Can gluten make your fibromyalgia symptoms worse?

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Image: Lisovskaya Natalia / Shutterstock

Is gluten sensitivity really a thing? It seems like suddenly every kid I know and even many adults have a gluten intolerance. But then again, most people on the planet are lactose intolerant and they just seem to suffer though and consume it anyway. After all, gluten sensitivity isn’t exactly like a peanut allergy that can actually kill you, right? So what’s the big deal and what in the world does it have to do with fibromyalgia?

Gluten is a protein found in many cereal grains that produces the elastic texture in products like bread. In short and easy to identify terms, it’s the stuff that makes bread soft and doughy. But it has been around since bakers started baking, so why the sudden appearance of so many chronic gluten sensitivities? There is research that points to a very strong correlation between the use of herbicides and the appearance of chronic diseases, especially those related to inflammation. And that is precisely why gluten can powerfully effect your fibromyalgia symptoms. Gluten is a pro-inflammatory substance and it is found everywhere. It’s in the obvious products such as breads and pastas, but also in the most unexpected places such as a filler in medications and supplements. For example, the label of my OTC generic allergy medication actually says “Gluten Free.” We are talking about thousands upon thousands of everyday products we consume, use, or apply every day. Check out this crazy list of items wherein you will find gluten as an ingredient, then think about all the labels you see with these various names.

As Dr. Amy Myers points out, “….not only [are we] eating a different kind of gluten than our ancestors ate, we are eating and being exposed to way more of it.” Since researchers still do not know the actual cause of fibromyalgia, it is not yet classified as an autoimmune disease. However, it does have symptoms that bear a striking resemblance to some rheumatic diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Myers strongly cautions against the inclusion of gluten products in the diets of those dealing with autoimmune diseases. The first reason is that gluten causes a leaky gut. Many of us have heard that phrase, but most of us don’t know what it means. She describes it as “…microbes, toxins, proteins, and partially digested food particles that are….escaping into your bloodstream” and has proven to be one of the preconditions for autoimmune diseases. Why? Because now those items she listed get flagged by your immune system which immediately leads to inflammation. Because that’s how the immune system is supposed to work.

This leads to the second reason why fibromyalgia patients may want to avoid gluten. When your immune system is causing inflammation due to your diet and all those toxins and microbes are being leaked by your gut, what follows is chronic inflammation because your immune system is stressed. As Dr. Myers explains, “…it begins indiscriminately sending wave after wave of attack in a desperate attempt to fight off the invaders. Eventually, your body’s own tissues become the victims of the attack, and you end up with an autoimmune disease. This ought to sound quite familiar to fibro patients because you know what it’s like to basically be attacked by your own body, to have it fight against you in every way. And this is exactly why fibromyalgia unofficially falls into the autoimmune category.

Let’s be realistic though. After learning just what gluten does to you and seeing how it impacts your fibromyalgia symptoms, it seems like a no-brainer to quit consuming it. But then you looked at that list of all the foods that contain gluten and you’re probably feeling defeated. This isn’t a suggestion to starve yourself to death, quit wearing makeup, or to stop playing with Play-Doh. First, just become aware of how much of your diet may actually be saturated with gluten without you even knowing it. Second, think through the obvious foods you could eliminate or replace with gluten-free alternatives. Third, take hope in all the “Gluten Free” labels popping up on all kinds of foods and products now. Lastly, if you are not a “cold-turkey” kind of person, then work towards transitioning to eliminating gluten from your diet entirely. Because as Dr. Myers explains, “…recent research has shown that eating gluten can elevate your gluten antibodies for up to three months, meaning that even if you only ate gluten four times a year, you would be in a state of inflammation year-round.” If there is a chance that this could have a lasting impact on your life by alleviating many of your fibromyalgia symptoms, then give it a try. It will be an adjustment and definitely takes time to see results. But the investment could be just the thing you’ve needed.

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