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Fibromyalgia: kicking the sugar habit

Friday 22 June 2012


From Everyday Health:


SugarFibromyalgia: Kicking the Sugar Habit

A sweet tooth could make living with fibromyalgia that much harder. Here's why you might consider cutting out sugar, white bread, and pasta.

By Regina Boyle Wheeler
Medically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD

Last Updated: 06/05/2012

How to Reduce the Pain of Fibromyalgia

When you’re living with fibromyalgia, you may often find yourself giving in to sugar cravings when your fuel tank is low. Sugar does provide a quick burst of energy, but what if downing a candy bar or reaching for an energy drink does you more harm than good? Although no specific diet has been proven to improve fibromyalgia pain, getting that sugar monkey off your back could benefit your overall health and make you feel better.

People with fibromyalgia fall into a common cycle when it comes to sugar, says Kristi Mizelle, MD, MPH, director of the Rheumatology Holistic Care Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. You feel pain and, as a result, become inactive, gain more weight, have no energy, and then look for things like sugar to get a pick-me-up. When you come down from that sugar high, you often feel worse, she explains.

Sugar can be more than just a crutch, though. For some, it’s a full-fledged addiction, and it can be a big problem for those with a chronic pain syndrome like fibromyalgia, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of several books on chronic pain. Dr. Teitelbaum says that, in some people, sugars may actually cause fibromyalgia or make existing fibromyalgia pain even worse. “Sugar aggravates low blood sugar and adrenal problems, yeast (Candida) overgrowth, and nutritional deficiencies that worsen fibromyalgia,” he says.

When Fibromyalgia Leads to a Sugar Habit

How do you know when your sweet tooth is actually an addiction? Teitelbaum compares it to alcoholism. “It becomes a problem when it causes health and emotional concerns that are problematic and you have trouble taking 30 days off to see how you feel," he says. The first step in breaking your addiction is to figure out what’s behind it, he says, citing four types of sugar addicts:

  • Type 1: You’re chronically exhausted and hooked on caffeine and sugar. Sometimes all you need is to improve nutrition, sleep, and exercise, Teitelbaum says, and you won’t need these crutches to improve your energy.
  • Type 2: You’re irritable when hungry and crash under stress. Teitelbaum says that life’s stresses can exhaust adrenal glands. Counter this with vitamin C and herbal licorice, he suggests.
  • Type 3: You have sugar cravings caused by yeast or Candida overgrowth. Treating yeast overgrowth is critical for people with irritable bowel syndrome (often seen in people with fibromyalgia) and other problems like chronic nasal congestion, Teitelbaum believes. Probiotics or natural antifungals can help.
  • Type 4: You’re depressed and craving carbs. Your sugar cravings could be caused by your menstrual period, menopause, or andropause (male menopause). Teitelbaum says that bioidentical hormones can help. But talk to your doctor about whether this is appropriate for you. Eating soy-rich edamame can naturally raise estrogen levels, he adds. 

“Fibromyalgia is what occurs when type 1 snowballs into the next," Teitelbaum says. "Most people with fibromyalgia have at least two types and often have all four." Once treated, it takes 6 to 12 weeks to feel a significant improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms, but in as few as 10 days after coming off sugar, most people have more energy and feel mentally sharper, he adds.

Cutting Out Sugar to Ease Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Dr. Mizelle says there's no scientific evidence that sugar or sugar addiction causes or makes fibromyalgia pain worse. But anecdotally, she says, several of her patients say their fibromyalgia symptoms improved after cutting out refined sugars. Mizelle points out that this could be due to a “placebo effect, which plays a big role in fibromyalgia.” Still, she says, if you believe sugar is making your fibromyalgia worse, it’s worth eliminating it to see if you feel better. Here’s her advice:

  • If it’s white, don’t eat it. This means pasta, sugar, white bread, white rice, and high-fructose corn syrup. Switch to whole-grain breads, cereals, and brown rice.
  • Eat “closer to the earth.” Avoid processed foods, which contain a lot of salt and refined sugars. Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store where the produce, meat, and dairy are located.
  • Bulk up on fiber and veggies. Fiber will keep you full, and you won’t crave sugar as much.

Teitelbaum suggests switching from sugar to a sweetener made from the plant stevia. He recommends the brands Body Ecology or SweetLeaf;  stevia is also sold as Truvia, PureVia, and Stevia in the Raw. There are also bottled beverages sweetened with stevia, says Teitelbaum: “These actually are healthy alternatives to soda."

And don’t forget about being as active as possible. As Mizelle explains, physical activity is one of the best fibromyalgia treatments. So work in exercise and try weaning off sugar to make living with fibromyalgia easier.


The above originally appeared here.


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