Are Celiac Disease and Fibromyalgia Related?

celiac disease

Image: Shutterstock/Baibaz

These days, celiac disease is finally getting some of the attention it deserves. People who suffer from it have long known how horrible the symptoms are. But recently more people are switching to a gluten-free diet. And one of the reasons for that is an increased awareness of the condition.

But we have to admit that the “gluten-free” lifestyle has become a bit of a fad. Lots of people are being taken in by false information about what gluten is. And there are many people who will tell you that seemingly every health problem is caused by gluten and wheat sensitivity. Many people even claim that fibromyalgia is the result of an intolerance to gluten. But what are the real facts? What is gluten and why could it be bad for you? And is there actually a link with fibromyalgia?

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat products like bread or pasta. Humans have been eating gluten since they discovered how to cultivate wheat around 10,000 years ago. And most people’s bodies are perfectly adjusted to eating gluten. Their small intestine breaks it down into glucose for energy.

But a small percentage of people, estimated at 1% of the general population, can’t break down gluten. These people suffer from a condition called celiac disease.  For these people, eating gluten causes their body’s immune system to begin attacking the lining of their intestines. Over time, these attacks break down the system that allows their body to absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to a range of health conditions like diabetes or cancer. The condition is generally hereditary and passed down among close relatives.

But some people are also gluten-sensitive. That means that even if they don’t have celiac disease, their body reacts negatively to gluten. However, doctors disagree on how common this is. What is clear is that for the vast majority of people, gluten is perfectly safe.

And by not eating gluten, they’re depriving their body of valuable nutrients found in gluten-rich foods.

Celiac Disease And Fibromyalgia

Some say that gluten leads to chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. And some of the symptoms of celiac disease resemble the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The condition can lead to things like chronic fatigue, widespread pain, and mental fog.

So, there is a chance that you could be presenting a lot of the symptoms of fibromyalgia and actually be suffering from celiac disease. This similarity can make getting an accurate diagnosis difficult. Obviously, there are a few key differences.

First, celiac disease only acts up when you eat gluten. So, if your symptoms seem worse after eating anything with gluten in it, then that could be your answer. But because so many different things contain gluten, you might have a tough time connecting your symptoms to what you eat.

Secondly, there’s one thing that makes fibromyalgia distinctive. Fibromyalgia pain occurs in 18 specific points around the body and gets worse when someone applies pressure to these points. This makes it possible to tell fibro from other chronic pain conditions. A doctor can tell if you have fibromyalgia by performing a diagnostic test based on these “tender points.”But while these two conditions have much in common, it is simply not accurate to say that a gluten free diet can cure fibromyalgia.

Our tendency to view gluten as some kind of dietary boogeyman has led some to say that fibromyalgia can be explained as the body’s response to gluten. Unfortunately, there’s just not much evidence to support that. And though some people attest that eliminating gluten has cured their fibromyalgia symptoms, there are other explanations for this improvement.

People who eat gluten-free diets often say that they feel healthier, but the reality is that anyone who is careful about what they eat and avoids processed sugar and carbs is going to feel better. These things are known to be very bad for both physical and mental health. And in fact, they can make fibromyalgia symptoms much worse. So eliminating certain foods from your diet can make a big difference.

But gluten isn’t really one that most people need to worry about. Gluten is completely harmless to everyone except the small percentage who suffer from gluten-sensitivity. So if you feel like gluten-free dieting helps you, then by all means, keep it up. It’s probably not hurting you. But people who try to boil down a complex condition like fibromyalgia to eliminating one thing from their diet are doing a serious disservice to the people who suffer from it. They raise hope that there is an easy fix, when there simply isn’t.

So, am I totally wrong about gluten? Did not eating gluten make all your symptoms go away? Or do you get angry when you hear people say fibromyalgia is caused by an element of your diet? Let us know in the comments.