Probiotics for Fibromyalgia: Help Your Gut Help You to Boost Immunity and Relieve Anxiety

Can probiotics help treat fibromyalgia? According to science, probiotics can strengthen the immune system, which is compromised in people with fibromyalgia. Probiotics may help relieve stress, anxiety and depression– which are common symptoms in fibromyalgia. In other words, take care of you gut, and it will take care of you!

Probiotics for Fibromyalgia: Help Your Gut Help You

Can probiotics help treat fibromyalgia? Despite all the research being done on friendly gut bacteria, there are actually no studies to date that directly answer that question. But when you dig into the science a little deeper, you can find a wealth of studies that support the use of probiotics to treat fibromyalgia symptoms. In other words, take care of your microbiome (the ecosystem of gut bacteria), and it will take care of you!

Probiotics Can Get Your Immune System into Fighting Shape

Ever since I developed fibromyalgia, I dread getting sick. Infections trigger flare-ups at best and relapses at worst. Many people with chronic illnesses report getting sick more frequently than when they were healthy, and believe that their immune systems are compromised.

This is supported by the science. In the case of fibromyalgia, researchers were able to develop a test for diagnosing the illness by examining cellular immunity. The study proved that people with fibromyalgia have disregulated immune function at the cellular scale. Participants with fibromyalgia were found to have increased chemical messengers called cytokines, which are involved in activating inflammation in the body (Sturgill, et al. 2014).

Strengthening the immune system using different means, including by taking probiotics, seems like a really good idea in the face of this kind of evidence. Up to 70% of the immune system’s activities occur in the digestive tract. There are more than 400 species of bacteria in the gut, which altogether add up to more than 100 trillion bacterial cells. So how do probiotics help keep your immune system in fighting shape?

  • Probiotics protect the lining of your intestines from harmful germs and toxins (Yan et al., 2011). They promote the health and integrity of the cells that line the barrier wall of the gut, keeping germs and toxins from being absorbed into the bloodstream. In the intestines, friendly bacteria compete with harmful bacteria, preventing them from growing out of control. Some probiotics even produce substances to kill harmful bacteria – this is a take no prisoners kind of fight!
  • Probiotics communicate with the immune system to strengthen its response to infections and enhance its repair of intestinal damage. (If the nerd in you wants to know, probiotics interact with intestinal wall cells in complicated ways, such as by releasing signalling proteins that stimulate the immune system). Friendly bacteria can act like guards calling for backup, priming the immune system to prevent and treat diseases, like allergy, eczema and viral infections.

Probiotics May Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression

As people living with fibromyalgia and know all too well, the challenge of living with chronic pain on a daily basis is very stressful and raises difficult emotions. Depression commonly occurs alongside chronic pain (Holmes, 2012). Research has demonstrated that anxiety disorders are more common in patients with chronic pain conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia migraine and chronic back pain (Asmundson, 2009).

What does this have to do with friendly bacteria? Scientists are beginning to uncover a fascinating gut-brain connection. There is exciting preliminary research on the potential benefits of probiotics for mental health. Researchers call these types of friendly bacteria “psychobiotics.” One study looked at the effect of consuming probiotics on depression versus a placebo. After eight weeks, participants who took the probiotic had significantly lower scores a depression inventory test, as well as lower levels of inflammation (University Health News). If you’re interested in knowing which strains were used so you can pick a similar supplement for yourself –this study used 2 billion CFUs each of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

How can probiotics act like “chill pills”?

  • Some probiotics are able to produce the same kind of compounds that the nervous system uses as chemical messengers. For example, gut bacteria can produce serotonin, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter released in the brain and nervous system when we are happy.
  • Probiotics can help regulate inflammation in the body. As you may know, excessive inflammation is linked to many chronic diseases, including depressive disorders.
  • Friendly gut bacteria interact with our hormones, and may help to turn off the response of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Take Care of Your Microbiome And It Will Take Care of You

It’s important to remember that research has only studied a few strains of probiotics, among the many thousands that make up the human microbiome. It’s clear that each type of bacteria causes different effects in the body. Some of these effects are contradictory – some probiotics turn up the activity level of the immune system, while others turn it down. The sheer complexity of it all makes it difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions. What is clear, however, is that having a diverse and replenished microbiome improves overall health.

The best way to take care of your microbiome is to regularly consume fermented foods rich in probiotics, and to take a probiotic supplement. It’s also vital to consume foods that help to “feed” the probiotics in your gut. After all, friendly bacteria need to eat too. Some foods help to nourish probiotics more than others, and these foods are called prebiotics. Some of the best prebiotics to regularly include in your diet are: dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, unripe bananas, barley, oats, apples, flax seeds, wheat bran, seaweed and cocoa. Prebiotics are often better consumed raw and cooked.

The best fermented foods to incorporate into your diet are:

yogurt: preferably a natural yogurt without the high sugar content of flavoured yogurt

  • kefir: a fermented milk product like drinkable yogurt
  • kombucha: tastes like a fruit flavoured ice tea, and is a fermented black tea and sugar drink
  • sauerkraut or kimchee: both are types of fermented cabbage
  • miso: a savoury fermented soybean product, usually used to make soup
  • tempeh: a fermented soybean product with a nutty flavour

Resources:

Asmundson, G. and Katz., J. (2009). Understanding the concurrence of chronic pain and anxiety: state-of-the-art. Depression and Anxiety (26)888-901.

Healthline (The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat)

Holmes, A., Christelis, N., and Arnold, C. (2012). Depression and chronic pain. MJA Open Suppl (4):17-20.

Psychology Today (Do Probiotics Help Anxiety?)

Psychology Today (The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease)

Sturgill, J. et al. (2014).Unique Cytokine Signature in the Plasma of Patients with FibromyalgiaJournal of Immunology Research.

University Health News (The Best Probiotics for Mood)

Yan, F., and D. B. Polk (2011). Probiotics and Immune Health. Current opinion in Gastroenterology 27 (6): 496-501.

 

Find other fibro blog posts on the Fibro Blogger Directory Friday Link-up

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Why Your Diet Isn’t Working & What You Need to Know About the Power of Personalized Nutrition

Weight loss is a challenge, especially when you have a chronic illness. Here’s how learning about the importance of personalized nutrition helped me and my family reach healthy weight goals.WHY YOUR DIET ISN'T WORKING

After a gluttonous Christmas one year, my husband and I looked at ourselves and decided we had to go on a diet. Things had been spiraling downward for a while. The primary factor was that I had been diagnosed with a chronic condition the year before (fibromyalgia). Pain and fatigue made cooking healthy or moving more just seem too difficult. In my husband’s case, catered meetings at work meant one too many many muffins. So we went on a plant-based, nutrient dense diet. I lost weight, about 20 lbs., and kept it off. My husband did not – even though he swore he only looked at the muffins. How does that work?

The answer lies in the fact we each have a unique physical and genetic makeup. A 2015 study investigated post-meal glucose levels in 800 individuals over the course of a week. They found significant individual variation among the participants in the blood glucose levels caused by different foods, even when they ate the exact same, standardized meals. For example, in one participant sushi caused their blood sugar to rise higher than ice cream, while another found that healthy tomatoes spiked her blood sugar.

Researchers attributed this variability to a combination of physical makeup (weight, blood pressure, etc.), lifestyle and gut microbiome (the unique gut bacteria in our digestive tract). In fact, an algorithm based on these factors was able to accurately predict personalized post-meal glucose reactions to specific foods. Using this information, researchers designed individual nutritional recommendations that eliminated the foods that caused high glycemic reactions, which led to overall lower blood sugar levels among study participants.  It is this individual variability that explains why one of your friends is trying to convince you to eat like a carnivorous caveman to lose weight (hello, Paleo), while another swears that rabbit-food veganism is a game-changer. Essenially, different people respond differently to different diets. My husband found a high protein, low(er) carb vegetarian diet worked for him. He needs high protein dairy options like greek yogurt and cottage cheese, while I don’t.

Another example of individual variability in nutrition is sensitivity to dietary cholesterol. For most of us, the liver produces 85% of our cholesterol and the rest is acquired from our dietary intake. If we eat a cholesterol-rich meal, our body responds by manufacturing less cholesterol to maintain healthy blood levels. However for about 30% of people, their sensitivity to blood cholesterol is blunted, leading to problems regulating healthy levels. For these individuals, if they eat cholesterol-high foods, their blood cholesterol goes up because their body fails to sufficiently reduce how much cholesterol is manufactured in the liver. These people are at an increased risk of having high cholesterol.

As you might expect, research into the relationship between our individual genetic makeup and our nutrition, called nutritional genomics, is a rapidly expanding field. Lactose intolerance is one example of how genes can affect your reaction to food – certain variations of specific genes confer lactose tolerance, while other variations cause intolerance. Many researchers argue that personalized diets are the future of nutrition, rather than broad dietary recommendations or one-size-fits-all diets. However, the application of these research insights are not yet widely available to enable people to develop an individual diet based on factors like genetics, physical makeup, and gut microbiome.

One step everyone can take to personalize their diet is to try an elimination diet, which will helps to identify food intolerances and sensitivities. A food intolerance is a nonallergic reaction that causes negative bodily symptoms like digestive problems, skin irritation and fatigue. Food intolerances can cause inflammation of the digestive lining. If one diet plan is not helpful, then consider trying another, until you find what works best for your body. Here is a list of the three best diets for fibromyalgia, according to science (vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free and FODMAP free), as well as helpful resources to get started.

The good news is that there is one diet plan that is always good for you. What is that diet? Eating whole foods. Not necessarily raw, organic, GMO-free or local foods (although there are lots of good reasons to choose some of those options too). Whole foods mean food as close to their natural state as possible – carrots in the earth, grapes on the vine, or fish in the sea. Real foods are not processed, refined, added to, fortified, or otherwise messed about with by a food chemist. This is the one diet you can’t go wrong following.

References:

Dr. William Sears. Prime-Time Health (2010): http://www.amazon.com/Prime-Time-Health-Scientifically-Proven-Feeling/dp/0316035394?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0#

Nutritional Genomics and Lactose Intolerance http://nutrigenomics.ucdavis.edu/?page=information/Concepts_in_Nutrigenomics/Lactose_Intolerance

Zeevi, D. et al. (2015). Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Reactions.  Cell. 163(5), p. 1079-1094.

The 3 Best Diets for Fibromyalgia, According to Science

Learn about 3 diets that improve fibromyalgia symptoms: plant-based, low FODMAP and gluten-free –including an explanation, the science and resources for each diet.

The 3 Best Diets for Fibromyalgia, According to Science

Is Food Really Medicine?

Is there such a thing as a diet to treat fibromyalgia?  While there is no consensus on a single diet to treat FMS, research does point us in a few intriguing directions– specifically, symptoms improvements from plant-based vegetarian diet, a low-FODMAP diet and a gluten-free diet.

Fibromyalgia is difficult to treat. Presently, there are only three prescriptions that are approved by the FDA for fibromyalgia (pregabalin, duloxetine and milnacipran). Unfortunately, although these medications can provide partial relief for some people, none are a magic bullet for treating fibromyalgia. That’s why specialists recommend a multidisciplinary approach to FMS treatment. We know that diet plays an important role in preventing and managing many diseases, such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases, so why not fibromyalgia as well?

In this article, I want to lay out the scientific evidence for three different diet approaches to improving fibromyalgia: plant-based, FODMAP and gluten-free. My hope is that this article can serve as a starting point for you to explore how to use food as medicine to improve your symptoms.

Nutrition can be empowering. That might sound overblown. But, unlike prescriptions or appointments with doctors and physical therapists, there is no intermediary between you and what you choose to eat. Food is personal and what you decide to eat is ultimately up to you. For a person living with fibromyalgia, having the ability to make decisions over something as important as nutrition really is empowering. However, changing daily habits can be a challenge, which is why I have included several free and affordable resources for each diet if you are interested in making any changes.

Fibromyalgia and Plant-Based Vegetarian/Vegan Eating

At least three studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia benefit from a plant- based vegetarian or vegan diet.[1] It’s important to stress the plant-based focus of this dietary therapy. It is possible to eat a diet that is vegetarian, but primarily made up of processed, nutrient-poor, junk food. This won’t improve your general health or your fibromyalgia symptoms. Plant-based foods, including fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and nuts, contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that provide crucial nutritional benefits. It’s quite possible to also obtain balanced macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats) from these plant sources. While vegans and vegetarians both eat plant-based foods, vegetarians also consume dairy, eggs, honey (and sometimes, fish). Vegans do not eat any animal-sourced foods.

Studies have shown that fibromyalgia is linked to high rates of oxidation (damage to tissues caused by particles known as oxidants). Antioxidants neutralize oxidants and serve an important protective function in the body. Researchers hypothesize that consuming a diet rich in antioxidants might help to improve fibromyalgia symptoms.[2]  One study showed that fibromyalgia patients on a vegetarian diet had an improved antioxidant status; 70% of participants also reported lower pain levels and increased well-being.[3]

Another benefit of eating vegetarian is weight loss. Carrying extra weight worsens pain, sleep, depression, and other fibromyalgia symptoms.[4] However, it can be very difficult to lose weight when you have a condition that makes moderate exercise painful. If you have struggled unsuccessfully to lose weight, could it be time to consider going vegetarian or vegan?

A recent study of diabetic patients found that, compared to a conventional low-calorie diet, a vegetarian diet was almost twice as effective in reducing body weight.[5] In a separate investigation into the effects of eating vegan on fibromyalgia symptoms, research participants who were overweight had a significant reduction in body mass index, as well as cholesterol levels.[6] This 3-month study found that eating vegan resulted in significant improvements in FMS symtoms: reduced pain levels, and joint stiffness and improved quality of sleep and quality of life.

After my diagnosis, I ate a lot of processed, packaged food because of the convenience. But it cost me a lot in terms of my symptoms getting worse and gaining weight. After I switched to eating plant-based vegetarian, I lost about 20 pounds and found that some of my symptoms improved, including more sustained energy, no low blood sugar crashes and greater ease of movement.

If you are interested in going vegetarian/vegan, or just incorporating more meatless main dishes into your diet, here are a few resources to get started:

Fibromyalgia and the Low FODMAP Diet

This is a weird sounding diet, right? FODMAP stands for several types of short chain carbohydrate and sugar alcohols. Research has shown that a diet low in FODMAPs is the most effective diet plan for managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (which includes symptoms like bloating, nausea and changes in bowel movements). In addition, a low FODMAP diet (LFD) can reduce fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration.[7]

Based on these findings, a new study investigated whether reducing FODMAPs in your diet could improve your fibromyalgia symptoms.[8]  The results were positive – a statistically significant reduction in body pain and gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as an improvement in quality of life. I find it interesting that these results indicated improvements beyond only G.I. symptoms . Research into probiotics and dietary interventions has been pointing to a gut-brain connection. Since fibromyalgia involves a sensitized nervous system, perhaps one way to dial down the sensitivity could be via the gut? It’s important to note that this was a pilot study, with a small sample size, and further research needs to be done. However, if you have IBS or significant G.I. issues along with fibromyalgia, a low FODMAP diet might help you manage digestive symptoms and reduce your pain!

How Does a Low-FODMAP Diet Work?

For some people, FODMAPS are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. When they pass into the large intestine, they are quickly fermented, which contributes to gas, abdominal bloating and pain. They also attract water into the large intestines through osmosis, which can alter bowel movements. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These can be further divided into five groups called fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides, lactose, excess fructose and polyols.

Foods that contain FODMAPS include:  onions, garlic, mushrooms, apples, lentils, wheat, rye and milk. Importantly, not everyone is triggered by all types of FODMAPs. Instead, the FODMAP diet takes an elimination approach. Initially, all FODMAPs are removed from your diet. Gradually, they are re-introduced one by one so you can determine which ones cause you a negative reaction. Only your FODMAP triggers are permanently removed from your meals.

If you are interested in learning more, you can check out these resources:

Fibromyalgia and the Gluten-Free Diet

It’s impossible to have escaped the gluten-free diet fad that has swept the mainstream in recent years. The evidence is seemingly in every grocery store and on every menu. While it may seem like only a fad, there is a scientific rationale behind why some people may benefit from a gluten-free diet, even if they don’t have celiac disease (CD): “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is increasingly recognized as a frequent clinical condition with symptoms similar to CD in the absence of the diagnostic features of CD.”[9]

Without getting too deep in the weeds on this topic, gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and similar grains. In some people with a weakened intestinal barrier, consuming gluten triggers an inflammatory immune response. Some of the symptoms of a gluten sensitivity include gastrointestinal problems like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting, as well as muscle and joint pain, brain fog and chronic fatigue. Although the clinical markers of gluten sensitivity are different from celiac disease, scientists have uncovered markers of intestinal cell damage and increased immune activity, which normalized after eliminating gluten for six months.[10]

A small pilot study investigated whether fibromyalgia patients with gluten sensitivity improved after beginning a gluten-free diet. Patients with confirmed gluten sensitivity experienced an improvement in pain, fatigue, neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms after beginning a gluten-free diet. Of the 20 participants in the study, fifteen experienced a significant reduction in body wide pain – some shortly after beginning the diet and others after a few months. The authors conclude that this pilot study suggests non-celiac sensitivity may be a treatable cause of fibromyalgia, but that further research needs to be done.

If you are curious whether gluten might be worsening your symptoms, it’s best to begin with a trial elimination diet. This means eliminating all sources of gluten from your diet for several weeks. During this period, keep a food log of what you eat and what your symptoms are each day. Then reintroduce gluten into your diet, and observe whether your symptoms change or worsen. Since more than half of FM/CFS patients see their symptoms improve when they eliminate certain foods, including corn, wheat, dairy, citrus and sugar, you may want to add other foods to your elimination diet.

If you suspect that gluten may be impacting your fibromyalgia, it’s good to rule out celiac disease first. Start by making an appointment with your doctor (and bringing your food log). In order to rule out non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may want to consider working with an integrative medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, or nutritionist. Although research supports the existence of gluten sensitivity, the mainstream medical profession lags behind when it comes to accepting this condition, so alternative and complementary health professionals may be better to work with during this process.

Here are a few resources to check out if you are interested in going gluten-free:

 

References

[1] https://vegetarianprescription.org/2016/11/01/the-treatment-of-fibromyalgia-with-a-plant-based-diet/

[2] https://vegetarianprescription.org/2016/11/01/the-treatment-of-fibromyalgia-with-a-plant-based-diet/

[3] Høstmark A, Lystad E, Vellar O, et.al. Reduced plasma fibrinogen, serum peroxides, lipids, and apolipoproteins after a 3-week vegetarian diet. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. Jan 1993;43(1):55-61.

[4] http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/fibromyalgia/articles/obesity-fibromyalgia.php

[5] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170612094458.htm

[6][6] Kaartinen K, Lammi K, Hypen M. Vegan diet alleviates fibromyalgia symptoms. Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology. 2000; 29(5): 308-13.

[7] http://fodmapfriendly.com/what-are-fodmaps/

[8] Marum, A.P. et al. (2016). A low fermentable oligo-di-mono saccharides and polyols (FODMAP) diet reduced pain and improved daily life in fibromyalgia patients. Scandinavian Journal of Pain 13:166-72. http://www.scandinavianjournalpain.com/article/S1877-8860(16)30084-2/fulltext?mobileUi=1

[9]Isasi, C. et al. (2014). Fibromyalgia and non–celiac sensitivity: a description with remission of fibromyalgia. Rheumatology International , 34 (11), 1607-16.

[10] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312001.php

The Top 3 Things I Do Every Morning to Manage My Fibromyalgia

the-top-3-things-i-do-every-morning-to-manage-my-fibromyalgia

Mornings are tough when you live with fibromyalgia. If you’re like me, you wake up stiff and tired, and shuffle out of bed. I usually sit in a stupor, drinking tea, eating breakfast and watching tv. I’ve learned that it’s what I do next that determines how the rest of my day will go. Here are the top three things I do to keep my fibro symptoms under control.

  1. Eat super seeds for breakfast. (And no, I don’t mean bird food!)

Seeds may be small, but they’re still super!  Seeds like chia, flax and hemp hearts (hemp seeds with the hull removed) contain several key fibromyalgia-fighting nutrients.  I usually add 2 tablespoons of seeds to my morning oatmeal or smoothie. Of course, it’s still important to have a balanced breakfast, with protein, healthy carbs and fiber. All three seeds are rich in antioxidants, which are critical for people living with fibromyalgia, because we have high rates of oxidative stress caused by tissue-damaging free radicals (read more about the importance of anti-oxidants to fibromyalgia here).  Chia and flax both contain a plant based source of omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory (although it’s important to note that omega-3 from fish oil is more potent overall).

 Two tablespoons of hemp seeds provide 50% of your daily recommended allowance of magnesium (chia comes in at 18% and flax at 14%).  Magnesium has been demonstrated in several studies to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, and is important for nerve and muscle health.[1] Chia, flax and hemp seeds are also rich in essential minerals like manganese, phosphorus and iron. Chia is a great source of calcium. Did you know that women living with fibromyalgia have low levels of these minerals?[2]  All three seeds also contain fiber, which can be helpful if you suffer from digestive symptoms or IBS, and is good for your overall gut health. 

2. Stretch

Every morning I spend about half an hour doing a full body stretching routine.  Stretching is probably the single most important management tool I have for my pain.  I use a combination of stretches recommended by my physiotherapist, gentle yoga poses (like a child’s pose) and basic stretches I learned in gym class. A recent review of research into the effects of stretching on fibromyalgia treatment found significant improvements in pain and quality of life [3]. According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching improves flexibility, range of motion and increases blood flow to the area.[4] It’s usually recommended that stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds.  My physiotherapist suggested that, if I found this too painful, I should hold for 5 seconds, gently release, and repeat six times.  She said that gentle rhythmic movements are sometimes easier for our sensitive nervous systems to handle.  You may find it necessary to warm up before stretching by walking around your home several times and/or taking a hot shower. Here is a basic list of stretches: 

Cat and cow yoga pose 5 x
Child’s pose
Knees to chest (on back)

Keyhole piriformis stretch (ankle to opposite knee and pull) each side

Hamstring Stretch

Stretches for neck and shoulder pain

Forward head tilt
Ear to shoulder tilt both sides

“Nose to armpit” stretch

“Eagle arm” upper back stretch

3. Meditate

Early on after my diagnosis my pain specialist recommended that I take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course for pain management.  This is one of the best things I’ve done for my sanity and well-being!  There is a growing body of evidence that shows mindfulness meditation helps to reduce pain, anxiety and depression (read more about mindfulness and fibromyalgia here).[5] “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of mindfulness in medicine[6]. Being mindful means intentionally being present with your breath, thoughts, feelings and sensations.  Inevitably, your mind will become distracted by worries, memories, or plans. This is an opportunity to begin again, by gently guiding your awareness back to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness through breath meditation, body scans, mindful eating, or mindful movement like yoga or Tai Chi all of which, will in turn help you practice mindful touch (find a list of free guided practices in the references[7]).  I use the Insight Timer app on my phone to do an 8 minutes self-guided breathing meditation or listen to a guided meditation most weekday mornings.

[1] http://www.fmaware.org/magnesium-fibromyalgia-treatment/

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192333/

[3] http://fibromyalgianewstoday.com/2015/04/21/systematic-review-reveals-muscle-stretching-exercises-seem-improve-fibromyalgia-symptoms/

[4] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

[5] William, M. and Penman, D. (2012). Mindfulness, NY: Rodale. p.6.

[6] http://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/

[7] http://www.freemindfulness.org/download

Can Antioxidants Help Treat Chronic Illnesses Like Fibromyalgia?

 can antioxidants help treat chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia?

By now, who hasn’t heard that they should be eating antioxidants?  But have you got the message about why you should be anti oxidants in the first place, especially if you have a chronic illness?

Dr. William Sears explains “Our bodies are oxygen-burning machines.  Every minute, countless biochemical reactions through the body generate exhausts called oxidants, or free radicals” (Prime Time Health p. 20).  These particles damage our DNA, cells and tissues through a process known as oxidation.  You’ve actually seen this happen – probably without knowing it – when a cut piece of apple or avocado browns over time.  Or, when your aging car or bicycle rusts. Free radicals pull electrons from nearby molecules, altering their structure and function, and damaging tissues at the biochemical level. In the body, this ‘rusting’ leads to age-related changes like hardened arteries, stiff joints and wrinkled skin.  Chronic oxidation activates inflammation pathways at the cellular level.  In turn, chronic inflammation can lead to chronic disease, including cancer and arthritis, among many other conditions.

The body naturally produces antioxidants – substances that bind to free radicals, effectively neutralizing them. Many vitamins, like C and E, as well as minerals, like selenium, act as antioxidants. The antioxidant defence system is a key part of the body’s immune system, acting to protect our cells and tissues. “But when the body builds up more oxidants than antioxidants,” explains Dr. Sears, “the garbage backs up and increases the wear and tear on the tissues” (Prime Time Health, p. 21).

Increased oxidation is part of many chronic illnesses.  Rheumatoid arthritis patients, for example, have increased levels of free radicals but decreased levels of antioxidants that “may contribute to tissue damage” and the chronic nature of the illness (Mateen et al., 2016).  People living with fibromyalgia also have an imbalance of increased free radicals and decreased antioxidants (Cordero et al., 2010). This imbalance is called oxidative stress.

Can increasing your intake of anti-oxidants treat chronic conditions? The complex interaction between oxidation, inflammation, immune activation and genetic expression means that we don’t fully have the answer to that question yet. What we do know is that antioxidants are an integral part of maintaining overall health. When you live with a chronic condition, doing your best to maintain your general health can take the stress off your body’s healing mechanisms so that your body’s energy can be focused on living as well as possible with your chronic illness. For example, we know that eating sugary and fatty foods increases oxidative stress, which in turn, increases inflammation. In a vicious cycle, this exacerbates conditions like diabetes or arthritis. However, if you include more fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins, you can reduce oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.

By now you are probably anti all oxidants and wondering what you can do to boost your antioxidant defense system. The best source of anti-oxidants comes from foods rich in “phytonutrients” – vitamins, minerals and other healthful substances found in plants. The richest sources of phytonutrients are berries, dark leafy greens, colourful veggies, dark chocolate and green tea. Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains are also valuable sources of antioxidants.

The easiest way to increase your antioxidant intake is to make a smoothie part of your daily routine. Try to go organic where possible, because organic fruits and veggies contain higher levels of phytonutrients.

My favourite morning smoothie (serves 1):

  • 1/2 a cup mixed berries
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup kale (you can’t taste it, I promise!)
  • 1 tablespoon flax
  • optional: 3-5 cherries for additional phytonutrient boost
  • optional: 1/3 cup oatmeal for increased fibre and serving of whole grains,
  • optional: 1 scoop of no-flavour protein powder (I use whey) or 2-3 tbsp hemp hearts for vegan protein
  • optional: 1/3 cup coconut milk for healthy fat

References:

Cordero, M. et al. (2010). Oxidative Stress and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Fibromyalgia. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 31(2), pp. 101-105.

Mateen S, Moin S, Khan AQ, Zafar A, Fatima N (2016) Increased Reactive Oxygen Species Formation and Oxidative Stress in Rheumatoid Arthritis. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0152925. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152925

Sears, W., & Sears, M. (2010). Prime-time health: A scientifically proven plan for feeling young and living longer. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

Shared on Chronic Friday Linkup and Fibro Blogger Directory’s Fibro Friday Linkup

Self-Care for Chonic Illness: Research Round-up

Research Roundup

Part of being a health nerd means enjoying reading research. As a health nerd and a blogger I figured I should start a series of the most interesting recent research on chronic conditions. Learning about self-care has been an important part of my health journey, as well as a source of enjoyment for my inner nerd. So here is the first installment of my Research Roundup series, organized by self-care skills – Lifestyle, Exercise,  Attitude, and Nutrition. I hope this encourages you to make self-care part of your health journey! #SelfCareMvmt

  • Lifestyle: A recent Australian study investigated the most effective strategies for improving sleep among an elite women’s basketball team. The results may help you prioritize which strategies to try if you suffer from insomnia or poor quality sleep. The most effective bedtime routines were: turning off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed (that includes your phone), practicing mindfulness or meditation, and sleeping in a cool environment. These strategies were found to improve sleep and performance on the court.
  • Exercise: A New York Times editorial recently argued that moving more, not weight loss, is the cause of the dramatic health benefits of exercise demonstrated in hundreds of research studies. From arthritis, to cardiovascular disease, to Parkinson’s, to chronic fatigue syndrome, to depression, a massive meta-analysis found that exercise improved health and well-being among all these chronic conditions. It’s no wonder that the Academy of Medical Roil Colleges calls exercise a ‘miracle cure’. But moving more, as the editorial pointed out, does not require shedding blood sweat and tears. Instead, researchers recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This could involve walking your dog or walking laps around your living room, cycling at the gym or gardening at home, doing seated tai chi by following an instructional DVD or vacuuming your house.
  • Attitude: Forgiveness can protect your health from the negative effects of stress, according to a new study. Researchers assessed 148 participants in terms of stressful life experiences, mental and physical health, and their tendency to forgive. As expected, high levels of lifetime stress correlated with worse health outcomes. Unexpectedly, a high tendency towards forgiveness eliminated the negative impacts of stress on health. In other words, forgiveness of yourself and others acts as a buffer against stress, eliminating the connection between stress and mental or physical illness. Interestingly, forgiveness is a trait that can be cultivated. Prior research has demonstrated that briefly praying or meditating on forgiveness can increase your ability to be forgiving in close relationships.
  • Nutrition: A new study weighs in on the debate about whether eating grains is good for you. You may be familiar with the paleo diet. Its proponents argue that the human digestive system has not evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer diet. Grains, they argue, are a modern invention evolutionarily speaking, and wreak havoc in the human body, whether through causing inflammation or exacerbating autoimmune conditions. On the other side of the debate, researchers argue that grains provide necessary nutrients, fiber and energy. This study comes down on the latter side of the argument. An international team found that a higher consumption of whole grains correlated with a lower risk of chronic disease and premature death from all causes. Three servings of whole grains per day (90 g/day) was associated with a 22% reduction cardiovascular disease risk, 15% reduction of cancer risk and 51% reduction in diabetes risk. It is important to know that no benefits were associated with intake of refined/processed grains or from white rice. (If you are interested in how to differentiate whole grain from refined grain products, follow this link).

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Photo by Lukasz Zajac

Shared to Fibro Friday Link-up at the Fibro Blogger Directory and Chronic Friday Linkup

Why Whole Foods are the Only-One-Size-Fits-All Diet

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Photo by viteez

Nutrition is critical for spoonies (people living with chronic illness). For anyone coping with chronic illness, sustained energy is a significant challenge. Balancing macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat – along with factors such as fiber and sugar, is important for preventing spikes in blood sugar that inevitably lead to energy crashes. Maximizing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is also key healthy eating. Adequate intake of nutrients like Iron and B vitamins have been linked to improved energy levels, while others like Vitamin D and Magnesium help reduce chronic pain. In addition, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia have been linked to high rates of oxidation, so eating antioxidants is important to counteract these effects. Eating fish rich in omega-3 or certain phytonutrients in veggies can have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

In a previous post, I wrote about why many researchers argue that personalized diets are the future of nutrition, rather than broad dietary recommendations or one-size-fits-all diets. Individual variability – genetics, physical makeup (weight, blood pressure, etc.), lifestyle and gut microbiome (unique gut bacteria in your digestive tract) – are all factors that can determine your unique response to different foods.

Here is why the whole food diet is the only one-size-fits-all diet. There are only benefits to eating whole foods. Whole foods are associated with a lower risk of disease, including cardiovascular, cancer and type II diabetes. They contain more fiber, which is important for lower blood sugar levels, low cholesterol, colon health, a healthy microbiome, and feeling full, among many other benefits. Whole plant foods contain vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients, which are natural compounds that improve health by acting as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, antimicrobial and anti-cancer agents. Whole foods enable your body to benefit from the synergy of all their nutrients acting together. Research shows that single vitamins and minerals are not as successful as the combination and interaction of multiple nutrients together.

In contrast, processed foods offer few health rewards and many drawbacks. Processed foods are stripped of their nutrients during refinement. Even if the product is fortified with vitamins or minerals, there is no way to manufacture the thousands of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in whole foods or reproduce the synergy effects they have in the body. Processed foods tend to be calorie dense and nutrient poor, which is not a good recipe for maintaining healthy weight. The lack of satiating whole grains, protein and fiber means you get hungrier sooner.

Food additives and preservatives potentially have a number of negative health impacts throughout the body, including on the brain, and digestive system. Other common ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils and trans-fats are best avoided. High fructose corn syrup can lead to high blood sugar, while trans-fats lead to high cholesterol.

Salt, sugar and fat are the protagonists of the processed food industry.  They are addictive. They are added at just the right amounts to make you crave more processed products. And they are terrible for your health. Processed foods have high levels of unrefined carbohydrates that lead to high blood sugar. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats (hydrogenated and excess saturated fats) that can raise cholesterol and lead to cardiovascular disease. Both sugar and unhealthy fats contribute to inflammation. Finally, high salt is the third unhealthy ingredient, which can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease.

Basically, it’s just better to just not go there.

Basically, it’s better to just eat real foods! Here are some resources to get started:

Digestively Challenged: Overcoming G.I. Tract Problems when you have a Chronic Illness

Digestively Challenged: Overcoming G.I. Tract Problems when you have a Chronic IllnessIs eating well with chronic illness a luxury? When I first got diagnosed, I thought so. The significant pain I was experiencing in the muscles around my shoulder blades made it impossible for me to chop, stir, or sauté a whole meal – basically, to cook. My partner was more than happy to help (as long as I showed him how!), but it felt unfair. After all, he was now supporting me financially and doing the majority of the housework – since laundry, vacuuming, scrubbing and dusting were similarly impossible for me. We tried to eat the healthiest convenient foods we could. Unfortunately, convenience isn’t healthy, at least when it comes to eating. In a previous post, I wrote about how my processed diet failed me, even though I was making supposedly healthy choices. In one year, I gained about 20 pounds, ate four times the daily recommended allowance for sugar, was woefully short on fruits and vegetables, ate too many servings of grain and too few servings of protein.

I also had hypoglycemic attacks if I did not eat on time. I remember that panicky feeling of being on transit, far away from a convenience store, and starting to feel shaky and sweaty.  I also developed a number of food intolerances.  I felt anxious about eating out or trying a new recipe for fear of having an ‘episode’.  Not only did I have unpleasant digestive symptoms but also strange neurological ones – sweating, pulse racing, excessive salivation, skin crawling, restless legs, and others.  It was these two problems that made me feel like I needed to understand what was going on in my body and to regain control over my eating. It’s important to begin with a good understanding of digestive problems that affect spoonies (people living with chronic illness).

Firstly, we need to avoid food intolerances (also known as food sensitivities). Food intolerances are defined as a physical reaction to eating certain foods, such as digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, or stomach cramps.[i] These reactions do not occur because of an immune response to a particular food – that would be defined as a food allergy. In the case of a food intolerance, some people may be able to eat a small amount of the trigger food without having a physical reaction, up until they reach a threshold level. Food intolerances may occur because of the absence of a necessary enzyme (such as lactase to break down lactose sugar in dairy), having irritable bowel syndrome, having a sensitivity to food additives, having a problem digesting certain carbohydrates (acronym FODMAPS), or for no known reason. Food sensitivities may be more common among people living with fibromyalgia and CFS/ME because of the overall sensitization of the central nervous system associated with these conditions. Research indicates that at least half of people with FM or CFS/ME experience significant relief by eliminating certain foods.

How can you figure out what foods you are sensitive to? Naturopathic doctors, integrative doctors and nutritionists can offer tests that pinpoint sensitivities. However, the least expensive way is to do an elimnation diet. You begin by cutting out the most common foods that cause intolerances and any foods that you are suspicious of for a period of time, usually 2 to 4 weeks. These foods may include: dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, corn, sugar, citrus, peanuts, shellfish, and coffee. Then you gradually reintroduce one food type at a time to notice your physical reaction. If your symptoms reappear, then you know you are sensitive to that type of food. In my case, I am intolerant of eggs, red meat, and to a lesser extent, wheat. I am also sensitive to high concentrations of fiber or resistant starch. The elimination diet is best done with the guidance of your healthcare professional.

A second problem associated with the digestive system and chronic illness is the development of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Essentially, leaky gut occurs when the lining of the intestines becomes more permeable, which allows particles of partially digested food or waste to leak into the bloodstream.[ii] Increased permeability occurs because of damage to the tight junctions between intestinal cells. When the immune system encounters foreign particles in the bloodstream, it launches a response, including inflammation. Symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include digestive symptoms, gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, joint pain and rashes. In addition to chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome affects the ability to digest food and to absorb nutrients. Furthermore, it compromises the immune system by tying it up responding to foreign particles in the blood, which leaves it less able to respond to actual pathogens. The intestinal lining actually is a significant site of immune activity, but when it is damaged, overall immune function is impaired. How does the intestinal lining become damaged? Through food intolerance, stress, medication, flora imbalance and autoimmune disease. Emerging research shows that several autoimmune diseases share increased intestinal permeability as a characteristic[iii].

In terms of diet, the usual recommendations include treating Leaky Gut Syndrome through clean eating; in other words, avoiding commonly allergenic/intolerant foods, inflammatory foods, pesticides, herbicides, additives, or sugar and rebalancing intestinal flora by consuming probiotics. For autoimmune diseases in particular, some experts recommend the paleo diet, which emphasizes protein and vegetables, while cutting out grains and legumes. For example, Dr. Terry Wahls has written a book on how she reversed her MS through a nutrient dense paleo diet. Supplements that can help to repair the damaged intestinal lining and reduce inflammation include l-glutamine and DGL.

When it comes to diet recommendations, I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all genetically diverse. We will all have unique responses to different foods and there is no one-size-fits-all diet. For example, I feel terrible after eating eggs or after eating a large portion of cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) because I have a food intolerance to eggs and  am sensitive to large portions of insoluble fiber. The paleo diet isn’t for me. However, a high-protein vegetarian diet keeps my digestion happy, hypoglycemia at bay, and generally gives me more energy. The only universal truth when it comes to nutrition is that nobody benefits from eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar, sodium or fat. We all feel better on a whole foods diet. It can seem overwhelming to change your diet when you are dealing with the multiple, uncertain symptoms of chronic illness. The potential to improve your quality of life is worth the effort in experimenting to find what works. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

  • 100 Days of Real Food is a resource for transitioning to a diet free from processed foods (includes blog, meal plans, challenge, cookbook) http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/

Read other great blog posts by writers with FMS on the Fibro Blogger Directory http://www.fibrobloggerdirectory.com/

[i] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538

[ii] https://www.womentowomen.com/digestive-health/healing-leaky-gut-syndrome-open-the-door-to-good-health-2/

[iii] http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/021313p38.shtml