Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory condition that causes pain and stiffness around the joints. The primary treatment is usually corticosteroids, but diet can also have a direct impact on symptoms.

This article will explain how a person’s diet influences the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), as well as which foods people with PMR should eat and which they should avoid.

It is unclear what causes PMR, and there is currently no cure. Doctors usually prescribe a corticosteroid drug called prednisolone to manage symptoms.

It is also possible to relieve symptoms by following a PMR diet.

The PMR diet

Sliced okra.
Okra is high in calcium, which can make it a useful part of a PMR diet.

Eating a varied, healthful diet is particularly important for people with PMR, as many unhealthful foods can make symptoms worse.

Following a PMR-friendly diet may reduce symptoms and might also help counteract some of the side effects that some people develop as a result of prolonged use of corticosteroids.

Side effects include:

Some people with PMR may have other health conditions and dietary requirements, so not all food recommendations will work for everyone. However, it is always a good idea to follow a diet that contains foods from all the food groups, including protein, healthful fats, and fiber.

More specific advice on nutrients for people with PMR include the following:

Calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is an essential nutrient for maintaining good bone health, while vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium into the body. It is particularly important that people with PMR include these in their diet, as corticosteroids can cause bone loss with prolonged use.

Some dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are good sources of calcium. Non-dairy foods that are high in calcium include:

  • soybeans
  • okra
  • kale
  • spinach
  • sardines
  • salmon

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • cheese
  • fatty fish, such as mackerel or tuna
  • egg yolk
  • mushrooms
  • products fortified with vitamin D, such as certain cereals or bread

If a person is unable to include these foods in their diet, they can take calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Healthful or good fats

Fats are an essential nutrient. People should avoid some types of fats, such as trans-fats, but many good fats exist, and people with PMR should include them in a balanced diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce symptoms of PMR Foods that contain high amounts of omega-3 include:

  • fish oils, such as cod liver oil or salmon oil
  • mackerel
  • sardines
  • eggs
  • flaxseeds
  • flax milk
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts

Anti-inflammatory foods

Many foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming these foods as part of a balanced diet may also help to reduce the symptoms of PMR.

  • tomatoes
  • fatty fish
  • berries
  • almonds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • olive oil

Foods to avoid

fried foods should be avoided by people with pmr
Fried foods should be avoided by people with PMR.

Some foods are linked to increased levels of inflammation. People with PMR should avoid these foods to prevent making symptoms worse.

Foods linked to increased inflammation include:

  • refined carbohydrates, such as white bread or white rice
  • fried foods, such as french fries
  • sugary drinks
  • processed meats, such as salami or hotdogs
  • red meat
  • margarine
  • foods with added sugar
  • alcohol

Meal plan

There are many combinations of foods that can help to reduce symptoms and the risk of side effects from medication in people with PMR. The following meal plan lists two options for each meal, as well as some healthful snacks:

Breakfast

  • a bowl of fortified cereal with dairy or plant-based milk sprinkled with flaxseeds and blueberries
  • eggs and salmon on wholemeal bread

Lunch

  • a turkey breast sandwich on wholemeal bread, using home-cooked turkey instead of packaged slices
  • a tuna salad

Dinner

  • baked cod with a side of steamed vegetables
  • chicken and steamed vegetables with brown rice

Snacks

  • mix of walnuts and almonds
  • fresh fruit

Exercise

It is also a good idea that people with PMR undertake some physical activity to support bone health and reduce inflammation. Many factors, such as a person’s age and overall health, will influence the type and intensity of exercise they can do.

Light forms of physical exercise can include gardening or household chores. However, engaging in low to medium intensity exercise can be more beneficial. These activities include:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • cycling
  • weight training

Weight training is particularly important as it can help maintain bone health. However, people with PMR should speak to a doctor about weight training first to avoid injury.

What is PMR?

man being diagnosed with PMR
Men are less frequently diagnosed with PMR. If it does occur, it is most likely in men over the age of 50.

PMR is a chronic health condition that primarily affects people over the age of 70. It is rarely seen in people under the age of 50 and is more common in women than men.

PMR is an inflammatory condition. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism that the body uses to protect it from harmful substances.

When the body detects a harmful substance, it releases white blood cells and increases blood flow to the affected area to fight off any potential threats.

This process is known as inflammation. It often causes redness, warmth, and swelling.

Inflammation is an essential function of the body, but when it is not functioning properly can cause medical problems. Many major diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis, are linked to the inflammation process.

When someone has PMR, their body mistakenly triggers inflammation in the joints, even though no harmful substances are present. Symptoms of PMR include:

  • muscle stiffness
  • joint pain
  • swelling around the joints
  • fatigue
  • appetite loss
  • weight loss

PMR is not the same as fibromyalgia, which is not an inflammatory condition. PMR can also lead to more severe conditions, such as giant cell arteritis.

Conclusion

The symptoms of PMR can be uncomfortable and disrupt normal daily functioning. Corticosteroid medications are helpful in reducing symptoms but adhering to a healthful, well-balanced diet can provide additional benefits and counteract some of the side effects linked to these drugs.

People with PMR should stick to a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, good fats, and other anti-inflammatory foods. Exercise can also help reduce symptoms.

It is essential to read the labels when choosing which foods to buy. Many food producers use misleading marketing to sell their products. For example, many packaged cereals contain high levels of sugar but include claims such as “high in vitamin D” on their packaging to appear healthful.

By reading the ingredients, looking for the nutrients listed above, and including the foods in their diet, people with PMR can help to reduce their symptoms and increase their quality of life.