Fibromyalgia: The Diet Connection (cont.)

And this, say experts, includes dietary measures.

Kent Holtorf, MD, is the medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection Related Illness in Torrance, California. He says, "We're at the point now where we know diet plays a role in this disease -- it's just not the same diet for everybody. And not everybody is helped in the same way."

Fibromyalgia and diet: Can what you eat help you?

Rheumatology experts like Alex Shikhman, MD, believe the diversity of dietary approaches may have less to do with the impact on fibromyalgia, and more to do with treating a secondary, possibly undiagnosed illness. "When patients are helped by a specific dietary measure," says Shikhman, who is director and founder of the Institute for Specialized Medicine in San Diego, "it is often because of the presence of a secondary condition that does have a recognized response to diet. And when you take care of that, you do get some relief from all the symptoms. You feel better overall."

There are a number of co-existing health conditions that have a tendency to occur in people with fibromyalgia. Many of these have overlapping symptoms. These include gluten intolerance, gout (a form of arthritis), and restless legs syndrome. Some doctors believe food sensitivity itself could sometimes be responsible for some of the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia.

Moreover, Holtorf points out that because each of these secondary conditions responds to a different dietary approach, it's not hard to understand why "different dietary recommendations are reported to work."

Shikhman believes that sometimes fibromyalgia may even be the wrong diagnosis. That's another reason, he says, we can sometimes see such dramatic and immediate response to so many different dietary measures.

"Sometimes, if you carefully note which foods a patient responds to," Shikhman says, "you can actually get a significant clue as to the true nature of their underlying health problems. And it might not always be fibromyalgia."

Fibromyalgia: Seven foods to avoid

While there may not be a single set of dietary guidelines that are right for all fibromyalgia patients, there are certain foods, or food groups, that appear to make a difference for a significant number of people. But remember, avoiding these foods is not a guarantee that your symptoms will change. Also, avoiding one group may offer benefit while another may make no difference at all. Nevertheless, the experts WebMD talked to agree that eliminating at least some of these foods is worth a try.

1. Aspartame (NutraSweet). All the experts WebMD talked to agree that for a large majority of people with fibromyalgia, foods sweetened with aspartame could exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.