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10 Symptoms You May Experience With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to live with as there are many symptoms you can experience beyond Pain and Fatigue. Here are 10 of the top symptoms you may experience and how to manage them.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

Symptoms

1. Brain Fog

This is a cognitive impairment that causes problems such as temporary loss of memory, forgetting words or mixing up words, losing your train of thought, or saying things that don’t make sense. It can be frightening when it happens, as these are also signs of other conditions, such as Alzheimers Disease.

Your doctor can do some mental testing to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t being caused by some other condition. Ways you can help yourself include keeping a notebook with you to write down important information, taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and keeping a sense of humour about the situation. If you tend to panic about having this happen, laughing is a good way to keep things light while allowing you to start over with what you were saying.

2. Jaw Pain

Jaw pain in the joints on either one or both sides can be mistaken for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disfunction). Pain and swelling are the common symptoms of jaw pain along with stiffness and being unable to open the mouth without pain.

Gentle stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may be helpful in managing the pain. If only one side is affected, try chewing on the other side to relieve pain. If you hear popping or clicking, or if your jaw seems to be “out of joint”, see your dentist to rule out TMJ or other conditions.

3. Urinary Problems

If you are having difficulty with urinating, whether it’s a problem with urgency, leakage or straining, it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying problem.

Having Fibromyalgia can affect the bladder and kidneys, causing the above symptoms. Some solutions include urinating on a schedule, doing Kegels, seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, and using bladder control products for leakage issues.

4. Body Temperature

People with Fibromyalgia may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In my case, I can have cold skin and goosebumps, yet be sweating from overheating at the same time. It’s a very disconcerting feeling.

Things that may help include keeping a light blanket or sweater nearby for chills and a fan for when heat becomes a problem. I have found that keeping my feet warm helps with the chills and then using a fan helps ward off the sweating.

5. Weight Gain

There are over 60 symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Find out about the top 10, along with a few tips about how to treat them in this post.

Weight gain is often caused because of medications you may be taking for your Fibromyalgia. Even if you’re not taking prescriptions, you may find you’re still gaining weight – it’s one of the anomalies of having Fibro. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than you are expending. Fad diets may work for a short period of time, but in general are unsustainable.

Following a proper eating plan from all 4 food groups is essential and exercise is as well. You may find walking helpful (consider using walking poles for extra stability) or water activities, such as Aquafit, Deep Water Workouts, or Pool Walking to be helpful.

6. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be a scary symptom of Fibromyalgia and should always be checked out by a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

The cause of chest pain in Fibromyalgia is often because of something called Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. The condition usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone, or sternum, an area known as the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen and using either heat or ice (which ever feels best for you).

7. Sleep Disorders

Pain can keep you from getting the sleep you need. You may also be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome and not even be aware of it. Sleep Apnea is another problem that you may be facing and all of these issues can prevent you from getting the deep REM sleep that is necessary to repair the body.

Good sleep hygiene is important to follow. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts when you wake at night to see if there is a pattern. Keep the room cool, avoid using electronics for one hour before bed, and try using a weighted blanket to see if that helps.

8. Digestive Problems

When you have Fibromyalgia, you may experience digestive disorders including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (or occasionally both), heartburn and a general sense of feeling “unwell”.

Drinking peppermint tea can help with nausea, eating smaller more frequent meals might make a difference and trying to set up a schedule for bowel movements can help relieve discomfort. Metamucil or other Fibre supplements every day can be helpful for the bowels without resorting to laxatives.

If symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out other potential problems.

9. Skin Problems

Itching, rashes, hives and tiny red marks can often show up when you have Fibromyalgia. Skin may become more sensitive to soaps and fragrances and you may discover that your normally dry skin has become oily or vice versa.

Use of a mild cleanser for face and body is imperative, especially ones containing oatmeal. Antihistimines are suggested when hives and itching become a problem and the tiny red marks that might show up on your skin are harmless.

If you have problems with skin rash, see your doctor who may recommend a dermatologist for further treatment.

10. Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia may go hand in hand without you realizing you are showing signs. If you are finding yourself struggling to maintain interest in former activities, you’re isolating yourself, eating less or more than usual or have been unable to shake “the blues”, you may be experiencing Depression.

Treatment includes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and often, medications. There is no shame to having Depression – you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not weak, your body is showing signs of a chemical imbalance which should be treated like any other medical problem.

If you are feeling so depressed that you are suicidal, please call a hotline for help. You can find more information on hotlines here for Canada and here for the United States. In the UK, you can use this page for help.

Conclusion

There are over 60 different symptoms that relate to Fibromyalgia. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones more commonly experienced.

Fibromyalgia is hard to explain

If you are experiencing something new, or if a symptom you’ve had for awhile changes, it’s always important to see your doctor, to rule out anything outside of Fibromyalgia. Better safe than sorry is certainly the key here. And remember…

There Is Always Hope


Resources and Further Reading


Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com.  She also writes for The Mighty,  PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC.  She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 

There are over 60 symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Find out about the top 10, along with a few tips about how to treat them in this post.
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Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis Part Two

Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis Part Two

Here is the second part of the article “Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis” written for and originally posted on the Unchargeables. You can learn more about what Gastroparesis is, how it’s diagnosed and traditional treatments, here.


In Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis: Part One, we discussed what gastroparesis (GP) is and ways in which people with gastroparesis can modify their diet and their medications to help improve symptoms. This article will cover natural substances that can further aid the GP patient. Also included is a discussion about a few tactics to stimulate and promote healing in the vagus nerve, which is believed to be responsible for causing gastroparesis.

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Gastroparesis and Supplementation

There are a variety of supplements and herbs that can benefit a person with gastroparesis. I have broken them down by the symptoms they are best at addressing and note crossovers where applicable.

Dysbiosis, Constipation and Diarrhea

People with gastroparesis usually suffer from a variety of GI concerns due to low motility. Our gut flora is often out of balance and we often have IBS or SBBO (Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth). The use of probiotics with prebiotics can often help with this, along with the consumption of fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha or kim chi, if tolerated. Probiotics will help with these symptoms and come with a variety of other benefits, such as supporting the immune system, and curbing symptoms like heart burn, gas, bloating, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.

While most of us cannot handle insoluble fiber, there is one company making a low FODMAP fiber supplement with which I’ve had great success, Pronourish Fiber. Designed specifically for people with gastrointestinal disorders, it can help with both constipation and diarrhea, keeping your system more regular overall and bulking your stool so it’s much more comfortable to pass.

Heart Burn and Reflux

If GERD is an issue, it’s tempting to use a proton pump-inhibitor, but these should really be avoided, given that they decrease stomach acid and motility. An H2 antacid like Zantac (ranitidine) may be a better choice, though they are also known to slow motility. For whatever reason, I have better motility with the latter than the former, but this is just my personal experience. If you find both a proton pump inhibitor and H2 antacids cause your system to slow, there are a variety of natural remedies for treatment, as well.

Stinging Nettle Tea can provide relief of both heart burn and nausea. When taken daily, I have found it’s quite effective at keeping my GERD at bay. It is safe to use daily for most, but there are a few precautions with this herb, so be certain to read about it to ensure it’s not contraindicated for use with any of your conditions or medications.

A ½ teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 4 ounces of water often brings relief, as does soda or seltzer water. However, baking soda is a remedy that should only be used occasionally as a spot treatment. It shouldn’t be taken when the stomach is uncomfortably full, making it perhaps not the best choice for gastroparesis. It may still come in handy at times, as we all know we can get heart burn whether our stomachs are full, empty, or somewhere in between.

There are other things which can also help reduce heart burn by treating the whole digestive tract and absorption issues, much like probiotics. These are covered below.

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Malnutrition and Malabsorption

Since absorption is often an issue for people with GP and we are at high risk of malnutrition, it is often necessary to supplement with vitamins. Since the processing of solids is hardest of all, it’s best to take either liquid or methylated vitamins that are easier for our bodies to process. Liquid vitamins can be consumed normally, while methylated vitamins are designed so that they are absorbed by the skin. While multivitamins get a bad rap, for us, they are essential. Usually additional amounts of other key nutrients are also necessary.

The most important vitamins to replenish are usually Vitamin D, Vitamin C (for immune health), Magnesium, B vitamins (we tend to be particularly deficient in B12, but B2 and B6 are very important for migraine sufferers, and all B vitamins help provide added energy), and iron. A doctor can test your levels and tell you for certain where you’re deficient and whether or not you’re taking enough once you begin supplementation.

To aid absorption and reduce inflammation in the GI tract, consuming an aloe vera juice or gel drink is an excellent way to go. Aloe can increase the absorption of nutrients by as much as 300% and decrease inflammation, making for a calmer, more regular digestive tract overall.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are being touted as another way to help food break down and get additional absorption of nutrients from your food, but I’m somewhat on the fence about whether or not they’re appropriate and haven’t taken them personally. This article from diet-vs-disease, a trusted site I rely on for my FODMAP diet information, seems pretty wary of it. But other health bloggers and advocates, including some doctors, are in favor of using digestive enzymes to increase stomach acid production in people with gastrointestinal disorders like GP.

Before your body can absorb nutrition from food, it must be broken down. Consuming digestive enzymes prior to a meal could potentially assist in the process and reduce symptoms like reflux, gas, and bloating. It makes sense in theory, but there are few tests to back them up. If you do decide to supplement digestive enzymes, it’s important that you choose a digestive enzyme without any fillers that may be hard on your stomach. According to Gastroparesis Natural Treatment, one such enzyme is Betaine HCI, which increases stomach acid. Choosing a Betaine supplement with pepsin is best, as most people with GP are low in both.

Increasing Motility and Curbing Nausea

One very unpleasant side effect of low motility is the nausea that comes along with it when gastric emptying slows. There are a number of herbs that can help. Not surprisingly, many of the herbs which combat nausea also increase gastric emptying.

Peppermint is an excellent antiemetic that also improves motility. I find it works best with a little sugar and usually use Red Bird peppermint puffs or Altoids, as these mints contain pure peppermint oil and sugar both without too many other ingredients. One mint usually gets me 20-30 minutes of nausea relief. You can also chew directly on mint leaf, drink mint tea or get mint oil. If you go this route, you should consume it with food, as it can cause heart burn. This is why I usually use mints. With their accompanying sugar, I don’t have to try to eat anything on top of it to avoid heart burn.

Stinging Nettle Tea is great at relieving nausea and acts as a mild anti-inflammatory. Since it also works well for heart burn and provides some mild pain relief, it’s a good option for daily use provided there are no contraindications for its use.

Ginger is another herb which works well for nausea. It’s also been proven to promote gastric emptying and motility. In addition to these great benefits, it works well on muscle pain when taken regularly and has anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful in arthritis. It’s even been shown in a small study to lower blood sugar. It’s best if eaten with meals or drank as a tea 2-3 times a day.

Triphala, while not known to curb nausea, has been proven in studies to help with constipation and promote appetite. It actually performed better than Reglan (metoclopramide) for gastric emptying. I have not taken this supplement personally, but I plan to try it.

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Stimulating the Vagus Nerve to Improve GP

vagus-nerve-function-and-the-stomach

The vagus nerve is a fibrous network that runs from your brain throughout the body’s core. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • In the brain, the vagus helps control anxiety and depression.
  • In the gut, it increases stomach acidity, digestive juices, and gut flow.
  • In the heart, it controls heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • In the liver and pancreas, it helps controls glucose store and balance
  • In the gallbladder, it helps release bile, which can help you get rid of toxins and break down fat.

It isn’t hard to see why gastroparesis tends to run concurrently with a variety of other health conditions. There are many ways to help stimulate the vagus nerve to improve function. The goal is to relieve stress and encourage relaxation. Therefore things like massage, meditation, yoga and deep, controlled breathing exercises are all high on the list of things recommended to stimulate the vagus nerve. Even singing, chanting, and laughing can have a positive effect on vagal tone. The vibration of the vocal chords helps to stimulate our organs and the vagus nerve. So go ahead, sing in the shower, laugh with friends, watch those comedies. It’s good medicine!

Another great technique for stimulating the vagus nerve is to shut off the hot water mid-shower, dousing yourself with cold water and shocking the system. Studies show that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight or flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system increases – and this is all mediated by the vagus nerve. Even drinking cold water or splashing some on your face may be enough to stimulate the vagus nerve. However, I find the cold shower technique to be more effective and found some improvement to my heat intolerance and other symptoms of dysautonomia.

Probiotics are also good for the vagus nerve. Studies show that animals supplemented with L. rhamnosus experienced various positive changes in GABA (calming) receptors that were mediated by the vagus nerve.

In several small studies, acupuncture has shown that it may provide benefit in gastroparesis. One short-term placebo-controlled randomized study that included 19 patients with diabetic gastroparesis suggested improvement in overall symptoms including fullness and bloating (IFFGD). I haven’t tried acupuncture personally, but it makes sense that if massage works to stimulate the vagus nerve, so too would acupuncture.

Things Every Person with GP Should Consider

In addition to working with your pharmacist to clean up your medication list, you should also consult with a dietician. They can help you to manage the FODMAP diet and any other dietary restrictions you may have and help you decide what vitamins and minerals to supplement. It is possible to do these things on your own and there are plenty of resources out there to be had, but these things rarely replace the knowledge of a trained professional. A naturopathic doctor or pharmacist could also help you decide which supplements are right for you and might even be able to help suggest other supplements not included here.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while medications can sometimes offer great relief, they can also be unreliable and have unforeseen consequences. Doctors are in the business of pills and procedures and sometimes these things are both necessary and helpful, but it can be used in cooperation with naturopathic medicine and every day common sense solutions. Often, using a combination of the two seemingly opposed methods of healing yields the most beneficial outcomes for patients.

Finally, the things on this list I consider most essential to gastroparesis care are reviewing your medications, adapting the diet, taking probiotics and a low FODMAP fiber supplement, increasing motility, and stimulating the vagus nerve. Everything else is dependent on your specific symptoms and can help improve the overall quality of life for people who have gastroparesis.

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Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis

This was the first article in the series I wrote for Gastroparesis Awareness Month at the Unchargeables.  I have reprinted it here with their permission. The orginal can be accessed here.


August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month. Gastroparesis is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects the stomach’s ability to digest and pass food.

I want to discuss some of the many ways one can improve gut motility naturally. While there is plenty out there about medical interventions for gastroparesis, there’s not a great deal available about how to treat the symptoms of gastroparesis using naturopathic or holistic modalities. Despite the lack of copious information, there are a variety of simple things a person can do to improve motility and get relief from mild to moderate symptoms, many of which I employ myself.

In this two part series, we’ll first discuss how changes in diet and medications can help. The second article will cover supplements that promote motility and mediate other symptoms, along with ways to stimulate the vagus nerve for improved gastric flow.

There are many medications that can be prescribed for gastroparesis. A lot come with unpleasant side effects and are only meant to be used short term, while others are only effective for a short period of time. There are a number of easy, natural remedies that can help, some of which you probably already have on hand. Diet and exercise also play an important role in managing the condition. Most people with gastroparesis lose the ability to digest certain kinds of foods which should be avoided. Additionally, avoiding things like smoking and alcohol can improve slow gastric emptying and gut motility.

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What is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis (GP) is a condition that affects the normal movement of muscles in your stomach, causing delayed gastric emptying. GP is believed to be caused by damage to the nerve that controls the stomach’s muscles, the vagus nerve. In some patients, damage to the vagus nerve has been documented.

Symptoms of Gastropareis

In its early stages, GP can also be referred to as dyspepsia. Some people with gastroparesis experience few symptoms, while others are plagued by severe symptoms. Some researchers have proposed a classification system for GP, ranging from mild, or grade 1, to severe, or grade 3.

This dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors, such as neuropathy, post-surgical complications, medications that cause delayed gastric emptying such as opioids, viral gastroenteritis, nervous system disorders (e.g., Parkinson’s), collagen disorders (e.g., EDS/HSD), connective tissue diseases (e.g., RA, lupus), metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes and hypothyroidism), anorexia nervosa and bulimia, chronic liver or renal failure, and chronic pancreatitis. Gastroparesis may also be induced by medications, associated with total parenteral nutrition, or related to bone marrow and other organ transplants. Additional causes include paraneoplastic syndrome, mitochondrial disorders, visceral neuropathies (e.g., Guillain-Barre syndrome), and visceral myopathies (e.g., systemic scleroderma).

“Reports from one tertiary referral center found that out of their 146 patients with gastroparesis: 36% were idiopathic (unknown causes), 29% were diabetic, 13% were post-surgical, 7.5% had Parkinson’s disease and 4.8% had collagen diseases (NORD).”

While there is no cure for gastroparesis, some recovery of function and improvement of symptoms is sometimes possible after successful treatment. While I have to watch what I eat carefully and treat my symptoms regularly, I have improved my motility significantly using the strategies outlined below.

Gastroparesis and Medications

One of the simplest ways to improve gut motility is to eliminate or replace any medications you are taking which slow motility or have an anticholinergic effect, if at all possible. The best way to accomplish this is to consult with your pharmacist about the medications you are currently taking and see if they can recommend alternatives for any that are suspect. If you choose, you can often find natural supplements that are just as effective, but don’t have an anticholinergic effect. Popular medications that slow digestion include most gastrointestinal agents including proton pump inhibitors and antacids, antiemetics (e.g., promethazine), and anti-diarrheals; tricyclic antidepressants and other psych meds, opioids, some heart medications, and more (see a full list here).

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Gastroparesis and Diet

The best place to start when attempting to improve motility is a modified diet. Modifying the diet to eliminate anything the digestive system no longer processes is essential to helping your stomach run smoothly again.

The Problem with Carbohydrates

Often people with GP lose the ability to process certain carbohydrates. The FODMAP diet, designed by researchers at Monash University, was created specifically for this reason. It is used for people with a variety of gastric disorders. The FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that helps you test various carbohydrates to see how your body reacts to them after a period of going without them. If you still react poorly to them after going without for the specified time period, then you need to eliminate them from your diet.

The lactose carbohydrate found in dairy is usually particularly hard on people with GP. But often they have difficulty processing a variety of carbohydrates, such as fructans (i.e., onion and garlic), polyols (i.e., stone fruits, berries, and artificial sweeteners such as xylitol and sorbitol) and other high fiber fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.

It’s difficult to glean just what is causing your stomach upset when there may be multiple culprits. The FODMAP diet may seem complicated, but in the end, it really simplifies things by putting into place a system of checks and balances where you test one kind of carbohydrate at a time. The diet can be very limited during the elimination and testing phases and can end up being quite limiting long term for people with gastroparesis. But the pay-offs in how you feel without the delayed gastric emptying, nausea, pain, bloating, gas, and pseudo-blockages are more than worth it.

Avoiding High-Fat Foods

People with gastroparesis often need to avoid high fat foods for the same reason. The doctor recommendations I’ve found is a total fat intake under 40 grams per day for gastroparesis patients (Arnold Wald, MD), but I find the kind of fat matters. For instance, I can eat high fat nuts with little problem, like peanuts and almonds, and seem to enjoy as much nut oil as I’d like. But I don’t process animal fats well and have had to cut out things like ribs, chuck roasts, and even burgers sometimes give me a bit of trouble.

Those Vexing Vegetables!

You may find that you can also no longer process a lot of raw vegetables or undercooked meats, like steak. Sadly, while these usually offer more nutritional value, they are harder for the stomach to process and may slow digestion. Instead, I tend to cook most of my meat in a slow cooker or roast until it’s fall apart tender. This helps me to digest it more easily. Using leaner cut roasts, such as bottom or top round instead of the traditional fatty chuck roast, keeps it lean enough that I avoid upset from fats.

With fresh vegetables, you will generally find the higher the insoluble fiber content, the harder it is to process them, raw or cooked. There are handy cheat sheets to help if you utilize the FODMAP diet.

No matter what you eat, you should always be paying attention to how it makes you feel. Your body will tell you when something is wrong. You just need to learn how to listen to these queues and trust them. I found utilizing the FODMAP diet to be very helpful in this arena. When I first went on it, my stomach was a raging dumpster fire. Eating anything made me feel bad 100% of the time. It wasn’t until I gave my stomach a rest from all the things it could no longer process that these signals became crystal clear and I could tell how my body reacted to things individually.

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The Timing of Eating

How often you eat also matters. Doctors generally recommend several small meals a day, but some people with GP find it’s actually better to eat only once or twice a day, giving their digestive systems plenty of time to process food and rest in between. Personally, I eat a meal in the morning and the rest of my calories in the evening, letting my stomach signal when it’s time. I believe it works because these short periods of fasting give my body plenty of time to digest and reset and I have fewer problems with fluctuations in blood sugar and other symptoms.

I don’t just eat and lay down at night, though. I eat and then do the dishes and pick up around the house, making sure I get some activity in, as it’s recommended for people with GP. Often after my morning meal is when I exercise. However, I prefer to allow my food to digest for 30-45 minutes first to avoid stomach upset if I feel particularly full or nauseous.

Some people swear by smoothies for gastroparesis, as solid foods can become more difficult to process. However: I often question how they are being made. If you process carbohydrates poorly and need to consume less insoluble fiber, I would take great care in choosing ingredients and also question whether or not the raw fruits and vegetables are more likely to cause stomach upset. At this stage, I find cooked, soft solid foods work great for me, but it depends on what grade of gastroparesis you have and what you’re still able to process.

Listen to Your Body!

I can’t caution enough how important it is to listen to your body first. There is no “one size fits all” model for the GP patient. If you are giving your body food it’s unable to process, no other interventions will be as effective or helpful.

Cleaning up medications and modifying your diet to suit what your gastroparesis tummy can still process is paramount to gaining control of the condition. However, there is still work to be done to achieve the best outcomes possible for people with gastroparesis. People with GP often suffer from malnutrition as a result of poor absorption, for example, and need to learn the best ways to supplement their nutrition. Additionally, there are a number of naturally occurring agents that can increase motility, curb nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heart burn and other undesirable symptoms. Learn about them all in Natural Treatments for Gastroparesis: Part Two.

Natural Treatments for GP
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