Have you ever heard fibromyalgia patients say, “I know (fill in the blank) isn’t good for me, but I’m going to do it anyway?” Whether it’s a nutritional, activity, or even a book choice, the comment is meant to point out an important fact. Whether you agree or not, their declaration means: This is my choice.
And, that’s okay.
I’m all about making healthy choices, and I do my best to encourage and educate others to do the same. But my responsibility (unless hired to do otherwise) ends there. I try to provide as much information as possible on topics like treatment options and diet for fibromyalgia without overwhelming you. It’s my job to make sure that you have the information you need to make strong, confident, and educated decisions regarding your health and your body. After that, you get to choose.
On that note, the following chart lists some — not all — of the signs and symptoms that can be attributed to food sensitivities, especially gluten sensitivity or intolerance. They are listed in no particular order of importance, but it’s crucial to make mention that gluten intolerance can overlap or contribute to fibromyalgia symptoms. Do any of the following symptoms look familiar to you? Are you experiencing any (or many) of them more often than you’d like?
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Signs and Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivities:
|Skin rashes/itchy||Skin redness||Skin dryness||Headaches||Migraines|
|Joint pain||Joint stiffness||Joint swelling||Food sensitivities||Dizziness|
|Balance Issues||Neuropathy||Extremity tingling||Muscle weakness||Muscle pain|
|Fatigue||Autoimmune issues||Hormone imbalances||Infertility||PMS|
|Inflammation||Unexplained swelling||Anemia||Rheumatoid arthritis||ADD|
|Brittle hair/nails||Depression||Anxiety||Mood swings||Diabetes|
|Flatulence||Hair loss||Hypoglycemia||Mouth ulcers||Osteoporosis|
|Sjogren’s disease||Dental cavities||Bleeding gums||Nutrient deficiencies||Hives|
|Lactose intolerance||Sleep disruption||Adrenal dysfunction||Heart palpitations||Fuzzy-thinking|
|Carb cravings||Sugar cravings||Periodic cravings||Food binging||Chronic hunger|
|Psoriasis||Eczema||Multiple Sclerosis||Polycystic Ovary Syndrome||Uterine fibroids|
|Whole body pain||Muscle cramping||Candida overgrowth||Yeast overgrowth||Weakened vision|
|Inability to focus||Thrush||Slowed metabolism||Low libido||Sore throat/glands|
|Malabsorption||Insulin instability||Runny nose||Chronic cough||Hoarseness|
|Thyroid Dysfunction||Inability to detoxify||Asthma||Wheezing||Chronic pain|
Plus, there’s more. I’ve seen various lists that include many other symptoms that are lesser-known or more extraneous. Here’s a new one on me: I read that the rough, dry, and bumpy patches on the back of your upper arms has an official diagnostic name — Keratosis pilaris. I’ve heard it referred to as “chicken skin” (for obvious reasons). I’d known about its connection to yeast and candida overgrowth, but it may also be due to fatty acid and vitamin A deficiencies secondary to fat-malabsorption caused when gluten damages the lining of the gut.
Many more symptoms as well as a wealth of gluten-free living resources can be found online You can find tips, guides, recipes, checklists, and food surveys. One site that I found useful for its lists is Gluten Intolerance School. You’ll notice that on the list, some items are symptoms while others are official diagnoses. This is because there are widespread links from one topic to the other.
When looking at the fibromyalgia diagnosis on the list, don’t misread the point. Having a wheat or gluten sensitivity does not, on its own, create the condition. It’s never just one thing, but wheat and gluten intolerance is known to increase fibromyalgia symptoms and interfere with healing. Neither of which is desirable.
For reasons that should now be obvious, ignoring food sensitivities like wheat and gluten intolerance issues can be a very dangerous thing. Symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that things are out of balance. Food sensitivities are not a minor concern. For this reason, I want to address the myths that I hear most often regarding fibromyalgia and wheat and gluten intolerance:
Gluten Sensitivities and Diet for Fibromyalgia
- My doctor (or other practitioner) says I don’t have celiac disease so wheat or gluten isn’t a problem for me.
- I had a blood test that came back negative, so I don’t have a problem with wheat or gluten.
- I stopped eating wheat and gluten for a long time, and it didn’t make a difference so I don’t have a problem with it.
- I already tried that diet and it doesn’t work (which could refer to just about any diet).
- I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t have a problem with wheat or gluten.
- Fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disease, and only those with autoimmune disease are sensitive to wheat and gluten.
- I eat the foods at the store that say “gluten-free” because they’re healthy.
- I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t have a wheat or gluten intolerance, too.
- I can’t eliminate wheat or gluten from my diet because then there’d be nothing to eat.
- My mom (sister, brother, friend, co-worker, mailman, etc.) gave up wheat and gluten, and it didn’t work for them, so it wouldn’t work for me either.
- I went gluten-free but then gave it up because I gained weight and felt worse.
- I can’t go gluten-free because those foods cost too much and I’m on a budget.
While this article would quickly turn into a book if I addressed every concern above, let me state that all of the above statements reflect a false belief. And the ramifications of these false beliefs can sabotage your intentions to create a healthier lifestyle.
But I’ll quickly hit the highlights of some of these myths here, and others in future articles. Items #3, #4, and #11 all fall into a category defined by vague and ambiguous statements. My first question back to this person would be, what does “going gluten-free” mean to you? Switching from traditionally packaged and processed foods to gluten-free packaged foods is not that helpful. These foods – sometimes referred to as “bridge foods” – can be useful to begin as you shift your tastes and find new things to eat. However, many packaged gluten-free foods are simply junk foods in a box. If it has dozens of ingredients you don’t recognize, it’s likely your body won’t either, resulting in inflammation and worsened symptoms.
After the first question, I’d ask, what exactly are you eating? It’s surprising to hear the various answers to that question. People may give up wheat and gluten and then switch to eating a diet that’s predominantly made up of sugar or dairy. It’s a complex issue with complex answers. That’s why generalizations like “I went gluten-free” are potentially dangerous. It means something different to everyone who says it.
Another question I’d ask is, what does a long time mean to you? It can take weeks or months to truly approach the detoxification necessary to see if your body is reactive to wheat and gluten. An elimination diet is the most reliable way to make this judgment. I’ll share more tips on this below.
It’s very common to feel anxious or fearful about making nutritional changes. Resistance to change is a natural and even expected emotion. This resistance, or fear, is a fundamental feeling. It can either help you or hinder you. As a hindrance, your feelings of anxiety will naturally seek out reasons not to make the change. You’ll gravitate towards ideas and thoughts that support this feeling. In other words, you’ll find every reason in the book why you don’t need to make a change.
The interesting way in which fear and anxiety can actually prove helpful is by providing motivation. This can be done with a simple word exchange. Here’s how to make the switch. As you find yourself worrying or fretting over your feelings of fear or anxiety, change your inner self-talk vocabulary from “afraid, anxious, or freaked out” to “excited.” Instead of thinking: I’m afraid of what this change may take from me, or I’m freaked out over the fact that I may fail, switch to I’m so excited to see what this change will bring to my life, and I’m excited to see how I succeed. This may seem awkward at first, and it will take a bit of focus. As time goes on, however, you’ll find yourself naturally switching your inner chatter to use the word excited whenever you’re feeling apprehensive.
In summary, here are just a few quick tips to help you wade through defining your own relationship with wheat and gluten.
Begin by declaring an intention to experiment with new foods. There’s no judgment allowed here. No worries about failure. You’re simply stating a plan to try something new as you seek to manage fibromyalgia, so tell your inner-critic to take a break.
- Review the symptom list and mark the ones that you’ve experienced. You may see a pattern that you had not previously noticed. You also may wish to review these with a health professional.
- Review resources on how to begin an elimination diet. There are many good ones out there.
- Familiarize yourself with this Safe Gluten-Free Food list from Celiac.com
- Familiarize yourself with this Unsafe Gluten-Free Food list from Celiac.com
- Follow this general rule when reading package labels: You gotta know what’s in it before it’s allowed in you.
- When reading labels, ideally look for foods that have fewer than 5 ingredients. (I personally love one ingredient foods, i.e., broccoli, cucumbers, celery, etc.).
- Remember to make the switch in your self-talk and create a sense of wonder, curiosity, and excitement about making new changes.
- Take note of and recognize improvements or changes in your sleep, energy, clarity of mind, gastric bloating, bowel movements (frequency and consistency), skin rashes, etc. as you begin your new program. Write them all down and track your progress.
- Be sure to celebrate your successes whether you feel they’re a big deal or not. Every small change is a big success!
So, now that you’re informed on the potential dangers of ignoring a wheat or gluten sensitivity or intolerance, you’re armed to make healthier choices. What’s right for you? You get to decide.
This article, originally published on February 8, 2014, was updated on October 8, 2019.
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at Rebuilding Wellness.