Is there a link between fibromyalgia and celiac disease?

By: Holly Case

Chances are, you know someone who is on a gluten-free diet, if you are not following one. Although this diet is all the rage right now, it has been the staple treatment for people with celiac disease for decades. This very serious disease makes patients unable to tolerate even traces of gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and spelled. If you’ve ever made yeast dough out of wheat, gluten is what makes it elastic. But what is celiac disease, how do you know if you have it, and is there a link between gluten and fibromyalgia? Read on to learn more.


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the intestines when a person consumes gluten. Symptoms can include the following:

  • stomach ache
  • unexplained anemia
  • fatigue
  • bone or joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • digestive disorders
  • Many people with celiac disease also have at least one other autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or scleroderma.
    HOW IS CELIAC DISEASE DIAGNOSED? The only scientifically reliable way to diagnose celiac disease is through a blood test. Then, a positive blood test is confirmed with a follow-up biopsy of the intestines. If you think you may have celiac disease, you should be tested before following a gluten-free diet because the diet can give false negative results.
  • However, many people find they have gluten intolerance when taking a challenge test. To do a challenge test, completely eliminate gluten from your diet for at least two to three weeks. Then try gluten again to see if it makes you feel worse. This can indicate a food intolerance that is less serious than celiac disease or an allergy.
    WHAT IS THE CONNECTION TO FIBROMYALGIA? Fibromyalgia is a common misdiagnosis of celiac disease because many of the symptoms are very similar. Doctors are trained to look for the most common explanation first, and fibromyalgia is much more common than celiac disease. A 2015 study in   Rheumatology International  found that there is actually a documented link between celiac disease and fibromyalgia, although it does not establish that one of the two causes the other. However, the two diseases share many symptoms and characteristics in common, such as fatigue, anemia and digestive disorders. Both fibromyalgia and celiac disease can be associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Gluten and fibromyalgia seem to have some connection.CAN A GLUTEN-FREE DIET HELP FIBROMYALGIA? Many people believe that fibromyalgia is related to food intolerances. Gluten intolerance is one of the most frequently mentioned culprits of digestive upset and widespread pain. However, The 2015 study mentioned above also found that many people with fibromyalgia have a non-celiac form of gluten intolerance. As a result, fibromyalgia patients may experience less pain and discomfort when following a gluten-free diet. Gluten consumption can lead to an inflammatory cycle in the digestive system. This inflammatory process can lead to some of the most painful symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, even though it is caused by an inflammatory process, most people with fibrosis find that anti-inflammatory medications like Aleve or Advil do not relieve pain.It is always worth trying a gluten-free diet if your fibromyalgia does not respond well enough to other therapies. Quitting gluten can be a bit challenging, especially in the beginning when you are adjusting to the diet. But many people find relief from symptoms worthwhile. Forgoing gluten and fibromyalgia relief seems like a good trade-off. TIPS FOR LIVING GLUTEN FREE Eliminate the following foods if you are trying to be gluten free:
    • Foods that contain wheat or wheat flour, including bread, pasta, wheat bran, wheat germ, and crackers. Many products in your store are labeled gluten-free, so you don’t have to resign yourself to a life without bread. However, many gluten-sensitive people are also sensitive to other grains, so it’s a good idea to minimize gluten-free products while taking a gluten-free challenge.
    • Foods that contain other problem grains, such as barley and rye.
    • Wheat-derived ingredients including soy sauce, seitan, licorice, dips, and gravies.
    • Be aware of cross contamination. If you make a gluten-free pizza crust on the same surface where a crust containing gluten was just made, it is likely to be cross-contaminated. Also use new and separate utensils and pans to prepare gluten-free foods. Seek the help of your doctor or nutritionist before giving up all gluten. If you go gluten free, keep a log of your daily symptoms to narrow down what is really the problem. Gluten and fibromyalgia may be related to you, but stopping gluten doesn’t help everyone.

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