I was doing research on the connection between Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome for this month’s newsletter and came across this bit: “Research has shown that as many as 60% of IBS patients also suffer from fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Conversely, as many as 70% of FMS patients have reported experiencing symptoms of IBS. Could there be a common cause for both conditions?” I about fell off my chair!
Of course there’s a connection, but western allopathic medicine won’t take you there. The connection is stress. I realize I sound like a broken record, but to overcome Fibro and get those nasty secondary syndromes under control, you need to truly understand the full ramifications of uncontrolled stress in the body, so I will continue to focus on stress reduction as a major tool in overcoming Fibro.
The medical view of IBS: “IBS is believed to be due to the abnormal function (dysfunction) of the muscles of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract or the nerves controlling the organs.” The nervous control of the gastrointestinal tract, however, is complex. A system of nerves runs the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the anus in the muscular walls of the organs. These nerves communicate with other nerves that travel to and from the spinal cord. Nerves within the spinal cord, in turn, travel to and from the brain. (As an organ system, the gastrointestinal tract is exceeded only by the spinal cord and brain in the numbers of nerves it contains.) Thus, the abnormal function of the nervous system in IBS may occur in a gastrointestinal muscular organ, the spinal cord, or the brain.
Our bodies were built for movement – pretty much constant movement with little repetition, and we have safeguards built in to protect and help our bodies remain in motion. One of these safeguards has to do with digestion.
Digestion is not necessary for life in a short-term critical situation. So, our bodies shut down the digestive process to favor more important functions like the heart beating, and our lungs bringing oxygen to our muscles. This worked really well in man’s earliest days; it allowed us to sprint away from danger, or to spring after prey, without wasting energy on the digestive process. In today’s high-stress world, though, this “safeguard” is not working for us so well.
When we are subject to chronic stress, our digestive tract does not work optimally. It functions when it can, getting shut down often to save energy for the more important functions the body can’t survive without; for instance, the heart and lungs. Over time, dysfunction of the muscles and nerves develops, contributing to Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive disorders. Plus a major part of our immune system is found in the stomach; when the digestive system is not functioning well, neither is our immune system. This is an incredibly simplified scenario, but one that can help you understand the relationship chronic stress has with IBS.
Addressing the source(s) of your stress is paramount in overcoming IBS. Is the source of your stress mental, emotional or physical? Honestly consider all sources of stress in your life, perhaps keeping a journal for a spell. If you feel you are handling the mental and emotional aspects well, you’ll have to look at physical stress. Physical stress will include such factors as exercise (too little or too much), diet and your exposure to harsh chemicals, as well as any physical trauma you’ve suffered.
Diet has proved to be key to controlling and even overcoming IBS for many people. You can find a lot of information on the internet about IBS diets, what to and not to eat; some of the common denominators are:
Food allergies or sensitivities play a roll in IBS, and you should know yours. There are many ways to diagnose food allergies/sensitivities from keeping a food log to blood tests to elimination diets. Food allergies are the more serious, and if you have a food allergy, you should avoid that food at all costs. Food sensitivities, however, can be corrected -- through cleansing diets, for instance.
There may also be additional considerations such as whether or not you have a candida fungal overgrowth, do you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, are you hormonally balanced; was your Fibro triggered by another disorder such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus or hypothyroidism?
But diet is just one element in the fight to overcome IBS. Exercise is also necessary. Not only was the body built for movement, exercise provides an outlet for much stress. This doesn’t mean you need to turn into a gym rat; walking for a half-hour daily will go a long way to setting the stage for a healthier you.
While most Fibro survivors are not fans of how western allopathic medicine treats Fibro, I am a big fan of their diagnostic tools! If you prefer not to see an M.D., try a naturopathic doctor who also has access to diagnostics but whose services will probably not be covered by insurance. Knowing your imbalances will help in your decision how to manage and even correct Fibro and its associated secondary disorders.
It’s a challenge to manage all the aspects of our lives in today’s world. When one member of a family has singular dietary needs, there’s an additional demand on time and energy. Find a way to balance all of these elements so you can meet your own needs.
As you continue to chip away at the stress factors in your life, you’ll find that bit by bit your Fibro symptoms will improve.