Connection between Nutrition and Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, and other Autoimmune Diseases

A friend and I were emailing each other, and she said her fibromyalgia was making her feel horrible. My first thought about the fibromyalgia was that it was a nutrition-based health problem, like so many other health problems that I’ve been reading about.  (This article is dedicated you, my friend.  I hope you find some relief from your very painful condition.)

What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by a complex array of symptoms, including chronic, widespread pain; a heightened, painful response to pressure; fatigue; joint stiffness; and other symptoms.  According to the WebMD website article “Fibromyalgia: The Diet Connection,” fibromyalgia affects up to 4% of the population, mostly women.  The website also says that there is no known cause or recognized treatment that works for everyone because fibromyalgia is not a specific illness, according to Michael McNett, MD., director of the Fibromyalgia Treatment Centers of America, headquartered in Chicago.  McNett says, “Fibromyalgia is more like a symptom complex, and different people appear to have different reasons why they get this symptom complex.  So what works for one person very frequently does not work for another.”

The Nutrition Connection
Rheumatologist Alex Shikhman, MD, director and founder of the Institute for Specialized Medicine in San Diego, believes that one diet may not work for everyone because of underlying, undiagnosed illness, which may positively respond to a particular diet.  When the underlying illness can be treated with dietary changes, the patient feels better.  Additionally, the same diet may not always work because the person was misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia.

The article goes on to say, “There are a number of co-existing health conditions that have a tendency to occur in people with fibromyalgia. Many of these have overlapping symptoms. These include gluten intolerance, gout (a form of arthritis), and restless legs syndrome. Some doctors believe food sensitivity itself could sometimes be responsible for some of the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia.”

Interestingly, arthritis, an autoimmune disease, never existed until people starting eating grains during the Agricultural Revolution or Neolithic Revolution.  Also, hunter-gatherer populations didn’t have arthritis, diabetes (another autoimmune disease), and other Western diseases until they started eating flour and sugar.

Foods to Avoid
The WebMD article lists seven foods to avoid:

  1. Aspartame (NutraSweet)
  2. Food additives including MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrates
  3. Sugar, fructose, and simple carbohydrates
  4. Caffeine — including coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate
  5. Yeast and gluten
  6. Dairy
  7. Nightshade plants: tomatoes, chili and bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplant

Kent Holtorf, MD, medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection Related Illness in Torrance, California, has seen patients do better when these foods were eliminated.  A heart-healthy diet would avoid most of these foods, so this list seems reasonable for the most part.

Toxins in Grain, Legumes, Dairy, Etc.
I’ve read other articles that implicate grains and legumes, too, for a good reason.  Seeds contain toxins to prevent animals and insects from eating them.  Some people are more sensitive to these toxins than others and manifest various symptoms.  Many grains, legumes, dairy products,  nuts, and plants in the nightshade family have higher levels of sugar-binding proteins called lectins, which can damage the body.  Lectins can block absorption of nutrients, leading to nutritional deficiencies.  Also, immune (allergic) reactions and inflammation tend to be a common problems.  All the autoimmune diseases I’ve studied are caused by these items, and fibromyalgia shows up on the same lists.

Paleo Diet
Many of the forums I’ve read talk about success with the Paleo Diet of lean meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and nuts (no grains, legumes, or dairy).  While there are various versions of the Paleo Diet, here is one website: The Paleo Diet | Lose Weight and Get Healthy Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat.

I’ve been changing my diet as I’ve been reading more, and I’ve also been making plenty of scientific observations of how I respond to different foods.  Interestingly, I came to the conclusion that I needed to eat more protein before I started reading about high-protein diets, just because of how my body was reacting.  I’m now eating about 27-35% protein and about 40-50% fat, which is in line with hunter-gatherer populations (which is where I came up with the numbers).  I’ve nearly eliminated all grains and legumes.  The more I read, the more I realize that humans should be eating what we evolved to eat: lean meat with low levels of saturated fat, veggies, and fruit.  Therefore, I’ve gravitated naturally to something akin to the Paleolithic diet, which has basically the same percentages that I’m using.

I just read a book called The Paleo Diet, and I’m currently reading another called NeanderThin.  Ray Audette, the author of the latter book, had rheumatoid arthritis for 12 years.  Even though he was thin, he became diabetic, which is when he started researching nutrition.  He came to the same conclusions I have, so he went to a high-protein, low-carb diet, eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy.  Within a week, his diabetes cleared up, and within several months, his rheumatoid arthritis cleared up.  He used to walk with a cane; now, he is very healthy.

My Suggestions
Try reducing your grain consumption and avoiding the foods on the list above.  Also, try eating more lean meats to lessen the symptoms.  You might also consider switching to a paleo diet.  If you don’t want to make sweeping changes, try eliminating certain foods to see what happens.  Best wishes!


  1. Thanks, really interesting. Actually,I was born in Thailand in 1973 but my parents fled the country and settled here in the UK. Truthfully, I didnt really care much about my Thai past until my mum died last month, now I’ve been trying to discover as much as I possibly can. Seemed like cuisine was as good a place as any to start ! Anyway, I found a ton of thai food recipes here that other readers might be interested in too.