The Big Six (GI problems) A Common Symptom of Fibromyalgia

Today, I would like to speak about Gastrointestinal problems which are part of the big 6. In other words, the big 6 are symptoms which almost everybody with Fibromyalgia complains of.

Firstly, The Gastrointestinal system consists of the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. Additionally, the pancreas, liver and gall bladder are also involved. Digestion starts in the mouth where the first enzymes are secreted to start the process of breaking food down into their component parts: Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins.

 Gastrointestinal Problems are the problems effecting your stomach, colon, intestines and esophagus and can manifest as many different illnesses: from Gastric Reflux Syndrome to  Irritable Bowell Symptom, to generalized bloating to generalized gas or any type of pain in the stomach, colon or intestine.  You might have chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation.Lastly you might experience one of these problems, many of these problems or all of these problems.

You have had all kinds of examinations from Endoscopies, to upper and lower GI studies to MRI’s and the diagnoses are the same as the above.

The pain can occur immediately after eating or hours later. With some, the pain is constantly present. You can try different types of food, different diets and different supplements but you cannot really stop these problems, you might make them decrease a bit but the GI problems still remain. So what the heck is going on?

Why the GI Pain? As I had mentioned in a previous post, the Autonomic (automatic) Nervous system is not functioning well. This is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly working, the parasympathetic nervous system is sluggish, when the parasympathetic is working the sympathetic is sluggish. With Fibromyalgia, the sympathetic system is almost constantly on meaning the parasympathetic system is working very sluggishly at best. The parasympathetic controls digestion in the body. Thus when you eat, not all the food is being digested.

When the system is working slowly due to the slowness of the parasympathetic and therefore the GI system, gastric juices not used are left in the stomach and reflux into the esophagus. Furthermore, food that stays in the gut accumulates, goes into the colon (undigested) leading to irritation in the colon (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Food left over in the gut is also attacked or digested by the good bacterial that live in your gut, the end product of bacterial metabolism is methane gas, thus many of you tend to be very gassy at times, some of you all the time in fact.

Irritation in the stomach, colon and intestines can lead to cramping as peristalsis (the movements of the muscles to push food through the system) is working sluggishly leading in some cases to constipation.

There is no question that long term reflux can lead to esophageal problems from the excess acids (produced in the pancreas), which are not being used up to breakdown all the food and tend to reflux upward. The can burn the esophagus leading to irritation and other problems.

In other words, or to summarize, the entire GI system is working very slowly leading to a myriad of problems. These are part of Fibromyalgia and not separate illnesses.

Many people will find that eating very small meals throughout the day will help the GI system to operate better and alleviate or lessen some of these symptoms, but remember, this is not a cure, just a help.

Many of you are on certain meds for these GI issues, one being various types of antibiotics. The problem with antibiotics is that they not only kill the bad and harmful bacteria, but also destroy the good bacteria. Therefore it is often very helpful to supplement your diets with a good quality probiotic. These are beneficial bacteria and can be found in a good quality vitamin or health food store.

Another very important key to helping your digestion is to “clean up your diets”.  This means that you need to start educating yourselves on good quality foods, foods without preservatives, chemicals, hormones and artificial ingredients such as colors and flavors. Junk food and or processed foods are very difficult for the body to digest  and many will not be digested, but will have to be evacuated from the body. This puts extra pressures on the Liver which has to detoxify these harmful chemicals before they can do more damage to the body. Also this makes the liver work that much harder, adding to the body stress, and as we all know, stress makes Fibromyalgia worse.

Many will claim that eating higher quality foods is more expensive, and at first, that might seem to be the case, but in actuality, eating better foods is cheaper because you will wind up eating less. Also by definition, a processed food has to go through more steps in it’s production which increases the costs. Try to eat local foods and foods that are in season, they will taste better and are healthier. For those who are lucky to live in the more rural areas, take advantage of the local farms and produce.

Changing and modifying your diet does not have to be difficult, it is not something you do in one full swoop. The best way is to slowly start to educate yourself. Go into one of the many health food stores or “Whole Foods” if there is one on the area. There is generally plenty of handouts and other free literature which can start guiding you. additionally most stores will have books for beginners.

You can also browse around the bins and you’ll be surprised the the variety of healthy foods, which not only are delicious and easy to prepare, but chances are that you did not even know that these types of grains, legumes and other things even existed. Ask one of the clerks in the store, they usually will be fairly educated about their products and in most cases more than happy to answer your questions.

One word about Lactose Intolerance. This is not an abnormal problem, but quite the opposite it is a normal situation. When we are born, we have the enzyme Lactase which helps to digest our mother’s milk. By the time we are teens we lose this enzyme and thus it is much more difficult to digest diary products. From an evolutionary and anthropological point of view, by the time we are weaned, there is no longer any need for diary products in our diet. Yet, in our culture we do enjoy milk, ice cream etc. A good rule of thumb for people with fibro is to stay away from dairy products as they make your digestive system work that much harder, putting more stress on the systems and stress makes Fibromyalgia worse.

For those who think that diary is the way to get your calcium for your bones, this is incorrect as there are many fresh vegetables which are just loaded with calcium and are more easily digested. Milk is not the health food we’re led to believe. Milk is a food given to calves containing all the nutrients a calve needs to grow into a healthy cow. Interestingly Humans are the only mammals who continue to drink milk (dairy), after we are weaned. Perhaps these other mammals know something we don’t?

Next: depression and Fog

4 thoughts on “The Big Six (GI problems) A Common Symptom of Fibromyalgia

  1. I wanted to let you know that your cast knowledge had been integral in providing supporting documentation for my disability claim. I also have been sharing with my doctor, who in turn, shares with his other FM patients. God Bless you for your commitment and for standing up for those of us who suffer from this dreaded disease.

  2. Dr. Gene, I hear what you’re saying, I have had gastro problems my whole life, or as far back as I can remember. I can remember getting on the school bus in the first grade doubled over in pain. I can’t tell you how many doctor’s my mother took me to trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I was horribly constipated, never was able to have a bm more than once every week if that. The dr’s all said I was a stressed out kid and I took Mylanta my whole life. They asked me in private if I was abused. I ended up having 2/3rds of my colon removed when I was 30 yrs old (17 years ago) due to colonic enertia. I went for 3 weeks without a bowel movement. This was after a test, x-rays after I swallowed a capsule containing a magnet and x-rayed everyother day to see if it moved. 5 yrs later I was diagnosed with Fibro.

    I have ulcerative colitis and everything I read tells me not to eat a lot of fiber, I also cannot tolerate raw fruit and vegetables, citrus, anything acidic. I have esophagitis, gastritis, duodenitis, hiatil hernia, zenkers diverticulum, I have had my esophagus dialated last March due to choking on food.

    What do you suggest for this?

  3. I had IBS long before fibro and was having lots of time off work due to having so much stomach pain and nausea. Under the advice of my doc i gave up wheat/gluten. It was like a miracle cure! I went back down the 2 dress sizes I had put on due to the extreme bloating, the pain stopped. I would recommend it to anyone with IBS problems. But it must be done properly. I follow the rules on coeliac.org and have cut every last scrap of wheat out of my diet. It takes commitment as all foods have to be cooked from scratch as almost all pre-processed foods contain gluten in one form or another. I had given up dairy before the wheat too which helped a bit but not as much as giving up wheat.

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