Can Diet Affect Symptoms of Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest


Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a common inflammatory disorder that causes pain, usually in your shoulders and upper body. Inflammation is your body’s natural response when it’s trying to protect you from harmful germs. Inflammation works by drawing extra blood and white blood cells to whatever part of your body it’s trying to defend. This increase of fluid can cause swelling, stiffness, and pain.

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If you have an inflammation disorder like PMR, your body fights its own joints and tissues, even when germs aren’t present.

You may be able to treat some of your symptoms of PMR with steroid medicine. You may also be able to manage your symptoms with lifestyle changes, including changes to your diet.

A healthy diet is important for everyone, but if you have PMR, the foods you eat may have an impact on your symptoms. That’s because some foods are more likely to cause inflammation in your body. Keep reading to learn more about the types of foods you should eat and the types you may want to avoid.

Foods to eat

Eating the right food can support your immune system and may even prevent inflammation before it starts. Some foods may also fight potential side effects from medications you’re taking for your PMR. These side effects can include:

  • high blood sugar
  • weight gain
  • sleeplessness
  • osteoporosis
  • bruising
  • cataracts
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No diet is proven to make PMR significantly better or worse for most people, and everyone reacts differently to foods. Pay attention to what foods seem to help you feel your best and keep track of them. It’s also important to have a well- balanced diet and to eat from all major food groups. Following are some foods that may be beneficial to people with PMR.

Healthy fats

Not all fats are created equally. Your body actually needs some fat to properly function. When choosing fat sources, it’s important to focus on healthy fats. One source of healthy fat is omega-3, which may help prevent inflammation, especially when paired with a balanced, healthy diet. One good source of omega-3 is fish oil. Studies have found fish oil to have anti-inflammatory effects in people with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma. That suggests that omega-3s can have anti-inflammatory effects in people with a wide range of conditions.

Foods high in omega-3 include:

  • walnuts
  • flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • eggs
  • salmon
  • sardines

Other anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • spinach
  • kale
  • collards
  • oranges
  • berries
Calcium and vitamin D
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Some medications used to manage PMR symptoms increase your risk for osteoporosis. To combat that, eat foods high in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium can strength your bones, and vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium.

Dairy products are a good source of calcium, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, but you can also get calcium from other sources, such as:

  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • sardines with bones

Vitamin D can be absorbed through exposure to the sun. Some foods are also high in vitamin D, such as:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • beef liver
  • egg yolk
  • fortified breads
  • fortified dairy products

Staying hydrated is important for combating inflammation. Adults should drink 2-3 liters of fluid per day. Keep a reusable water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. That will also help you keep track of how much you’re drinking. If you get bored with plain water, try flavoring it by squeezing a lemon, lime, or even an orange into your water.

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Coffee In some people, coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects. A recent study found that these effects vary from person to person, and that in some people coffee has the opposite effect and can actually increase inflammation.

If you’re a coffee drinker, monitor how you feel after having a cup. If you notice your symptoms improving, you may be able to continue drinking coffee in moderation. If your symptoms seem to get worse after having coffee, it may be time to cut back. Try replacing your cup of coffee with a decaf version or herbal tea.

You should also focus on eating food that will help you fight the potential side effects of your PMR medication.

Foods to avoid

It’s equally important to keep track of any food that seems to make your PMR worse.

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Processed food isn’t recommended for people with PMR because it may increase inflammation in your body. Processed foods may also lead to weight gain. Increased weight puts more pressure on the muscles and joints affected by PMR, which can make your pain worse. Some people may be intolerant to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Excessive sugar intake is also inflammatory and may cause weight gain.

Here are some foods you should avoid, and suggestions for what you can use as substitutes:

For example, if you’re eating at a restaurant and your meal comes with french fries, ask the server if you can swap out the fries for a side salad, steamed vegetables, or an apple. Most restaurants have an alternative option you can choose.


If you have PMR, it’s important to make time for physical activity. You may need to avoid strenuous activities, but light exercise can help improve your symptoms and overall sense of well-being. Some exercises may also help you prevent side effects from medications you’re taking.

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Keep your body moving with gentle activity like a daily walk, bike ride, or swimming. Cardio exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, which means less stress on the bones and joints affected by PMR. It also promotes heart health.

Lifting light weights may also reduce your risk for osteoporosis because it helps build bone density.

Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new workout routines. If you’re looking for ideas for ways to add exercise to your routine, your doctor can also recommend safe exercises for you to try.

Additional treatments

A healthy diet and regular exercise can improve symptoms, support your immune system, and benefit your overall health. Still, most doctors recommend corticosteroid medication to fully treat the inflammation and swelling from PMR. In some cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) may work too.

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It’s important to work closely with your doctor to get a personalized treatment plan. Your doctor can recommend daily routines and guidelines that fit you best.


Most people with PMR wake up with pain in the upper body and sometimes hips too. The pain might come and go over time. A healthy diet and light exercise can help reduce many symptoms of PMR, but you may also need to take medication. Work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan.

Tips for healthy eating

It can be difficult to know where to start when making changes to your diet. Here are a few tips to help you adopt a healthy diet for your PMR:

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