Eating to Control Pain: Selecting the Right Diet

Christina Lasich, MD Health Pro June 23, 2010
  • Everyone would like to find a cure for chronic fibromyalgia-like pain. No one magical treatment is going to work for everybody because everyone is different. Are you searching for your cure? Here is a story about a woman who found her cure:

     

    A 58 year old woman returned to me after seeing another doctor for the past two years. The last time I saw her, she was struggling with fibromyalgia and headaches despite my best efforts to treat her with medications and exercise. Since then, she has lost nearly 60 pounds in two years and is feeling much less pain. Obviously, her time with another doctor did her a whole lot of good ( more than I did) and I wanted to find out what made the difference in her life. She told me that the other doctor discovered that her pain was being caused by food. After eliminating dairy, wheat, peanuts, “nightshade” foods (tomatoes, potatoes, etc), cantaloupe, and bananas, this woman who had suffered with fibromyalgia for years was finally cured. Wow, that got my attention and I wanted to learn more!

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    Currently, the research about the link between fibromyaligia and food is inadequate to draw many conclusions. Yet, nearly 40% of people with fibromyalgia believe that diet influences the pain. The lack of research is not helping anyone. Results from poorly designed studies have suggested that restricted diets such as the “Hallelujah Diet” or a raw, vegan diet can substantially reduce the pain. However, even with good pain reduction, no one continued the special diet after a treatment period ranging from three to seven months. If a treatment is too difficult to continue, then it is really not a good solution. So, researchers are going back to the drawing board to find out what foods can be eliminated easily without using drastically restrictive diet plans that nobody can tolerate.

     

    The elimination of certain foods is centered on a concept that certain foods excite the nervous system. These “excitotoxins” give the brain a source of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate and aspartate. An increased level of glutamate has been linked to fibromyalgia; thus, the elimination of MSG (a source of glutamate) seems to be essential. Furthermore, a popular flavor enhancer called aspartame (a source of aspartate) should also be eliminated from the diet of those with chronic pain.

     

    The elimination of these possible causes of pain shifts the advice focus away from weight loss and towards the reducing chemical triggers that sensitize the nervous system. An excited, sensitive nervous system is the root cause of not only fibromyalgia, but also irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches. Those with any or all of these conditions should consider a change in diet. Other possible foods that cause pain in certain individuals include: caffeine, food coloring, chocolate, dairy, shellfish, the nightshade family (potatoes, pepper, eggplant, tomatoes), red meat, wheat, sugar and alcohol. All of this elimination sounds drastic. However, if it results in being pain-free, then it is probably worth it. And that is exactly what many people are finding including the above mentioned woman.

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    Like any story, this one has a couple of morals. First of all, if you quit searching for a solution, then you will not find one. This woman was not improving with my care and found a better solution with a different doctor. She kept searching for answers and I am glad she found a cure. The second moral of this story is that food can be a source of pain. Everyone is different. Some people react to certain foods while others do not. Finding the right food combination for your body could be your magical cure. No one combination will be right for everybody. Treating pain is and always will be an individual road of discovery with no magical wands that work for everyone.