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The Paleo Diet and Fibromyalgia

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Although there is no conclusive clinical evidence to support its implementation, the Paleo diet appears to be a clear starting point and possibly the best diet for fibromyalgia. Favorable case studies are being reported by Dr. Chris Kresser and others.

Fibromyalgia is a complex and misunderstood chronic disease. With over thirty- nine serious symptoms identified as a part of the fibromyalgia syndrome picture, it is no surprise that the medical community has no cure for it.

However, anecdotal evidence is mounting in support of a modified Paleo Diet for fibromyalgia as the foundation of a treatment protocol for the disease.

What is fibromyalgia?

Dr. Robert M. Hansen, MD, a pain specialist in Redding, CA, describes fibromyalgia not as an autoimmune disorder, but rather a “leaky gut” issue. The pain involved in fibromyalgia is due to a dysfunction in the central nervous system.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is associated with over 80% of fibromyalgia patients.

Standard prescription opiates only reduce pain by about 50% in a mere 30% of people with this disease. Many people with fibromyalgia become addicted to prescription painkillers.

Most fibromyalgia patients can point to a specific traumatic experience that triggered the onset of fibromyalgia.

Patients with fibromyalgia report daily pain levels between 5:10 to 9:10 on a standard pain scale, with zero being no pain and ten being the worst pain ever experienced in a person’s life.

Besides chronic muscle and joint pain all over the body, fibromyalgia patients have difficulty sleeping, chronic fatigue, abdominal cramping, chemical, food, and environmental allergies, sinus issues, chronic diarrhea, mood swings, and chronic depression.

Any physical activity, even light housework, can trigger such incapacitating pain that employment and relationships become difficult to maintain.

Fibromyalgia patients often take prescription Cymbalta for depression and pain, the anti-seizure medication Lyrica, and Trazadone or some other “sleeping pill.”

They may take Lomotil for diarrhea, Requip for restless leg syndrome, Norco or even morphine for chronic pain, and Synthroid for low thyroid levels. Females often take prescription hormones.

Other medications may be taken to relieve the side effects associated with these prescription drugs.

Cymbalta, alone, though somewhat effective for fibromyalgia pain, causes weight gain, drowsiness, and a host of side effects associated with antidepressants. It is also expensive.

Enter the Paleo diet for fibromyalgia

The two leading authorities championing the Paleo diet for fibromyalgia are Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, who created the Whole 9 and Whole 30 diet programs, and Chris Kresser, ND.

Dr. Chris Kresser is a naturopathic doctor who has been seeing remarkable results in his patients who are using a customized version of the Paleo diet.

The Paleo, Caveman, and ancestral diets are basically all the same. The foundational foods that make up the Paleo diet are grass-fed and fatty meat, bone broths and soups, fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi, and loads of vegetables.

All gluten is eliminated, along with most grains, and certainly, all junk and fast foods. Dairy is eliminated for the most part. Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes, seem to give many people with fibromyalgia trouble.

Also included in the “diet” is plenty of sunshine without sunscreen and exercise.
Bodywork or massage therapy, yoga, and meditation, etc., are other alternative treatments for fibromyalgia that have been found to relieve symptoms of the disease.

It must be stressed that the Paleo diet is the starting point for people with fibromyalgia. It is recommended that the fibromyalgia patient stays on a strict Whole 30 or similar diet for a full thirty days, or even three months before making any further changes to the diet.

Some symptoms may be completely erased with the Paleo diet. Others will require a sort of “reverse elimination diet,” where food is added back, and reactions are noted over a week before adding new food.

In this way, the fibromyalgia patient gets an idea of which foods trigger fibromyalgia symptoms and which are safe to eat.

In addition to the food portion of the Paleo Diet, many people with fibromyalgia are finding relief by taking a magnesium supplement. This can be magnesium malate, magnesium citrate, or magnesium sulfate, which is nothing more than Epsom salt.

Magnesium citrate and magnesium sulfate have a laxative effect. For fibromyalgia sufferers with leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome, magnesium malate may be best tolerated.

Fibromyalgia patients are noticing relief from some of their symptoms by adding iodine to their diets in the form of either kelp or potassium iodide drops, selenium from eating two or three raw Brazil nuts daily, copper, and as much as 7,000 IU Vitamin D3 daily.

Fibromyalgia patients who have been on the Paleo Diet for any length of time are reporting:

Fibromyalgia Symptom Relief from the Paleo Diet
Candida albicans symptoms reduced
Thyroid and upper respiratory issues reduced
Insulin levels balanced
More energy and less fatigue
Less leg pain, joint pain, and body aches
Environmental allergies and brain fog gone or reduced
Desired weight loss
Able to get off prescription drugs

What to expect from the Paleo diet 

People who are using the Paleo diet to treat or overcome fibromyalgia report that it is a long process of tapering off drugs and detoxing from multiple food addictions. It may take as much as two months for symptoms to subside.

The key, according to anecdotal evidence, is to be consistent with the Paleo diet.

For a while, the fibromyalgia patient may feel worse. On top of the fibromyalgia symptoms come new symptoms from drug withdrawal and detoxification. Keeping a positive attitude while the body eliminates potentially decades of toxins is paramount.

Even within the Paleo diet, the fibromyalgia patient will need to customize the food plan. Food sensitivities are very individual.

One person may be able to eat coconut and coconut oil, while another person may not. Some can eat grass-fed beef, while others must restrict their protein sources to sardines, salmon, and eggs.

Organic fruits and sweet vegetables like carrots help curb sugar cravings in the beginning stages. Berries, apples, bananas, and citrus are particularly helpful without throwing blood sugar levels off.

Fruit smoothies made with almond milk are an excellent way to get both complex carbohydrates and protein in the same meal. Raw nuts and seeds, as well as no sugar trail mixes, can help to replace chips and popcorn.

Tweaking the Paleo diet for fibromyalgia

Chris Kresser, ND, recommends tweaking the Paleo diet further to address specific symptoms. In his clinic, he has his fibromyalgia patients start with a Paleo diet, and then take away food sources of tyramine, histamine, and arginine.

Tyramines can cause blood pressure to rise, sweating, nausea, and migraines. Histamine can cause migraines, as well.

Most foods with tyramines and histamines are fermented: cheese, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, alcohol, kimchi, and vinegar. Fermented foods are encouraged on the Paleo diet, but if they trigger migraines, the person with fibromyalgia must eliminate them.

Arginine is a vasodilator. It opens the blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure. The only arginine-rich foods allowed on the Paleo diet are nuts and dark chocolate. However, dilated blood vessels in the head can trigger a migraine.

Glutathione depletion and fibromyalgia

Glutathione may be the most important antioxidant in the human body. If the body has enough glutathione, it is well protected from oxidative stress and cell necrosis. If the body is low on glutathione, it becomes compromised and is at risk for all kinds of diseases.

Glutathione is a combination of glutamate, cysteine, and glycine. It is found in every cell in the human body. Glutathione determines how well protected we are from free radical damage from oxidation.

Not only does glutathione protect the body from free radical damage, but it also helps with liver detoxification. It helps boost and balance the immune system to help fight off infections.

For fibromyalgia patients, it is important to note that glutathione also protects Vitamin B12. Without glutathione, Vitamin B12 is rendered inactive.

A blood test will not reveal a Vitamin B 12 deficiency in fibromyalgia because the B 12 is there. However, a deficiency in glutathione causes Vitamin B12 to lose its ability to function in the body.

Anything which disturbs homeostasis, the state of optimal health, will destroy glutathione. This can be stress, emotions, bad food, environmental toxins, illness, pharmaceuticals, or a chronic lack of sleep.

The methylation cycle and fibromyalgia

The methylation cycle causes chemical reactions in the body which make the amino acid carnitine, CoQ10, melatonin, and other substances that are needed for neurotransmitters. The methylation cycle also controls sulfur metabolism and helps build new DNA.

On the DNA front, the methylation cycle helps to either prevent or silence gene expression. When genes are either over or under-expressed, the epigenetic change in the cellular environment, which causes the symptoms of many complicated diseases.

Vitamin B 12 actually plays a critical role in the methylation cycle. In a fairly complicated chain reaction, Vitamin B 12 prevents inflammatory diseases, heart disease, and oxidative stress. It also helps in the production of cellular energy, or ATP.

Chronic fatigue in fibromyalgia

Chronic stress depletes glutathione. Glutathione deficiency leads to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress makes the body not be able to get rid of toxins fast enough, so they accumulate. Toxins cause the body not to be able to metabolize Vitamin B 12.

A lack of functioning Vitamin B 12 blocks the methylation cycle. A blocked methylation cycle causes sulfur not to be metabolized. Sulfur malfunction causes glutathione to become depleted because sulfur helps to create glutathione.

This continuous downward cycle is why fatigue is chronic in fibromyalgia patients. Research is being conducted currently which addresses this aspect of the fibromyalgia picture.

“Leaky gut” and fibromyalgia

Along with chronic fatigue and misfiring pain receptors in the brain, fibromyalgia patients also have to deal with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, also known as “leaky gut,” and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).

This breakdown in intestinal function leads to chronic inflammation in the entire body.

When the intestines “leak” toxins into the bloodstream and surrounding organs in the abdomen, it can cause liver damage.

When the liver is damaged, any number of the body’s mineral reserves can become depleted. This degeneration happens slowly, over the course of several years.

Because fibromyalgia is so complex, it is a “syndrome” that is difficult to reverse.

Even with the promising results with the Paleo diet and treatment with magnesium, glutathione, and Vitamin B 12, relief from symptoms and weaning from prescription pain medication and antidepressants is slow.

Patients who decide to try the Paleo diet for fibromyalgia should commit to the protocol for at least six months.

Adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, and the Paleo diet

Once fibromyalgia patients do start to get more energy and see results on the Paleo diet, they need to pace themselves.

Robb Wolfe and others who coach people on the Paleo diet state that many people who have adrenal fatigue and other illnesses push themselves too fast once they start feeling better. This causes a relapse.

People blame the Paleo diet for “not working,” when the problem was, in fact, that the patients were overdoing it while they were still in healing mode.

Fibromyalgia patients must understand that any type of stress, including exercise, depletes the body of glutathione. Compromised individuals, such as those with fibromyalgia, will “crash and burn” if they try to do too much too fast.

Where does the fibromyalgia patient start with the Paleo diet?

Dr. Chris Kresser, ND, recommends, for the fibromyalgia patient with IBS alternating with constipation, that the person starts with the Whole 30 version of the Paleo diet.

He recommends adding bone broths to this, and keeping the carbohydrate levels below 100 grams per day.

Certain starches are allowed during the beginning phase. These include sweet potatoes and plantains or bananas, if well tolerated. The added starch and fiber helps to feed the gut microflora, while the bone broth provides glycerine and healthy saturated fats.

Even on this diet, Dr. Kresser tells his patients that they may not see any noticeable positive results for three months. Only if the fibromyalgia patient is getting remarkably worse during the first three months on the Paleo diet they should stop the protocol.

Once the fibromyalgia patient has been utilizing the strict Whole 30 Paleo diet for three months, the individual may begin re-adding foods to the diet.

Dr. Kresser has developed a program called the Personal Paleo Code which details which foods to add back, in which order, and why they should be added back in that order. Again, the process of restoring health is slow.

Since each person is a unique individual, and there is no “one size fits all” in the natural health community, customizing a specific Paleo diet protocol is paramount.


Paleohacks.com, “Fibromyalgia: Can this Paleo diet help me with Fibromyalgia?”

The Paleo Diet.com, “Fibromyalgia”

Men with Fibromyalgia.com, “The Paleo Diet and Fibromyalgia”

Chris Kresser.com, “Personal Paleo Code”

"It Starts with Food," by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig

Gaps Diet.com, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” by Dr. Natasha Campbell- McBride, MD

Evolutionary Psychiatry.com, “Magnesium Deficiency and Fibromyalgia,” by Emily Deans, MD

Hansen, Robert M, MD. Treating Fibromyalgia with the Paleo Diet

Next Article: 39 Signs and Symptoms of Fibromyalgia