How Gluten Sensitivity is Connected to Fibromyalgia | What's With Wheat

In the recent Natural Remedies for Fibromyalgia blog post, I discussed the main symptoms of Fibromyalgia (FM) which are fatigue, aches, pains, brain fog, lethargy, depression, sleep issues and many more. The severity of these symptoms will vary from person to person and the contributing causes have been linked to chemical allergies, viruses, genetics and stress, and gut dysbiosis. Did you know that there are 140+ autoimmune diseases (that we know of) and Fibromyalgia is only one of them.

But What Does Gluten Have to Do With Fibromyalgia?

Let’s start with the ‘gluten basics’. I have previously written about gluten here and here. But just to re-cap, the gluten we eat today is not the same gluten that your grandparents ate. Scientists developed a different kind of wheat in order to be able to create higher wheat yields and fluffier breads, cakes and pastries. They also made it so it would be able to dissolve into liquids and other products that didn’t previously contain gluten, such as cold cut lunch meats and beauty products like shampoo. We’re not only eating a different kind of gluten to what our ancestors ate, we are actually eating and being exposed to an increased volume of it. As a result, our bodies are unable to tolerate this increased amount.

Imagine the lining of your digestive tract is like a net with extremely small holes that only allow specific beneficial substances to pass through it. However, it also works as a barrier to keep out bigger more harmful particles that can cause damage to the system.

The proteins contained within the ‘modern’ wheat are gut irritants. Imagine wheat is like a splinter digging into the lining of your gut and the amount of inflammation and irritation that would cause. This results in the ‘net’ being damaged, creating larger holes which allow undigested food particles, chemicals and toxins to pass into the blood stream. As a result of this damage, symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, digestive issues, food sensitivities and headaches can occur.

However, the more wheat that is consumed, combined with other bad dietary and lifestyle choices can lead to the creation of an immune response and inflammation throughout the body, which results in a variety of diseases such as an autoimmune disease like Fibromyalgia.

What Does the Research Say?

A study from Italian researchers found that FM patients can benefit from specific dietary changes1. This study found that when FM patients eliminated gluten from their diets, they experienced significant improvements in all symptoms. In another study of 40 patients with FM, it was found that 70% of them had a ‘leaky gut’ (intestinal permeability)2.

From a study in 2014 involving 20 patients with FM, it was discovered that the level of widespread chronic pain improved dramatically for all patients when they followed a gluten free diet for 16 months. 15 of the patients were able to return to work or normal life as their fatigue, depression, digestive issues and pain improved so much3.

While these are small studies, the findings are still incredibly intriguing, especially given the number of FM sufferers who indicated that their symptoms improved after simply following a gluten free diet. As with so many other treatments, the only way to know if a gluten-free diet will help you is to investigate it for yourself.

Eliminate Gluten

Gluten intolerance doesn’t show up on blood tests. Food intolerances differ from food allergies so antibodies may not show up in blood tests. The best way to determine your sensitivity to gluten is to avoid it completely. By eliminating all gluten sources from your diet for at least 6 weeks, notice when you introduce it back into your diet if the symptoms reoccur. It’s incredibly important to be aware of everything you eat and to always double check the ingredients label, as gluten can be ‘hidden’ and called something else.

Below is a small list of common names that contain gluten:

  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Modified food starch (source is either corn or wheat)
  • Mustard powder (some contain gluten)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Gelatinised starch
  • Natural flavouring, fillers
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey sodium caseinate
  • White vinegar or white grain vinegar
  • Rice malt (contains barley or Koji)
  • Rice syrup (contains barley enzymes)
  • Dextrin, malt, maltodextrin

If you want to do an elimination program, go to the What’s With Wheat? website and read the information on the ‘6 Weeks No Wheat’ Program.

Further Resources


Jordan Pie
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner