. E. Berg. Reduced plasma fibrinogen, serum peroxides, lipids, and apolipoproteins after a 3-week vegetarian diet. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1993 43(1):55 – 61

Toxicology. 2000 Nov 30;155(1-3):45-53.

Antioxidants in vegan diet and rheumatic disorders.

Hänninen1, Kaartinen K, Rauma AL, Nenonen M, Törrönen R, Häkkinen AS, Adlercreutz H, Laakso J.

Author information

1

Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Finland. osmo.hanninen@uku.fi

Abstract

Plants are rich natural sources of antioxidants in addition to other nutrients. Interventions and cross sectional studies on subjects consuming uncooked vegan diet called living food (LF) have been carried out. We have clarified the efficacy of LF in rheumatoid diseases as an example of a health problem where inflammation is one of the main concerns. LF is an uncooked vegan diet and consists of berries, fruits, vegetables and roots, nuts, germinated seeds and sprouts, i.e. rich sources of carotenoids, vitamins C and E. The subjects eating LF showed highly increased levels of beta and alfa carotenes, lycopen and lutein in their sera. Also the increases of vitamin C and vitamin E (adjusted to cholesterol) were statistically significant. As the berry intake was 3-fold compared to controls the intake of polyphenolic compounds like quercetin, myricetin and kaempherol was much higher than in the omnivorous controls. The LF diet is rich in fibre, substrate of lignan production, and the urinary excretion of polyphenols like enterodiol and enterolactone as well as secoisolaricirecinol were much increased in subjects eating LF. The shift of fibromyalgic subjects to LF resulted in a decrease of their joint stiffness and pain as well as an improvement of their self-experienced health. The rheumatoid arthritis patients eating the LF diet also reported similar positive responses and the objective measures supported this finding. The improvement of rheumatoid arthritis was significantly correlated with the day-to-day fluctuation of subjective symptoms. In conclusion the rheumatoid patients subjectively benefited from the vegan diet rich in antioxidants, lactobacilli and fibre, and this was also seen in objective measures.

PMID: 11156742

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

O. Hänninen, K. Kaartinen, A.L. Rauma, M. Nenonen, R. Torronen, S. Hakkinen, H. Adlercreutz , J. Laakso. Antioxidants in vegan diet and rheumatic disorders. Toxicology 2000 155(1 – 3):45 – 53

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