Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) And Fibromyalgia

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS has various causes and perpetuating factors and is often a co-condition with fibromyalgia. To make matters even more complex, fibromyalgia affects multiple systems in the body, and one of those “vulnerable” systems is the GI tract.

IBS is also known by a variety of other names including spastic colon, functional dyspepsia, mucous colon and more. It is not to be confused with IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, a more serious bowel disease.

As a clinical Naturopath, I have seen many different digestive diseases, and of course even for those with fibro, not every digestive issue is a result of having fibromyalgia. There are many perpetuating factors including gut bacteria, stress and individual food intolerances.
IBS is often a co-condition of Fibromyalgia
A very real physiological disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome is thought to be connected to a disruption or disorder in the enteric nervous system. The nerve supply in our “gut brain” alters perception of pain and stimuli. The nerves within the GI tract become overly sensitive to stimulation, environment and foods ingested.

Sounds a lot like fibromyalgia itself, right? And if you have IBS, you are not alone in your frustration when otherwise “healthy” foods can cause severe GI distress and uncomfortable symptoms.

In irritable bowel syndrome, the normal muscular contractions in the colon become irregular and dysregulated. The movement of food and waste can either speed up or slow down. This can result in trapped gas, distention and pain when food and waste are not moving along properly within the GI tract.

Allergen foods, medicines and stress can cause intestinal spasms and pain. Food allergens are found in over half of all cases of IBS. The more common food irritants in IBS include wheat, corn, citrus, dairy, and chocolate. Coffee and tea are also suspect for some people especially if there is a sensitivity to caffeine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is more prevalent among women. Hormones can play a role in IBS and women with IBS tend to have more symptoms before the menstrual cycle. IBS is more commonly diagnosed before the age of 45, with less incidence in older ages, although some people report having symptoms since a young age. Again, this correlates to fibromyalgia and the propensity to disruption in the GI tract and enteric nervous system. Other causes include infections, candidiasis and/or parasites.


• Abdominal bloating/distention
• Alternate constipation/diarrhea
• Mucous in the stool
• Sense of incomplete bowel movements
• Abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea
• Malabsorption

As a clinical Naturopath, there are a few things I use and recommend when living with IBS. Remember that with both fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, the symptoms will often overlap and can also vary from day to day in severity. Please refer to the list below including my favorite probiotic with HSO’s and some other effective non invasive remedies.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet Support

First, it is important to avoid ingesting too many heated oils. Raw fats and oils are better tolerated. The right kind of fibre is also essential, as some fibres are very irritating to the colon and GI tract.

Some packaged foods are now including a type of fibre called INULIN, or Chicory Root and this fibre, actually a “pre-biotic” can cause upset in a sensitive bowel. This prebiotic is good in itself, but just like other healthy foods, not everything is right for the sensitive bowel.

Some of the fibre bars and supplements on the market also contain INULIN or chicory root. If bloating or nausea occur after ingesting INULIN, it is best to eliminate this form of fibre, especially while symptoms are present. If you are eating those heavily marketed packaged fibre bars, check the ingredients for these fibres.

There are many probiotic supplements on the market today. As a clinical Naturopath working with clients for many years in the field of gut health, I recommend a probiotic with HSO’s (homeostatic soil organisms) to balance gut flora and aid in both absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Prescript Assist Pro is one of the best and I have personally used and recommended this product, and still use it today. Even if you make cultured foods at home, you will benefit from the addition of HSO’s that you cannot get elsewhere. Reduce bloating/indigestion and increase well-being.

FODMAPS (Fermentable
Oligosaccharides Disaccharides
Monosaccharides and Polyols)

These foods can cause fermentation in the GI tract. FODMAPS can be difficult to ascertain, but it basically means foods higher in fructans, an irritant to a sensitive bowel; however, not all foods higher in fructans will be “suspect” in regards to foods to which people with IBS react. FODMAPS can be helpful to ascertaining food intolerance but not all will apply to every person.

As a general approach, when working to eliminate suspect foods, it is a good idea to keep a food journal to help ascertain which foods are causing IBS issues. When working with clients, I use a combination of both blood type and FODMAPS to create a GI friendly food plan. But again, a food journal can support us in better determining which foods we are reacting to. Eliminate any “suspect” food for 2-3 weeks and then add back individually to determine tolerance.

It is also important to rotate foods, every 2-3 days when possible. I believe in rotating the more concentrated foods such as oils and animal proteins.

You may like to eat the same vegetables more often, but rotating oils and proteins will aid in metabolism and avoidance of developing a sensitivity to any one particular food.
GREEN apples are lower in fructose, lower in all sugars and go very well in blender drinks, and are the only fruit that combine well when juicing vegetables. Again, the more common IBS triggers are wheat, dairy and legumes.

Remedies for
Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Some Remedies for IBS I Like That Are Easy and Cost Effective:

Marshmallow Root in the form of tea. This root is very soothing to the mucous membranes, GI tract and urinary tract. This can be steeped and used alone or with other herbs of detoxing nature.
Flax seed tea. Very soothing and healing to the GI tract. Simply soak 1-2 tsp. of flax seeds in 10-12 oz. of water overnight or about eight hours. In the morning, strain the water to drink. The seeds (which become soft) can be consumed as well; however, the liquid is more for healing when the bowels are irritated or inflamed.

Slippery Elm Bark Powder. This powder can be used with another form of fibre or taken alone. It coats the intestinal lining for soothing bowel irritations.

L-Glutamine powder. It is an essential for healing the gut and as nourishment for muscle and brain.
Food preparation is key
With Irritable Bowel Syndrome comes the tendency to avoid raw salads and vegetables. This is where preparation is so critical to be sure that we are still getting “living” nutrients into our cells on a regular basis. If ever it seems that eating raw foods is just not working with your IBS symptoms, consider vegetable juicing. The absolute best way to absorb and utilize nutrients is through juicing. Even blending is not appropriate when symptoms of IBS might be flaring.

When eating salad greens, the better options are going to be green leaf lettuce, spring mix or spinach. Romaine or iceberg lettuce are often harder to digest with IBS. Save romaine for juicing as it is very good for the adrenal glands when juiced. If eating romaine, cut away the inner white part and just use the outer green leaves for better digestion.

Low levels of serotonin have been seen in fibromyalgia and can be “suspect” also in IBS, however not everyone can tolerate oral supplementation to increase serotonin, as in the form of 5-HTP or tryptophan. And, this can actually contribute to constipation in some people. I do believe the best recourse for IBS management is through diet and then supplementation if needed.

Stress reduction techniques
Stress reduction techniques. Meditation, deep breathing, counselling, nervous system restoratives can be used to reduce stress. It is essential to reduce stress when living with any chronic illness, but especially with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome when our bodies are on high alert and more sensitive to stimulus of all kinds.

Domenic Pisanelli

Domenic Pisanelli

Domenic Pisanelli is a qualified Naturopath and has helped hundreds of people regain their health back as an experienced naturopath with over 18 years of clinical experience.

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