Review of scientific literature: can diet alleviate symptoms from fibromyalgia

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
October 15, 2018
There is growing interest in lifestyle changes in controlling certain diseases especially those that are related to inflammation. This seeks to review the scientific literature and determine if there is any science supporting any evidence for recommend dietary changes to alleviate symptoms from fibromyalgia.
Possible mechanisms underlying fibromyalgia
Fructose is a molecule that is not absorbed well in the gut and is related to low levels of tryptophan causing tryptophan to be absorbed less in the gut. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin or 5-HT which is found to be low in patients with fibromyalgia (1). Fructose is widely seen in the western diet present in honey and sweeteners known as high fructose corn syrup.
Fructose malabsorption in the gut may contribute towards increased fructose and interefere with tryptophan absorption (1).
Low fructose diet
In one case report a diet was devised where fructose was excluded so as to allow increased tryptophan availablility. The diet consisted of eggs, fish, clams, meat, celery, spinach, beets, dark chocolate, walnuts, carrots, potatoes, chard, grape seed oil, thyme, sage, carob powder, millet, green tea, small amount of almonds, coffee and rosemary. Sodas and processed food were deleted from the list. Legumes, cereal, wheat and fructan-containing vegetables and inulin containing vegetables were excluded. The diet is comprised of 25-27% proteins, 9-10% fiber, 31-36% carbohydrates and 30-32% fats. The patient’s previous diet consisted of the Mediterranean diet which has 50% carbohydrates (2). While fructose may be excluded in a diet, this may reduce the caloric intake which would be detrimental. Any diet that is developed should  not neglect the caloric intake.
After 12 months, the patient was found to have less pain and could do aerobic exercises due to her pain-free state. There were some times she did not strictly adhere to the diet which resulted in a flare-up of the pain. It is also indicative that a modified diet is not curative short-term. This indicates that the results from the diet are not related to a placebo effect. More studies are needed. This study supports the growing interest of low levels of tryptophan, which is a precursor of 5-HT, as contributing towards the mechanisms causing pain in fibromyalgia (2).
Other factors that contribute towards fibromyalgia
Women seem to be more prone to symptoms of fibromyalgia. While the level of 5-HT is similar in men and women, women seem to synthesize 5-HT at a reduced rate compared to men (1).
Stress and anxiety leads to increase of glucocorticoids which may also interfere with 5-HT synthesis (1).
In summary
There is increasing biochemical information that fructose may contribute towards the pathophysiology involved in fibromyalgia. Growing interest is directed towards the use of certain diets to control the symptoms of fibromyalgia, however, large clinical human trials are needed.
While there is scientific biochemical information, large human trials are needed. There is not enough information to recommend this until large human clinical trials are performed.
1. Lattanzio, S.M. Fibromyalgia syndrome: a metabolic approach grounded in the biochemistry for the remission of symptoms Front. Med. 2017, Nov. 4:198
2. Lattanzio, S.M., Imbesi, F. Fibromyalgia syndrome: a case report on controlled remission of symptoms by a dietary strategy. Front med. 2018, 5:94
This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, see your physician. Large human randomized controlled clinical trials are needed.

Medical marijuana in fibromyalgia: molecular mechanisms and small randomized controlled trials

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist


June 17, 2018


Fibromyalgia used to be  a condition denoting excessive pain and was previously questionable as there was no testing that could prove or disprove it. Now, the current thought is that it is attributed to hypersensitivity of the nervous system to pain impulses resulting in multiple points of pain in the body.

Endocannabinoid system in pain modulation

The endocannabinoid system is a major chemical neurotransmitter system that has only come to light as to physiology in the last 20 years. The CB1 receptor is found predominantly in the nervous system on which the endogenous endocannabinoid anandamide exerts its effects. The CB2 receptor is found mostly in the immune system on which 2-Arachidonoylglycerol acts. In the nervous system, cannabinoid receptors are seen in the periaqueductal gray area, ventromedial medulla and dorsal horn of the spinal cord which are areas where pain transmission takes place. This suggests that endocannabinoids play a major role in modulation of pain and can impact pain control through manipulation of this system.

Anandamide and and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol are synthesized on demand. It is released immediately after production. 2-AG is formed from a 2 step process. Anandamide has a low affinity to the TPRV1 receptor (2).

1,2-diacylglycerol (DAG) is  a precursor or 2-AG which is formed by hydrolysis of membrane phosphoinositides. DAG is hydrolyzed by 2-AG hydrolase to form 2-AG. 2-AG may be stimulated by activation of G protein receptor such as glutamate receptors. It activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol which is found in the cannabis sativa plant is a natural mimetic of 2-AG. Endogenous 2-AG is found 170 times more than Anandamide in the brain. Exogenous 2-AG suppresses nociceptive stimulus (2). 2-AG activity is potentiated with natural 2-acylglycerols which enhances the effects which does not happen when used alone. This is an entourage effect found in the brain where the combination of substances give a combined resulting effect which does not occur if used alone (2).

Mechanisms in pain modulation

Cannabinoids were found to reduce nociceptive transmission at the level of the pain c-fiber responses in the spinal dorsal horn.


Randomized controlled trial in fibromyalgia

In one study of 40 patients in a randomized controlled clinical trial, nabilone which is a synthetic cannabinoid was given over a 4 week period. Measures that were evaluated included the visual analog scale for primary outcome and for secondary outcome measure, tender points, secondary outcome measure, Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) at weeks 2 and 4 were used. There was statistical difference in treated vs. control groups for pain (P value< 0.02), anxiety (P<0.02 and FIQ (P<0.02). There were more side effects for the treated cohort compared tot he placebo controlled group. This study demonstrates that cannabinoids may be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia (1).

In one paper that reviewed 18 randomized controlled clinical trials of cannabinoids in chronic pain syndromes including fibromyalgia, cannabinoids were found to be an effective type of treatment. Despite the short duration of the trials, pain relief was effective and mild to moderate adverse effects were noted. Larger clinical trials are needed (2).



  1. Skrabek, et al, “Nabilone for the treatment of pain in fibromyalgia,” J. Pain, 2008, Feb., (9)2:164:173
  2. Lynch, et al, “Cannabinoids for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain: a systemic review of randomized trials,” Br. J. Pharmacology, 2011, Nov., 72(5):735-744