Gluten-Free Diet May Reduce Fibromyalgia Symptoms

A small Italian study found that ditching gluten may help ease the pain and severity of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that causes joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and cognitive problems. It impacts females more than males and can be challenging to treat effectively.

Now, a recent study published in The Italian Journal of Rheumatology suggests that a gluten-free diet could be a promising approach to alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms.

The study involved 20 postmenopausal women, averaging 54 years of age, who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia but had no history of celiac disease. The participants went through three diet phases. First, they followed a diet free of gluten for six months, followed by three months of no gluten restrictions, and then another six months of refraining from gluten.

After each phase, the researchers evaluated the participants' symptoms using widespread pain index (WPI) and symptom severity scale (SS) scores.

The scientists found that after the first six months of not eating any gluten, the participants had a 24% decrease in widespread pain index scores and a 36% decrease in symptom severity.

However, after reintroducing gluten-containing foods in the second phase, the participants showed a 21% increase in widespread pain and a 74% rise in the severity of their fibromyalgia symptoms.

Then, when the researchers restricted gluten in the third phase of the study, the participants' pain index scores fell by 24%, and their symptom severity decreased by 36%.

Moreover, there were no significant changes in the participants' body mass index (BMI) throughout the three phases, suggesting that the pain and severity improvements were likely due to dietary changes rather than weight loss.

While the study provided new insights into the potential benefits of this diet for individuals with fibromyalgia, it only included a small number of participants, all of whom were female. So, more research is needed to determine if the results would be similar among a larger group of males and females with fibromyalgia.

Why would going gluten-free ease fibromyalgia symptoms?

The researchers say that sometimes, fibromyalgia is associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a gastrointestinal disorder that may overlap with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. They suggest that this overlap may explain the improvements observed in the study.

Furthermore, though the scientists did not measure inflammatory markers in the study participants, inflammation could also play a role, as gluten has been tied to brain inflammation in mouse studies.

Still, the links between a gluten-free diet and fibromyalgia are unclear. So, before adopting this eating plan, people with fibromyalgia should consider talking with their healthcare provider to determine if the diet would be a safe and appropriate intervention strategy.

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