I spend a lot of time reading, researching, listening, watching, and telling others how the standard American diet and conventional/industrialized foods are making us sick, but what if you follow the healthiest, natural whole food regime and are still suffering from chronic illness and inflammation? That’s me. Welcome to my life.
In one of my intro posts I talked about how I’ve struggled with digestive problems for a few years now, despite doing everything I can to live a healthy life and to eat an organic whole food diet. I’ve been plagued by constipation, bloating, abdominal pain and irritability and a bunch of other symptoms for years that make eating miserable. I love food, so not being able to eat certain things, or having to restrict my diet has been hard. You can only cut so many (healthy) things from your diet. I’m not talking junk or fast food, I’m talking heathy veggies like onions, garlic, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes. At this point I am wondering, what’s left to eat? Eating feels more like a chore than a source of happiness and fuel for my body to grow and thrive.
I don’t like to get personal in a public forum. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a total introvert, and do not open up to most people easily. But I am trying to be more open by telling my story to those that may be in a similar situation. That’s why I’ve decided to share this post. I got some GI testing done to determine the state of my gut bacteria and microbiomes, and the results were not great.
I won’t get into the specifics of the test or the results, mainly because I barely understand them myself, so I will summarize. The good news is that I had no indicators of infection and my pancreas is functioning properly. The not so good news? My gut bacteria shows signs of inflammation and gut imbalances.
In terms of digestion and absorption, I was protein deficient. So much so that the lab doctor wrote in “vegan?” because this is typically common in people that don’t eat meat (makes sense). I won’t go as far as to blame my veganism on all of my current digestive issues, but I do believe that it was a strong contributing factor. Not consuming sufficient amounts of protein for 3 years has to have played some role in this.
In terms of gastrointestinal microbiome, I was severely low in short-chain fatty acids (specifically acetate, propionate and moderately low in n-Butyrate concentration). I was also low in beta-glucuronidase. I was also on the low spectrum for important gut flora like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus.
In laymens terms: I need more broad spectrum probiotics…. a lot more! I’ve taken (and was taking) probiotic supplements, but apparently not enough.
Lastly, I was low inZonulin, which is an indicator of possibly autoimmune disease, and is the key culprit of leaky gut syndrome.
I am still trying to digest (food puns) the findings, but essentially, I’ve been “officially” diagnosed by my current doctor with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO)and “tentatively” diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and mood disorder. Yikes, right? I suspected I’ve had some form of IBS for some time now, so this is no surprise.
I’ve heard of SIBO before but to be honest, I didn’t know exactly what it was. So, I turned to my doctor and other internet experts for help. In simple terms, SIBO occurs when gut bacteria from your large intestine overgrow, and start to invade your small intestine. And they DON’T belong there.
This causes a variety of problems, including bloating, abdominal pain/discomfort, constipation/diarrhea, gas/burping, and sometimes weight loss.
Check those off the list of all the symptoms I’ve been experiencing for a long time now. And while SIBO is fairly complex to diagnose and to understand the original causes, one of the biggest contributing risk factors for developing it is IBS. Studies suggest that between 6-15 percent of healthy, asymptomatic people have SIBO and 80 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have SIBO.
Sadly, a large majority of the population goes mis or undiagnosed for SIBO either because people don’t visit a doctor for help or because doctor’s don’t yet understand how common it is.
The good news is that it is reversible and there are two main ways to overcome SIBO: antibiotics and a mix of a healthy diet and herbal supplements that starve the bacteria and create a hostile environment to make it impossible for them to live. My doctor and I have decided to go with the second option and force the bacteria to die off.
It’s hard to understand IBS because even the doctors don’t yet quite have the answers themselves. It’s not a clear cut disease like Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS), which includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, but instead, is a series of symptoms that affect the colon and digestive tract. There can be certain food triggers and symptoms can range from a few hours to a few days.
The most common symptoms include: cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, constipation and diarrheaUnfortunately, there is no cure for IBS, only treatments and home remedies to relieve symptoms. For example, if you know what foods trigger it, then avoid those (usually spicy foods), exercise regularly, eat smaller meals, reduce stress, take probiotic supplements and I didn’t know this one, but avoid caffeine, which triggers the intestinal tract.
There over 80 known autoimmune diseases, and about 14 widely recognized ones today. An AD is when your immune system starts attacking the good cells in your body. You can be born with it (congenital) or develop it over time. The second one is most likely what happened to me. My body has spent years inflamed and that means that my immune system has been working overtime to fight off bad bacteria, and eventually, it started to attack itself.
False positives are common, so there’s a chance that I don’t actually have an autoimmune disease. I need additional blood tests to determine if I truly do have an AD, and what disease that might be. If I had to make an educated guess, I would say it’s a hormone/thyroid-related one like Hashimoto’s.
Again, treatments don’t cure an autoimmune disease, but they help you control your overactive immune system. You can take medications like over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen, Advil/Motrin) to reduce swelling in the body, and regular exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way to help as well.
Typical mood disorders typically refer to depression and bipolar disorder, but can also loosely define things like anxiety. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are many contributing factors to mood disorders and they are likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Life events (such as stressful life changes) may also contribute to a depressed mood. It also is hereditary, meaning it runs in families.
I have long struggled with anxiety and stress, and I know that this severely affects not just my mental health and happiness, but also my digestion and gut. The gut is said to be our “second brain” and we have more bacteria in our gut than we do cells in our body. There is a strong connection between brain and body and when one is off, the other feels the effects. It’s a vicious, interconnected cycle that I can’t seem to break.
I am still internalizing and processing everything, but I feel both relieved and worried. First and foremost, it does feel good to finally have some answers. I’ve been mis-diagnosed a few times, so to finally have found a doctor that I like and trust is a good feeling. And to have some answers to long lingering questions is settling. But hearing things like autoimmune disease and mood disorders is frightening. Now, I have not technically been diagnosed with any specific disease or disorder, I will need further testing, so I am trying to stay positive.
The best thing I can do now is follow the healing regiment my doctor put me on to cure me of SIBO, and in a month, go back for blood tests to determine if an AD is present.
I am very thankful for my current health, the support of my friends and family, and especially my boyfriend who has been so great throughout all of this. I may be misunderstood by coworkers, acquaintances or strangers, but I know I can always turn to those who know, love (and try) to understand me. Despite the urge to bottle it all up until I become a tightly wound ball of nerves and anxiety, I don’t have to suffer through this alone. I am surrounded by people who love me and care about me and want to help me. Now I just need to believe in those words because the truth is we all need somebody to lean on, even us introverts 🙂
I also think this is a good reminder to be sensitive to the people you encounter. You don’t know what their story is. Despite how we portray ourselves on social media, we all have secrets, and daily battles we are fighting no matter how big or small. This is just a piece of my overall story, it doesn’t define me. Hopefully, it will make me stronger.
I’ll share more as my recovery progresses and as I learn more about my conditions. Thanks for taking the time to follow my journey.