Is gluten "bad" for people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)? You certainly can find a lot of people online who say it is. So far, however, research hasn't specifically examined whether gluten poses a problem for a significant number us.
With the media attention gluten-free diets have received, a lot of people with these illnesses have gone gluten free. Anecdotal results are mixed, with some people saying it's changed their lives and others saying it did nothing other than take away their favorite foods for a while.
Very little research has been done on the overlap between celiac disease -- an autoimmune disorder involving gluten -- and FMS. One study showed no overlap between celiac and juvenile fibromyalgia. A review of literature suggested that many people diagnosed with celiac had a history of FMS, but other studies point out that celiac disease may sometimes be misdiagnosed as FMS or ME/CFS because of similar symptoms. Research hasn't been done on the prevalence of Celiac in ME/CFS, or on the prevalence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity in either FMS or ME/CFS.
Do you suspect gluten is a problem for you? About.com's Celiac Disease Guide Jane Anderson has a wealth of information about gluten-related problems on her site. I've rounded up her articles that I think are most relevant to FMS and ME/CFS so you can see what these problems are, how they're diagnosed, and how to live gluten free if you need to.
The first things you need to know are what gluten is, what illnesses it's linked to, and how those illnesses are different from each other.
- What is Gluten?
- Gluten Sensitivity
- Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Research
It's also important to know the symptoms of celiac and gluten sensitivity. However, that's not always a simple, clear-cut process.
Gluten-related symptoms can be extremely similar to those of FMS and ME/CFS – including some neurological symptoms. Instead of looking for the existence of a symptom, you may need to keep a food/symptom log to see if certain symptoms get worse when you eat gluten-containing foods, or improve when you avoid them.
Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is extremely common in FMS and ME/CFS. Because IBS and gluten intolerance may involve similar digestive problems, it can complicate the diagnostic process.
Gluten Sensitivity & Other Health Risks
Gluten sensitivity may cause more problems than those linked to digestion. Research suggests it could be linked to numerous health problems.
Getting a Diagnosis
So far, there's no well-proven test for gluten sensitivity. If your doctor suspects a gluten problem, the first step could be to rule out the celiac disease. However, some research is starting to suggest that a gluten-intolerance test may be possible down the road.
Living Gluten Free
Once you're ready to go gluten free, you have a lot to learn about what you can and can't eat.
- What Foods Contain Gluten?
- How to Eat Gluten Free
- Finding Gluten on Food Labels
- What "Certified Gluten Free" Means to You
- Top 9 Things That Will Trip You Up
Jane has a wealth of other information on living gluten free on her site. You can explore these areas to get your questions answered:
Gluten Free With Fibromyalgia
I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity a few years after I developed FMS. It was tough to take on a new diet when I was already dealing with a lot of symptoms, but I felt much better once I made the right changes.
You can read about my experience going gluten free here:
- Going Gluten Free: An Emotional Hit
- Gluten-Free Grocery Shopping
- Challenges of Gluten-Free Cooking
- Gluten Free Foods I Like
- Eating Out When You're Gluten Free
- Calorie Counting When You're Gluten Free
Logan AC, Wong C. Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic. 2001 Oct;6(5):450-9. Chronic fatigue syndrome: oxidative stress and dietary modifications.
Taubman B, Mamula P, Sherry DD. Pediatric rheumatology online journal. 2011 Jun 13;9:11. Prevalence of asymptomatic celiac disease in children with fibromyalgia: a pilot study.
Wallace DJ, Hallegua DS. Current pain and headache reports. 2004 Oct;8(5):364-8. Fibromyalgia: the gastrointestinal link.