Vegan Diet for Fibromyalgia
Would you give up meat to relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia?
Does no meat really equal no pain?
Could eating a vegan diet for fibromyalgia cure the pain & fatigue?
There is still debate among scientists whether dietary changes can affect fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition with nasty symptoms including:
- Widespread pain
- Sleep disorders
- Depression or anxiety
- Fuzzy head or ‘fibro fog’
- A creeping sensation over skin
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia.
Many sufferers of fibromyalgia however report huge reduction of symptoms with dietary changes.
Jan Chambers, President of the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, reports that diet is an essential part of how she manages her symptoms. “I believe that food is medicine,” says Chambers. “Everything we eat has an effect on us.”
A commonly reported success stories is the vegan diet for fibromyalgia. Many people report a reduction in symptoms & improvement in overall health & quality of life.
A study looked at 15,000 Americans on plant-based diets. They found that the plant eaters were half as likely as meat eaters to be taking pain- killing drugs.
A plant-based diet also translated to lower rates of:
- Chronic diseases
- Surgeries (including hysterectomies)
- Medications (including aspirin, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, antacids, blood pressure medications, laxatives & insulin).
If you are thinking of trying the vegan diet to improve your symptoms you might like to know the following
What is the vegan diet for fibromyalgia?
The vegan diet is one of several plant-based diets, which restricts the eating of animal products.
People following a vegan diet for fibromyalgia do not eat:
- Meat – beef, pork, lamb – anything which once had a pulse
- Poultry – Chicken, turkey, duck – as per the last point about having a pulse
- Fish – Fish, shark, shellfish – anything with a pulse from the water
- Dairy – Milk, butter, cheese, cream – from either cows, goats or any other animal
- Animal products – eggs or honey
Many advocates of the vegan diet recommend a ‘raw’ vegan diet. Raw vegans eat plant-based foods in their natural form. Processes used in cooking or preserving can reduce the nutrient content of many fresh plant foods. Heating, steaming, freezing or canning can cause significant loss of vitamins and minerals found in the food.
A raw vegan diet does not mean cold food –just heated at temperatures below 104–118°F (40–48°C). Grains & legumes are also permitted but need to be soaked or sprouted before eating.
Think alfalfa sprouts or oatmeal soaked in water over pasta or bread.
The variety of food sources prohibited often means that a vegan diet for fibromyalgia is just too big of a leap for many people.
Other varieties of plant based diets, which also provide health benefits include:
- Ovo-vegetarian – include eggs but avoid all other animal foods, including dairy.
- Lacto- vegetarian – eat dairy foods but exclude eggs, meat, poultry and seafood.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian – eat dairy foods and eggs but not meat, poultry or seafood.
- Pescatarian – eat fish and/or shellfish.
- Flexitarians – occasionally eat meat or poultry
If you are interested in making dietary changes but aren’t ready to quit meat you might like to read about anti-inflammatory diets.
Does the vegan diet for fibromyalgia work?
Scientific studies suggest people with fibromyalgia may enjoy a reduction in symptoms & increased quality of life with a vegan or vegetarian diet.
A study from Finland put a group of fibromyalgia patients on a raw vegan diet for three months. Most patients reported improved pain levels, joint stiffness and quality of sleep. The majority of patients also experienced a significant loss of weight.
A US study examined fibromyalgia patients on a mostly raw vegan diet of fruit, salads, tubers, carrot juice, grains, nuts and seeds. The study examined symptoms including chronic pain, poor sleep, fatigue, inactivity and depression. After 2 months the patients reported an average of 46% reduction in fibromyalgia symptoms.
The results seem to suggest that a vegan diet for fibromyalgia does appear to be effective.
Some theories argue that there are inflammatory compounds in animal products including Neu5Gc, endotoxins and animal proteins.
Other reasons plant-based diets help may include the high volumes of anti-inflammatory antioxidants or the potassium in plants regulating adrenal function.
So if a vegan diet can help fibromyalgia – what about a vegetarian diet?
A study of fibromyalgia patients on a vegetarian diet for 2 weeks found no significant improvements in symptoms. Playing devils advocate – perhaps the patients didn’t stick with the diet long enough to feel any benefits.
The best science available suggests that a vegan diet for fibromyalgia could help. The caveat is that these studies were very small and short-term – so not that strong from an evidence perspective.
Bottom line…just because the scientific evidence is not that strong (yet), what is the harm in giving it a try?
Most experts agree that a well-planned vegan diet can provide you all the nutrients you need.
Unlike medications, plant-based diets have no nasty side effects and lots of proven health benefits.
6 Things Everyone Should Know about a Vegan Diet for Fibromyalgia
If you want to try a vegan diet for fibromyalgia (and why not?)
There are some key points you need to know to ensure you meet your nutrient needs.
We need protein to grow and repair the many cells in our body including muscle, skin, hormones and neurotransmitters. The building blocks of protein are amino acids. Our bodies can produce all but 9 of the 20 amino acids it needs. The 9 we can’t produce are called the essential amino acids.
There are many excellent plant based sources of protein but very few include all 9 essential amino acids (a complete protein). Complete plant based proteins include:
- Soy (tofu or tempe)
- Mycoprotein (Quorn)
Combining plant foods such as legumes (beans, peas etc.) and whole grains also provides a complete protein serving.
The most important thing is to mix up your plant foods – rice and beans anyone?
After all – variety is the spice of life ☺
Iron plays a vital role in the creation of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration and anaemia. Women of child bearing age are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiencies because of blood loss with their monthly cycle.
Plant-based sources of iron are harder for your body to absorb than animal sources of iron. You can aid absorption by adding some vitamin C to your meal (like orange juice, red peppers or kale).
Vegan sources of iron include:
- Black beans
- Soy beans (tofu & tempe)
- Seeds (pumpkin, flax, hemp and sesame)
- Leafy greens
Just don’t forget to drink a glass of orange juice with your meal.
3) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 plays a very important role in your body. It keeps your body’s nerve cells and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 also helps to make DNA. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include weakness, nerve problems (tingling or numbness), and loss of vision, depression or memory loss.
The main sources of vitamin b12 come from animal products so the only reliable alternative for vegans is either supplements or fortified foods (such as plant milks or breakfast cereals).
4) Processed foods and additives
Processed foods are loaded with additives. Although many are not prohibited by the vegan diet – this doesn’t mean you should tuck in!
Foods such as sugary drinks, margarine, white bread and processed snack foods like chips are all proven to cause inflammation.
As well as inflammation, many fibromyalgia sufferers report highly processed foods cause painful flare-ups.
Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, commonly found in diet soft drinks have been shown to cause some cases of fibromyalgia.
Try to choose whole-foods. The fewer the steps between nature and you – the better.
In just the same way that overly processed foods can trigger a flare of symptoms. Many people react badly to artificial fertilisers or pesticides used in farming.
Try where ever possible to choose organic produce.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to full organic, prioritise organic thin-skinned fruit and veg (berries, apples, plums etc.) over thicker-skinned produce (bananas, pineapple, avocado). You are far less likely to eat the nasty chemicals in thicker-skinned fruit and veg.
Another budget friendly option is to try local farmers marketers. Talk to the farmers and ask them if they spray their crops.
Most farmers are only too happy to talk about their growing practices.
6) Plant based allergens
Don’t jump to the conclusion that the vegan diet for fibromyalgia will work for everyone.
Many sufferers of fibromyalgia report that certain groups of plant foods trigger their symptoms.
Very common offenders include:
- Gluten – a protein found in wheat and other grains – so bread and pasta)
- Alkaloids – found in the nightshade family that includes tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers & white potatoes
- Lectins – proteins found in beans, grains, nightshades, dairy, peanuts
Although plant-based allergens are an excellent source of nutrients – these otherwise healthy foods can cause painful symptoms for many fibromyalgia sufferers.
The easiest way to identify if a particular food is a trigger you is by tracking your dietary intake and symptoms in a food diary.
It may not be a miracle cure but many people experience a huge reduction in symptoms by adopting a vegan diet for fibromyalgia.
If giving up all animal products is just a step too far for you – there are many alternative plant-based diets such as the vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian.
Experts agree that a well-planned vegan diet can provide all of the nutrients you need to flourish.
Variety is the key. Mix up plant-based proteins and iron sources with vitamin C. It is important to maintain healthy levels of vitamin B12 so be sure to take a supplement or eat fortified foods.
Eliminating other toxins in your diet by eating organic, whole-foods may also help to improve your fibromyalgia symptoms.
The health benefits of eating a plant-based diet are undeniable. After all vegetarian’s have a dramatically lower incidence of chronic disease and medication consumption.
Unlike medication there are no nasty side effects – so it might be worth giving a try.
After all – we could all do with eating a little more vegetables ☺
Have you tried a vegan diet for fibromyalgia?