Nutrition Column – Healthy Diet and Regular Exercise May Help Alleviate Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition that affects about 1 percent of the population, most of whom are women. Characterized by muscle and joint pain and stiffness, general fatigue and sleep disturbances, fibromyalgia is not well understood. Currently, there is no specific or standardized therapy for fibromyalgia patients. Eating a healthful diet coupled with regular physical activity may help reduce symptoms.

As recommended for most everyone, people with fibromyalgia can benefit from eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. The trace elements, vitamins and minerals supplied by fruits and vegetables are especially important to help maintain and repair muscles. In addition, the fiber provided by fruits and vegetables may help improve sluggish digestive systems, a problem for some fibromyalgia sufferers. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold-water fish, DHA-enriched eggs and ground flaxseed, also may be of benefit. Researchers are investigating a potential link between omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction in arthritic pain.

For some who suffer with fibromyalgia, certain foods, including fatty, fried or sugary products, seem to trigger and/or worsen symptoms. In such cases, temporarily avoiding foods one at a time that are suspected of aggravating symptoms can help identify the culprit. Many doctors also recommend avoiding caffeine-containing foods and beverages to help mitigate issues with sleep disturbance.

The thought of exercising when already in a lot of pain makes many people with fibromyalgia cringe. Yet daily, gentle, low-impact aerobic exercise has been shown to be a beneficial therapy for some fibromyalgia patients. A recent study published in the British Medical

Journal found that 35 percent of fibromyalgia patients who participated in a regular exercise program for three months reported feeling significantly better, whereas only about half as many reported feeling better in the group that received relaxation and muscle flexibility training.

It is theorized that exercising helps by regulating the growth hormone that maintains good muscle and soft tissue health as well as assisting in deep sleep. Exhaustion is a common complaint by many fibromyalgia sufferers. Daily exercise can help induce deep sleep and decrease restlessness.

As with any exercise program, it’s important to start slow and build gradually. If you have fibromyalgia and aren’t used to regular physical activity, it’s generally recommended that you start with just three to five minutes of exercise per day and gradually work up to 20 to 30 minutes daily as tolerated. Popular types of exercise include walking, water aerobics and bicycling. Avoid choosing exercises that hurt your joints and cause muscle pain. Jogging, weight lifting and vigorous aerobic dancing tend not to be the best choices. Always remember to stretch stiff muscles and ligaments both before and after exercising to aid in their movement and to loosen contracted muscles.

Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, eating a healthful diet and engaging in regular physical activity may help alleviate some of the symptoms. As a precaution, consult with your health-care provider before beginning an exercise program.