Tummy Trouble? Food Sensitivities? It might be SIBO.
While I've always had a sensitivity to dairy products, I've recently been struggling with a host of newly developed food sensitivities. The list of things I could eat without experiencing a host of gastro-intestinal and inflammation issues was growing smaller and smaller. Additionally, I've suffered from fibromyalgia for years, and certain foods - like dairy and gluten - seemed to make it worse.
In 2007 our family went through the harrowing experience of almost losing our infant daughter. She was born with a rare disease that required her to have a liver transplant to save her life. While she survived, our emotional well-being was significantly impacted by the traumatic experience, and the continued trauma of frequent hospitalizations, testing, and inevitable fall-out from immunosuppressive medications. She has an increased risk of contracting illness and infection, and a much more difficult time recovering - often requiring hospitalizations, chemotherapy drugs, and blood transfusions.
In the years following, we suffered from symptoms of trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and panic disorders. Little did I know that my tummy woes and fibromyalgia might be linked to this, as well. Indeed, they manifested coinciding with the years of intense, chronic stress we endured.
Recently, while speaking to a friend about these issues, she brought up the possibility of SIBO - Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. SIBO can be caused by a host of things, like abdominal surgery, but it can also be caused by stress. Among the symptoms: food sensitivities, inflammation, and fibromyalgia (though there is a long laundry list of other symptoms you can explore here).
The overgrowth of bacteria in the gut can destroy the microvilli that line the gut, making it difficult to digest and absorb nutrients properly. This can lead to all kinds of malabsorption issues and nutritional deficiencies. It can also lead to dysfunction of the immune system. You can read more about that here.
After speaking to a doctor, I decided to go on a low FODMAP diet for 4 weeks to see if my symptoms improved. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates found in certain foods that feed gut bacteria. Common FODMAP rich foods include wheat, beans, dairy, and certain fruits and vegetables.
I had already been forced to cut wheat and dairy from my diet, but it was difficult at first to find foods I could eat as the diet itself is so restrictive. My diet is usually heavy on things like legumes, avocados, apples, almonds... none of which I could eat on this new diet. Luckily I like kale because I could eat as much of that as I wanted. I downloaded an app to my phone to help me identify which foods were safe.
Most of my diet for the last four weeks has consisted of a banana and peanut butter smoothie or an egg and papaya for breakfast. A rice cake with peanut butter and fruit or a kale salad for lunch, and grilled chicken or fish with rice for dinner. No wine. To be honest I think that was the hardest part and, after a particularly stressful day, I would cheat and have a small glass.
Four weeks later and I have noticed a huge change. My tummy woes have all but disappeared. My body doesn't ache and I don't feel fatigued all the time. Something I had just gotten used to. I lost a couple of inches of stubborn body-fat around my mid-section that I have never been able to purge, even with restricted diets and intensive exercise. My hair stopped falling out in hand-fulls and I swear my skin looks rejuvenated.
The best thing about it? I was able to eat a small piece of pizza the other night with no major side-effects. Something I haven't done in over a year. While I won't be dining on my favorite Italian entrees on the regular, it is nice to know I can occasionally have a treat.
If you think you might have SIBO I definitely recommend talking to your doctor about it and discussing whether or not the low FODMAP diet is safe for you.