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Fibromyalgia vs. Vegetarian & Raw Vegan Diets

Plant-based diets may be effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia, a painful condition suffered by millions.

January 11, 2013 |
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Images thanks to: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons, and twicepix, ericarhiannontalksrealfast via Flickr

Transcript

Millions suffer from fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by months of widespread pain, as well as fatigue, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, cognitive difficulties, headaches, low back pain, and other illness. It has an has an enormous impact on the quality of life of patients who may a reduced capacity to carry on the activities of daily living; every day activity becomes more difficult, more time consuming or simply impossible. It's cause is unknown and there is no effective treatment for this illness. What can we do for sufferers? Well, according to the latest review on fibromyalgia and nutrition,  "Vegetarian diets could have some beneficial effects," based on what kind of evidence? Well, back in 1991 a survey was sent to a few hundred folks suffering from various chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia asking if they found any success trying various diets. Some folks tried a vegetarian diet, some folks tried a vegan diet. Some reported the various diets helped with pain, stiffness, and swelling. Folks reported the vegan diet reduced disease symptoms more effectively than the vegetarian diet with rheumatoid arthritis, but what we needed was to put these diets to the test in formal studies. First one was in '93. Ten fibromyalgia patients put on a vegetarian diet for 3 weeks. The measured levels of oxidation, and inflammation, and cholesterol went down, fine, but of interest from a clinical point of view is the positive effect of the treatment upon pain status of most of the patients. 7 out of 10 of them felt better. However, they weren't sure if the improved condition of the fibromyalgia patients in the course of treatment with a vegetarian diet was due to the improvement of their antioxidant status or what. A vegan diet was first put to the test in 2000 in Helsinki. You can tell English is not the researchers first language with sentences like "Plants face heavy load of light." The point they're making is good though. "UV light generates free radicals in their tissues…All this means is that plants must be very well prepared to meet the challenges of the oxygen radical stress and contain a broad variety of antioxidants. That's why plants don't get sunburned and their DNA damaged hanging out all day in the sun without any sunblock on. So what would happen if you had people Live exclusively on plant items?  In other words, what might be the effects of a strict vegan diet on the symptoms of fibromyalgia.  In fact this study used a raw vegan diet. The rheumatoid patients said they felt better when they started to eat the living food diet, and the symptoms got worse when they returned back their previous omnivorous diet, but what about the fibromyalgia patients. Both groups reported having quite a lot of pain at rest in the beginning of the study, but there was a significant decrease in the raw vegan group, which gradually disappeared after shifting back to the omnivorous diet. They also found other significant changes such as improvement in the quality of sleep, reduction of morning stiffness, and improvement in measures of general health.  So for example, here's morning stiffness.  The light bars represent those about to go on the raw vegan diet and the dark bar is the omnivorous control group. They start out about the same, but after a month and a half, those eating vegan felt significantly less stiff, which continued through the end of the 3-month study. And when they went back to eating their regular diet the stiffness returned. What about pains at rest? Same thing. Significant improvements in fibromyalgia pain on a plant-based diet. The study only lasted 3 months, but it can be concluded that vegan diets had beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms at least in the short run.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

One thing all sufferers should consider is an aspartame-free trial period (see Aspartame-Induced Fibromyalgia).

Why do plant-based diets help with chronic pain conditions? There may be a number of reasons why vegetarians only have about half the odds of being on painkiller drugs (see Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). Potentially inflammatory compounds in animal products include Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc), endotoxins (The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory), and animal proteins (Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis).

On the other hand maybe the potassium in plant foods modulates adrenal function? See my video Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. If it is the Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants, then that could certainly help explain it. See Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.

Vegetarian and raw vegan diets appear effective, but what about just mostly vegetarian diets or mostly raw vegan diets? That's the subject of my next NutritionFacts.org video Fibromyalgia vs. Mostly Raw & Mostly Vegetarian Diets.

For some more context, check out my associated blog posts: Plant-Based Diets for PsoriasisPlant-Based Diets for Fibromyalgia, and How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Dianne Moore

    I would be most interested in seeing a comparison study done with raw vegan vs. vegan diets…I am wondering if eating cooked vegan foods would make a difference. Also, do researchers control vegan diets for limiting or excluding all mass processed vegan foods. My diet is raw and cooked vegan with little processed foods although I do love my soy dog, now and again.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shay.jensen.9 Shay Jensen

      Good point — I love my Italian sausages made by Tofurky and I can tell the difference after one serving = Pain!

  • Seeker of Truth

    Would not homeopathic remedies be most appropriate for fibromyalgia? Fybromyalgia has no identifiable cause not unlike the effects of homeopathic cures.

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      No scientific studies to support that approach. You are correct that we don’t know the cause of fibromyalgia. Given the complexity of it all we never figure it out. From a practical standpoint based on the success reported in other posts and success enjoyed by some of my patients it makes sense to go low fat whole food plant based eating with Vit B12 supplements. Other factors like sleep and exercise are important as well but I recommend dietary change as the most important first step.

      • Tina

        Check out what Dr Sherry Rogers, MD has to say in her book…Pain-Free in 6 weeks! I have fibro and it has made a world of difference in my life! As most of you sufferers know there are several factors involved that trigger fibro onsets. However, leaving off the ‘night shade’ foods really works and is not mentioned much at all out there!! Try it for yourself and see how you feel. It includes all white potatoes, (yams are ok), tomatoes, eggplant and all peppers. Watch labels since so many things have potato starch and pepper ingredients. Also spices and flavorings could have them. Best thing to do is stay away from processed foods and eat totally vegan. I follow Dr Joel Fuhrman’s Eat To Live Plan!!!

        • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

          Thanks for the tip I will look into it. I have come across 2 patients with RA who got 90% better on a PBD but didn’t get 100% better until they eliminated members of the nightshade family. Congratulations on “eating” your way to a more pain free existence.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608590997 Lori Woods

        We do know that there is a genetic component to fibromyalgia.

  • John Allen Mollenhauer

    It seems there is more to this fibromyalgia condition than nutrition
    alone. This video is very promising, but on a pseudo scientific basis,
    and based on an inquiry about his subject that I’ve had for some time; I
    think, like metabolic syndrome, it has many causes all converging, not
    the least of which is a nutrient poor diet as the video suggests.

    But
    I also think it has a great deal to do with vital energy. Overspending
    vital energy and not enough rest, sleep, recovery, relaxation and
    rejuvenation. In other words, the person doesn’t regenerate their life
    force– the electrical energy that powers the whole system and every
    cell in it.

    I observe people with this condition all the time,
    and notice they live lives that are simply overwhelming, or did at one
    point, compounded by an unhealthy lifestyles that reinforced the
    downward spiral into disease conditions.

    I also notice that
    when I am low on vital energy, my own muscles feel tender and sore and
    body stiff, and I’m a fit guy with as close to a perfect diet ref: Dr’s
    Fuhrman and Greger, as there is, with a supportive performance
    lifestyle, It also reverses or goes away when I recuperate significantly
    enough.

    So I am highly suspect of pinning this condition on
    nutrition alone, it’s multifactoral, and the one factor that I think
    get’s the least attention may be the most important. Vita energy.

    It’s
    no surprise to this inquirer, that the symptoms start with fatigue and
    depression… which go hand in hand, leading to sore muscles etc.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000079502489 Kelly Olsen

      Neither this study nor Dr. Greger’s interpretation of it here pin fibromyalgia on diet alone. I’m also unclear how you deem this study from a medical journal to be “pseudo scientific” and then talk about “vital energy” and “life force” as explanatory factors.

      • John Allen Mollenhauer

        Kelly you are misinterpreting or I poorly conveyed the point. I’m not referring to the study as pseudo scientific, I’m referring the very point I’m making as anecdotal and not based on a scientific model, but based on observation and inquiry. I’m saying that it seems there is more to this than nutrition alone and was sharing an observation.

        • LynnCS

          Nothing new about eating better, getting enough rest and repair. We all know it’s important. It doesn’t require a lot of fancy words.

          • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

            Fancy words make reading interesting and more fun. Simple words make reading understandable. I enjoy both methods of conveying information. Hooray, for fancy words simply stated!

  • mama B

    He says “eating vegan can have beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms, at least in the short run.” He is not “pinning this condition on
    nutrition alone.” I’m sure people suffering from this would welcome a way to ease symptoms.

    • LynnCS

      Yes, very welcome here. A big bowl of bananas, blueberries, apples and melon in the morning beats my old habit of getting that refined sausage any day. Fill up on fruit, salads, smoothies and juices. You can eat all you want and still maintain a healthy weight and feel wonderful!

      • LynnCS

        OBTW.. When I added back cooked starches a la McDougall, I got sick again, so for now, I am not going to eat grains, potatoes, etc. I feel they are inflammatory. (I can test again later.) My body tells me what I can eat. I need all the great nutrition I can get and I get that with a fresh fruit and vegi diet. It takes a little fore thought because we are not used to planning and preparing food this high quality way, but as soon as I got with it, I reaped the rewards.

  • mamabess

    I have been a vegetarian for 34 years. I found the biggest change in my joint pain and swelling came with significantly decreasing my intake of processed grains. I eat about 1 cup of whole unrefined grains a day. The change has been dramatic. I fell into that purely by accident. My MD. feels I have some sort of allergy (celiac runs in my family, but I do not have it) that causes this joint swelling and pain reaction. Last week i ate 3 pieces of bread and a small amount of pasta at a restaurant. I had forgotten how much I suffered. I was awakened in early morning with extreme joint pain and swelling that kept me up. No amount of ibuprofen touched it. The swelling in my fingers lasted 3 days, no rings could go on and the pain was constant. This little mess up reminded me so much of the importance of healthy eating. One question I often ponder is this: Is it truly the food, or the processing of the food, and what about GMOs in the diet. Even being a strict vegetarian will not prevent one from eating processed foods completely or possibly get GMOs in the diet. Any thoughts?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      Congratulations on figuring out your difficulty. You will probably never know the exact diagnosis. Whether it is a food allergy or food sensitivity or some other issue you have found what works for you which is great. You might be interested in reading Dr. John McDougalls December 2002 newsletter article, Diet for the Desperate. He lists the common foods that cause food allergies. His articles are free on his website… http://www.drmcdougall.com. Since Celiac runs in your family you may have a variant that we can’t diagnose at this time. I generally recommend avoiding GMO foods since animal studies show adverse reactions. Although few human studies have been done the implications the potential difficulties are too great… best to apply the precautionary principle. The best website and information I have seen on GMO’s is Jeffery Smith’s Institute for Responsible Technology. There is a movie and a book. Sobering stuff. Corn and cotton are the crops most involved with Bt toxin production although the pesticide ready crops are a potential problem as well. Hope this helps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mireya.mata.37 Mireya Mata

      I’m learning more about GMOs. I was at a McDougal weekend in March. Don Forrester was one of the speakers. He really impressed me (and answered a lot of questions I had after the talk). One of the things he mentioned at the end of his talk that stuck with me (when someone asked him about GMOs) was something called BT toxin. It’s sprayed on corn and when the insects ingest it, the toxin punches holes in its intestines. I’ve wondered since I heard this, if the toxin can be passed on to people when they ingest corn— punching holes in our intestines (hmm … ‘leaky gut syndrome’?). Next Saturday, May 25, 1pm local time many cities (through out the world) are having a non-violent march called “March Against Monsanto”.

      • beccadoggie10

        Monsanto does not spray Bt toxins on plants. Organic gardeners and farmers may do that. What Monsanto does is isolate the DNA of Bt and using a gene gun or a vector like E-coli bacteria or another form of bacteria, moves the Bt into the seed of corn, replicates it, so that every cell in the DNA of corn carries the new gene.

        This action by Monsanto, Dow and other pesticide-biotech scientists, may be what is making livestock and animals or mammals eating livestock sterile and unable to reproduce.

        Now I understand that some scientists are creating new livestock in test tubes, presumably to resist genetically engineered crops. Although, that’s not what is told to the public.

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    Just curious as to why the videos are now spaced apart by two days. Not enough donations? Or not enough time?
    Lets all pitch in a few dollars if it is a money issue!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Yes, alas, now down to new videos just every monday, wednesday, and friday. See my year-end newsletter and then the follow-up from last week. If you don’t get them, you can subscribe (for free like everything else on the site) at http://bit.ly/nutritionfactsupdates

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

        ;-(““““““““““ <– Tears of a Clown.

        "I'm sad." <– (You'll get it when you watch the video link below)

        But this video might cheer you up! It did me.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jkBOU9etRA

        • LynnCS

          Oh, how I wish I hadn’t watched that!

          • HemoDynamic, M.D.

            Now you know why I am Vegan! ;-()

      • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

        3 days a week is better than no days a week. Actually, I like the 3 days a week better. Makes the videos feel like a real treat and shortens my list of things to check out on the internet by 2 days. :) Thank you, Dr. Greger, for your amazing efforts with this site and the information you share with the public.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shay.jensen.9 Shay Jensen

      The videos were getting a little too short. Let’s hope it’s the same information in fewer videos.

    • lottsagreens

      Not enough donations… Going forward, new videos will only appear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Dr. G is blessing us with two blog posts per week (Tuesday, Thursday) to see us through any withdrawal symptoms. See the following blog post for more info: http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/01/07/new-nutrition-dvd-to-help-make-your-resolutions-more-resolutee-proceeds-to-charity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-nutrition-dvd-to-help-make-your-resolutions-more-resolutee-proceeds-to-charity

    • Thea

      HemoDynamic: I believe that I read a post from Dr. Greger saying that he did not raise enough money to continue the daily video posting. He most generously donates his time, but the production costs money – such as needing to pay for rights to show certain graphs. Dr. Greger said that he would try to post more blog posts, which I think is important as it pulls info together/puts it into context. But, like you, I miss the daily videos.

      For now, the new schedule is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I too hope for a revival of the old schedule. But still, 3 a week is pretty good in my opinion.

      I continue to enjoy and appreciate your participation on this site. Thanks.

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

        “I continue to enjoy and appreciate your participation on this site. Thanks.”
        That is very kind of you to say! I enjoy your participation as well!
        I will be going into withdrawls ;-( regarding the fewer vids. I will read Dr. G’s post about it. I didn’t even see it because I didn’t subscribe ’cause I visit NF.org nearly every day.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

          I’m always reading both your posts too so don’t go anywhere, lots of stalking left from me. :)

          • HemoDynamic, M.D.

            ;-()

          • Thea

            cooooool. My first stalker! ;-)

  • eatbetter

    There are an awful lot of variables in this study. Does the inflammation go down due the absence of processed food, soy or grains? The increase of raw fruits and vegetables? Does all animal protein cause inflammation? Wild/organic/grass fed vs conventionally grown? Dairy vs eggs vs fish vs meat? The information from this video is great, but it’s definitely just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Celia

    Well, I can tell you all one thing: I was diagnosed with Fibromylagia back in 98 and have been suffering with the pains since then (minimizing with good sleep and exercise, stretching etc). However, since going no-oil plant-based (as from May 2012) – I have NO PAIn WHATSOEVER. It´s totally amazing, as I changed my lifestyle to adjust my problem with cholesterol and I was not really thinking about the pain. It´s a huge plus to the no-oil plant based diet for me. Years ans years of dragging myself out of bed in the morning against rising every morning with the sun and a smile in the face. No need of pain killers at all. I am the happiest human being on earth. Cheers.

    • Veganrunner

      Celia what a great outcome! Absolutely wonderful!

    • LynnCS

      Glad to here it. I’m there too. It’s so easy, but there will always be people who will find a way to argue with it. I sure don’t know why. My food is so much more delicious than anything I ever thought I could have. I am having a wonderful cherry shake right now. Creamy, non dairy. Yum!

    • Kathy Divine

      Yes, it’s amazing what the plant=based diet can do for fibro pain. I have had the same success.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608590997 Lori Woods

      Good for you! I wish I had the same outcome. My diet is impeccable: vegan, organic, whole foods, eliminated food allergies (however, I do eat oils), I was even macrobiotic vegan for awhile. However, I still have fibromyalgia symptoms that wax and wane. I wonder what the oils have to do with it?

      • Sara

        Oils and fatty foods contain substances that promote inflammation. There are some presentations from Dr. Esselstyn on youtube that explain that

  • http://twitter.com/HypnosisMA MV Hypnosis Center

    GIven how difficult it is for many doctors to figure out how to treat and help fibromyalgia, eating a clean raw or vegan diet can help reduce symptoms, if well balanced.

    At Merrimack Valley Hypnosis Center we see many clients with fibromyalgia and, given that it can sometimes be difficult to exercise with the chronic pain, diet is a very important part of managing their symptoms.

    Shannon Tobin
    Director, Merrimack Valley Hypnosis Center
    http://www.MerrimackValleyHypnosisCenter.com

  • Regina

    Did I understand correctly that a raw vegan diet was used?

  • Cathleen c

    I hope that someday someone will compare RAW vegan with regular vegan. I and many my age cannot comfortably eat raw vegetables now. Or if anyone out there has tried both, please let us know if you experienced any difference.

    • Kathy Divine

      I got rid of fibro pain eating 50% raw vegan, 50% cooked vegan food.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666366687 Stephen Lucker Kelly

    I had a idea. It’s hard to do a double blind because it’s food. What if
    you did a switch up diet and didn’t tell them which diet was suppose to
    improve there health. And which keep it the same. And then see what
    happens. They would then not know if the diet was good or bad for
    them… and they would not have a placebo effect. You could call it the 3
    switch blind test. So they would obviously know they was changing there
    diet but they would not know if it was the diet that was suppose to
    help or not meaning they would be more objective. Rather than believe it
    is working which is the case with placebo. This would be a good way to
    find results in tests where people obviously could tell they was not
    eating the same as before. You would state we are looking for the diet
    that helps them, and that these diets may make them worse or better but
    after we should have data to show what will make them better and worse.
    Point being is to make them skeptical and remove the placebo effect. :-)

  • eternalstudent

    you kind of sound like david duchovny… kind of.

  • Tamra

    I have been suffering from fribromyalgia for 3 years now. Recently I stopped eating dairy and wheat products and notice a difference as well. I am planning on cutting the meat out of my diet as well. There is a correlation between what I eat and the daily pain that I suffer. There is not a cure but altering my diet seems to make the pain more tolerable.

  • Kelly Pomeroy

    Interesting point about plants protecting themselves from free radicals by producing antioxidants. My husband suggests a study where plants that naturally live in the sun and plants that naturally live in the shade are compared for their antioxidant content. Could you get a researcher to do that and report back?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608590997 Lori Woods

    I have had fibromyalgia since 1986. I’ve been vegetarian since then too and vegan for past five years. I’ve seen an overall improvement in health from the vegan diet: energy, stomach distress, cholesterol, etc. But no noticeable difference in my fibromyalgia pain. The fibromyalgia has waxed and waned over the years and I sometimes have flare ups and sometimes relapses. I totally recommend a vegan diet for health, but unfortunately other factors like stress, amount and types of activity, weather, and exercise seem to affect the fibromyalgia more than diet.

  • Jrsygal59

    I have seen a change greatly since being vegan/plant. I take less narcotic pain medication than I did before changing my habits with food. Is quite amazing and really hadn’t put it all together until this short video. My 2 month check up with my alternative physician will be longer than usual…Horay

  • justin

    I am so glad we found this site! My family and I, went vegan after seeing a youtube video from VeganTruth. The only reason I gave it any thought was b/c I truly felt horrible! We are poor and cannot afford to pay a doctor to run endless tests, when in this new age of the internet, you can find the most current science, if you know how to research! Anyway, we were pretty sure I had fibromyalgia! Essentially every single symptom you hit on in the video and in your footnotes, I experienced daily! Being poor we already did not eat much meat anyway, so WITHIN 2 weeks every single symptom was gone! I could sleep all night without waking at all! I have energy like I’m 8-yrs old again! We exercise hard now because we don’t get tired! Now at 4-5 months later, I have stopped smoking, using caffeine, and drinking more than 2 beers a night! Also, my wife has lost 15lbs and I have lost 20lbs! But we literally eat all we want, all the time and never worry about portions! Really, all we do is watch the % of fat cals! 95% of our food(organic) comes from the bulk and produce sections of our grocery store, and our bill is half what it was! So after all this we started to investigate and we found all of this research showing that this is the way to live, and then we found this website, forks over knives, the china study! I know this is long winded but NOW I have to tell everyone!

    • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

      Justin, I love to hear stories like yours! How fantastic for you and your wife. Congratulations! I especially liked reading about how you decided to make a lifestyle change not only to improve your health but to save money! Very happy for you! Your story is quite inspirational.

    • Thea

      Justin: I, too, LOVED reading your story. Thanks for taking the time to share your inspirational journey! Congratulations on taking control of your health.

  • Michel Voss
  • Candied Nuts

    Philippine pili nuts from the Bicol region in the Philippines is a great Filipino or Philippines food orsnack. Pili nuts are very healthy and nutritious indeed, being a source of energy, potassium and iron.They also have protein, dietary fiber / fibre, and calcium as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. I know they have no cholesterol, no trans fat, and the unsalted ones have no sodium. What is great about the pili nut snack or treat is that they are so crisp, rich, and delicious.

  • thesaltqueen

    I suffered terribly from migraines until I stopped eating meat. I had no attacks for five years. They returned but the frequency and severity has greatly diminished.