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.