Ever been asked the question how long have you had GI problems and realize to your dismay (or horror), that they’ve been going on for quite a while…. Maybe 30 years or so give or take a decade. In the back of your mind you may think “why have I never really confronted an issue that I’ve had for so long yet have devoted so much energy to it”. Maybe you’ve been spending years avoiding certain foods, trying to lose weight, battling headaches, constipation, insomnia, diarrhea, stinky (in a fermented road-kill kind of way) gas. Maybe you’ve lost egregious amounts of weight unwittingly only to get the blanket diagnosis of “IBS”. Possibly after you had kids, your weight never “bounced” back and it has been a struggle ever since.
Twenty (something) years ago I was curled up into a ball on my college room bed only to show up at the emergency room hours later where they proudly announced that I must have torn a ligament while doing sit ups at some point over the last month. Um, because I was 20, I must have been doing calisthenics all day? Or during an intense high school gym reminiscence ceremony, I arduously did 100 crunches followed by 30 push-ups and 10 pull-ups (NOT!)?
Three months later I received the ominous IBS diagnosis and adopted a high fiber diet with plenty of water and exercise. All was “good” more or less until my pregnancies. Both pregnancies were fun, happy, farty times although tinged with excessive candida problems so bad that after daughter number two, we both wound up with thrush. When my second daughter turned one, my first daughter and I developed full body rashes everywhere in reaction to anything – even exercise. She developed large dark circles under her eyes and would throw herself on the floor in a wild fury with little provocation.
The dogma we sought from our insurance covered medical doctors was a bust although the pediatrician was perceptive enough to refer us to a naturopathic doctor (ND). One visit to a ND…led to an uprising of sorts. Not satisfied with buying tons of supplements or just one, I realized quickly we needed comprehensive care. What were our nutritional needs? What funk was growing in our intestines? What foods are we reacting to? What the heck should we eat to get better (well, I could at least figure that one out!)? My quest not only led us to multiple practitioners but near-obsessive research on my part. I put together the pieces, gradually and on my own. I went into pregnancy terribly mercury toxic (over 30 years with 30+ amalgam-mercury fillings). and wound up with an opportunistic parasite called Blastocystis Hominis which made me unable to tolerate gluten, soy, and sugar (at that point I knew I already could not handle dairy). My first daughter had all of the same issues in tandem with me. As we were a vegetarian family, her leaky gut compromised her absorption of nutrients. Following advice from an integrative MD, we started eating meat.
A few years into a meat-based diet, I hadn’t realized how the bad bacteria I had from so many courses of antibiotics had affected my hydrochloric acid production so I developed small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as a consequence. I initially followed a near-elimination diet for a few years and took herbs on and off to control it. I never noticed any genuine improvement although admittedly, I wasn’t exactly dogged about following a specific treatment regimen.
Ultimately, I found that whatever I did diet-wise or with herbals, SIBO was always there. Protesting when I ate more than 2 pieces of watermelon. Often presenting me with a 6-month prego-like abdominal protrusion – usually starting in the early evening. I caved to the purported wonders of Rifaximin and combined with the Biocidin SIBO protocol (I was a methane + hydrogen producer). I thought I was being slick, clever and doggedly determine to kill the dastardly devils trespassing in my small intestine. Surprise! My kill therapy worsened my numbers in what my then ND called “pissed off methanogen syndrome.” As a bonus, my digestion sank further. I complained not regularly but obsessively and profusely after eating anything. I felt like a failed wreck.
As SIBO commands a warrior-like mentality, I mentally trained for another course of diet and kill therapy – this time using all herbals. My (new) ND recommended a 60-day course, as this would surely kill the beasts. Once again in obsessive mode, I followed the diet and regimen to a T only to feel worse afterwards. I had been drinking a special concoction (tea) that my acupuncturist had given me and I swore that this was inciting the SIBO bugs which led me to believe I had failed miserably on my 2nd round of treatment.
Convinced I had sabotaged my second round, I had embarked on a third round of herbals that I decided to do for another 45-60 days. Exasperated, I had to stop on day 22. Unable to sleep at night and freaked over a snow-white tongue, I could barely function. My digestion had sunk to an all time low (for me). I developed an asthma-like condition that had me coughing after every meal. Digestive aids didn’t seem to do squat and my belly would blow up after everything. My gas seemed to be emitted from a Jabba-the-Hut after an egg + broccoli topped pizza fest. My guts, I concluded, were not only wrong – they were dying.
Many cases of SIBO, I realized have their origins in large intestinal dysbiosis, which can come from antibiotics, heavy metal toxicity, pathogen overload, stress, nutritional deficiencies and other toxins/stress to the system. Dysbiosis in the large intestine radiates upward to the small intestine. In may case, the SIBO was thriving due to an ongoing heavy metal load in my intestines as well as an excess of bad bacteria. You can look at your own stool test (comprehensive stool testing is best) and see what kind of bugs you have growing. You may see streptococcus and E. coli at 3 or 4+ levels but it may also say NP (non pathogen). It could be extrapolated that these bacteria can also be in your small intestine causing havoc. Bad bacteria have many consequences and cause a lot of inflammation to the sensitive nerves in your GI tract.
It is my current belief that SIBO is conquerable however it takes a multifaceted approach. Yes, it takes plenty of time – sometimes up to 2 years. If you only tackle only some of your issues without addressing another, you may not have success. If you do not address creating normal hydrochloric acid output, then you will not succeed. Some people experience rapid improvements in digestion with a friendly flora + prebiotic plan however others will struggle. With the struggle, you have to tease out the different reasons for what can be bringing someone down. Is there a virus involved? Nutritional deficiency? Metals? High inflammation in the gut? A skilled practitioner can address these possibilities by taking the time to look for them and in asking the right questions.
The content provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice. Tammy Russell, MS, RD, LD takes no responsibility for consequences from any treatment, procedure, dietary modification, exercise, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained on this website.