The internet is currently awash with chatter about fibromyalgia patients using the Whole30 diet as a therapy for their condition. Many have taken it upon themselves to adopt the dietary intervention after reading the testimonials of others but plenty more have been 'prescribed' it by nutritionists and even their rheumatologists in some cases. The science that it is of benefit however is far from clear cut.
The Whole30 diet is essentially a version of the Paleolithic diet, often referred to also as the 'Caveman Diet' or the 'Stone Age Diet'. It is based on the premise that our bodies are essentially the same as they were in Paleolithic times, evolutionarily speaking, thus we should be eating the same diet that our ancient ancesters did to atain or maintain optimal health. Indeed, this sounds like a logical approach to take and it's fairly safe to say it is a far healthier way to eat than the typical modern Western diet with its processed microwave meals and fast food.
If the diet is to be recommended in the context of a therapy for a condition as painful, disabling and serious as fibromyalgia however, patients should expect this advice to be based on specific studies that prove its efficacy and safety. Having searched the main medical research databases it quickly becomes apparent that this is currently lacking.
This of course is not to say that the Whole30 or 'Paleo' approach won't help those with fibromyalgia manage their condition and reduce the severity of their symptoms. It does mean there is a question mark though and it is surprising to read of rheumatologists in particular recommending an unproven therapy to their patients in this world of 'evidence-based' medicine. Of course fibromyalgia is still poorly understood and research funding is scandalously low so there are few treatments that are proven in clinical trials. Doctors should then perhaps be congratulated on trying to help their often desperate patients in any way they can.
The Whole30 diet was created by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig in 2009 primarily to help people lose weight and gain fitness, but also to eliminate health issues. within 30 days - as the name suggests. As with the traditional Paleo diet it focuses on the consumption of meat, fish. eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds; typical of what a hunter-gatherer civilization would have consumed. It strictly forbids sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, soy and any food additives. There are also a long list of other 'rules'. Since its launch it has slowly grown into what is now somewhat of a phenomenon.
For fitness enthusiasts and those highly motivated to lose weight (the Hartwig's are both educated in the area of sports nutrition and fitness) Whole30 may certainly appeal; for those with serious medical conditions like fibromyalgia however, such an aggressive approach may not be achievable without considerable help and support from family or carers.
There is certainly evidence that the Whole30 diet (like Paleo) may have health benefits including reducing inflammation and improving cardiovascular health that could benefit those suffering from fibromyalgia. However, stress is also a major trigger for fibromyalgia symptom flare-ups which means strict regimes are ultimately likely to be counter-productive. Adopting elements of the Paleo diet which patients can maintain long-term may be a more rounded and effective dietary approach, combined with regular gentle exercise such yoga and T'ai Chi (read more) and/or swimming and aquatic exercise (read more) which are all proven to be effective therapies for fibromyalgia.
Still, the sheer volume of anecdotal reports of successful use of the Whole30 approach on the Internet right now suggests it is certainly something looking at more closely and keeping an eye on if you suffer the pain and other debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia.
1. Whole9 (2015) Whole30: Let Us Change Your Life (Online) last accessed 04.02.15 at http://whole30.com/
2. de Punder K & Pruimboom L (2013) The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation Nutrients 5(3): 771–87
3. Marinangeli C & Jones P (2014) Deconstructing the Paleolithic Diet: Components that Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk Current Nutrition Reports 3(2): 149-61