In order for you, my readers, to grasp a better understanding of the reasons for this blog, I feel I should start at the beginning. As long as I can remember I have had issues with my gut. And in issues I mean pain, bloating, gas and cramps. It felt like a knife jabbing me in my gut, my stomach swelled out and standing up straight was very painful. In fact I would get pain that radiated all the way to my right clavicle bone. When I was a child I would lay down on my bed and rub my stomach and wait for the pain to pass-literally! And here’s the kicker: I thought it was normal! I thought everyone experienced that after eating so I never said anything to anyone.
I knew, even as a child, that deep fried foods would set me off. Not really just french fries but heavily coated/breaded items such as onion rings, fried fish and all those yummy things! It wasn’t until nutrition classes in my dental hygiene program in college did I find out that deep fried foods are hard for our bodies to digest, therefore causing negative symptoms in the body. Now, we are learning that only certain oils (which we will discuss at a later time), when used at high temperatures, break down the chemistry of the oil, causing it to become something the body cannot recognize and break down as readily-thus translating into the symptoms I was experiencing.
Ok, let’s fast forward a few years here. Life was pretty normal for a while. I just got used to how foods made me felt and would avoid them (sometimes) or just take antacids if symptoms occurred. I would go out to dinner with friends or sit in class after lunch and feel the rumbling and hold back the gas, which would cause more awful cramping! I went to doctor after doctor to no avail.
Then I had kids. It wasn’t until after I had my first child that I gained a new symptom, constipation. I swore when my child was in utero he was tying up my intestines! So now I didn’t feel great AND I had constipation. Now back to the doctor! This time they did tell me something-and some of you may have heard this before-EAT MORE FIBER! Agggg, really?? I was one of the healthiest eaters I knew and STILL I had to EAT MORE FIBER?? I felt like asking them if I should chop down a tree and start gnawing!
A few years later, I went out to eat with my husband and we shared the sampler platter of pasta at the local Macaroni Grill. The next day I was in so much pain I though there was something wrong with my gall badder or my kidneys. My stomach hurt yes, but it was my lower back that ached terribly. I went into the radiologist to check my gall bladder the next day and it was, of course, negative. Whew! Ok, that was it!
Sick of my ever growing symptoms, I returned yet again to another doctor, this time a gastroenterologist. Aha! A specialist! Now I will get some answers! Unfortunately, it was not the answer I was looking for. Stop eating GLUTEN! WHAT? What the heck is gluten?? At that time that word was at the cusp of it becoming a mainstay in our english language. Ask a person what gluten was a hundred years ago and they would look at you funny and say, “Uh, what’s gluten? I don’t know what you are taking about! Why, that’s just bread, my friend!”
I did some research, yet again, given only tidbits of information, and left to fend for myself. But I can’t say I blame the doctors, they only knew as much as the research had discovered up to that point. And with anything in nutrition, it is an ever learning, ever changing field of information!
So I guess that brings me to about a year ago (and 2 more kids later) that I was still having a lot of symptoms-even after avoiding gluten. I tried to do it on my own by adhering to the confines of the Blood-Type Diet by James D’Adamo-which helped somewhat but restricted me even more. Finally, after still experiencing symptoms, and instead of trying to do it on my own, I decided to seek the guidance of a nutritionist in a holistic practice.
Among other things, my nutritionist told me to go back to the gastroenterologist (REALLY??) and get a SIBO test. I returned to the gastro MD-a new one this time- and I didn’t hold back! I had a notebook sheet of paper filled top to bottom with a laundry list of symptoms. After I read it off to him, which he so patiently waited through, he just shook his head. What? Is that all the reaction I get?? But it was what he did next that blew me away. He asked me to sit on the examining table. He took my hands and looked at my fingers. “Do you have Raynaud’s?” was what he asked. What? Why was a gastroenterologist asking about my circulatory disorder?
What he told me opened my eyes for the first time. He explained that he believed that autoimmune disorders (like Raynaud’s disease) stems from a disorder in the gut, or rather what happens when the fluid from our gut leaks into our body-leaky gut. Since our gut controls our immune system and our hormones (didn’t know that either) there could be a lot more going on than just avoiding gluten. He then sent me home with a kit to test if I had SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). He said this could be causing a lot of my symptoms of bloating (I always looked like I was 5 months pregnant after eating!) and pain.
I went home and took the SIBO breath test (you breathe into test tubes every twenty minutes for a couple of hours after fasting all night) and low and behold I tested high in methane gas. Now the gut produces 2 gases: hydrogen and methane. Since I only tested high in methane, that told us a couple of things, 1) yes, I had an overgrowth of bacteria in my gut and 2) methane producers have IBS-C, which stands for constipation-BINGO! Those, however, who test high in hydrogen gas are usually IBS-D (for diarrhea) and those who test high in both gases usually have IBS-M (both, diarrhea and constipation).
So now what?? I returned to my nutritionist for the next step. I wasn’t interested in jumping into the antibiotic regimen the gastroenterologist prescribed right away so I decided to try it with food and supplementation instead. She gave me a list of supplements and a food program called the FODMAP diet (which stands for fermentable Oligo-saccharides Di-saccharides Mono-saccharides and Polyols-no wonder they abbreviate!) which was actually code for more restrictions!
But in true Jill form I followed it down to every last word. I cut the grains and the milk products and the highly fermentable (foods that don’t break down enough naturally in the gut with our own enzymes therefore causing more bacteria to populate to break it down for us) fruits and veggies…and SUGAR! AHHHH!
I will be honest with you, the last year has been really stressful. I have felt several times like a science experiment not knowing if it was this, or that that set me off, or if I didn’t wait long enough between meals, or if it was too many almonds, or did I not cook that veggie down enough??…And the denial of the yummy things in life can get to you mentally, I won’t deny that!
All in all, I hope you will rely on this blog as a support system for your journey! It has not be an easy process for me and I continue to have my ups and downs (and will probably continue to the rest of my life) but what keeps me motivated is knowing that I can prevent any further illnesses or damage done to my gut in the future.
And so, I will take what I have told you of my experience and break it down in an easy to follow guide. The one thing you can do is to not become overwhelmed. Easier said than done right?? Just like me, I had to take it one step at a time. It should unfold in front of you slowly so you are not scared off. A wise person once told me “Oh, Jill, you can get used to anything!” This is a lifestyle change, that’s for sure, but I promise you, it will be WORTH IT!
See you at our next blog where I will delve more into defining IBS and SIBO. Have a wonderful, healthy day!