Beating IBS


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Welcome to the site! This content is old and may not reflect my current opinions. I keep it up mainly for reference and because I hope at least some of it is still good, but I encourage you to check out more recent posts as well as my Start Here page

 Mark Sisson posted a link to a sad essay called IBS Is Why I'm Still Single. Every day I'm able to eat and live normally, I am so grateful. You see, most of my life I had painful stomach problems. When I was four I remember crying in the bathroom. I remember at sleep away camp being too embarrassed to use the communal bathrooms and sneaking out in the middle of the night to the isolated outhouse. It wasn't until I was 15 or so that I was diagnosed with IBS. When I was a freshman in college it became so disruptive to my life that I was finally given Librax. At that point I was also on quite a bit of asthma medication. Then I started having serious heartburn. I went on proton pump inhibitors. At my low point I was on Allergra, Advair, Singulair, Albuterol, Librax, Nexium (Prilosec stopped working at some point), and continuously on and off antibiotics for various ailments ranging from yeast to sinus infections. I was miserable. I missed most of my classes. 

The single part of that essay hit home because I remember my first Valentine's day with my first boyfriend. We had a delicious meal, but soon after I was bent double with incredible pain and spent most of the night in the bathroom. I didn't think I'd be able to do anything. 

I honestly thought that my condition was caused by eating fat, tomatoes, and peppers. The handouts my doctor gave me insinuated as much. I really didn't like all the side effects of the medications I was on, but when I complained to one of my doctors he said I'd on them for the rest of my life. I tried all kinds of high-fiber low-fat veg*n diets to no avail. 

I didn't want to live like this. But all the sudden my condition took a turn for the worst. I felt like my whole body was falling apart. One day I collapsed in the hallway of the dorm. I was diagnosed at the hospital with chronic salmonella. That's not something a 19 year old should have. Afterwards I had trouble with constant burping.

I vowed to do more research and found a small study on GERD and low carbohydrate diets. I also discovered Evolutionary Nutrition on Art De Vany's site through the blog Marginal Revolution. I learned about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and wondered if my symptoms were caused by bacterial overgrowth. My first attempts to get off my medicines didn't work. I tried to eat low-carb in the dining hall, but I guess the foods had too much crap on them. Luckily, I took summer school and lived dining-hall free in graduate student housing, though my "kitchen" had only a microwave. Looking back, my diet wasn't all that great. I didn't know that much about cooking and nothing about meat. The first meat I bought was some sausage, which I tried to cook in the microwave only to get a massive bowl of exploding grease. Gross. I had to eat out a lot, but stayed mostly paleo and very low carb. I tried lots of remedies like probiotics and drinking apple cider vinegar after each meal. I started drinking kombucha. I read everything I could get my hands on about traditional nutrition. It seemed clear my illness was a modern disease. 

I had a goal in mind: as a freshman I had tried spicy food for the first time and learned to love it, but I had thought it was causing all my problems. When it was clear that this was a secondary problem to the inflammation and dysbiosis, I decided to make eating it without pain a goal. I didn't reach that goal until six months into the regimen, but I've been eating delicious curries without incident ever since. 

I've also been able to travel extensively without incident, something I thought I'd never do. 

Unfortunately I still had some residual IBS issues. I realized a year ago that I was going to have to let go of beer and gluten-containing cheat meals. The IBS has been gone ever since, but I really do miss some of those foods. 

So basically the principals I went on were that bacteria was at the root of most of my problems. Being born by C-section, a low-nutrient diet, and constant antibiotic use had put my gut ecology into an imbalanced state. Probably some of my medications made it worse, like Prilosec/Nexium, which is known to allow bacterial overgrowth. My principles were to first starve out the bad bacteria, which was inspired a bit by Hyperlipid, and then gradually try to balance the gut through gentle traditional probiotic and nutrient-rich foods. I suspect I had both hypochlorhydria and small-bacterial overgrowth, which was why I was so excited by the paper I just blogged about

I'm still quite fiber-intolerant. I can't really do brown rice, quinoa, or many other fiber-rich grains. But I am able to eat a fair amount of carbs, which I'm happy with. As an aside, even some in the alternative health community are very wrong about IBS. Giving up simple sugar will do nothing, as they are digested in the small intestine, which is a point made by the SCD diet. It's the complex sugars that cause the problems in the lower intestine. 

As for romance, duh it's easier when you aren't a miserable gas-filled bloated cramped up woman who alternates between diarrhea and constipation (with hemorrhoids) every two days... 

So when people say paleo or traditional foods are trivial, I'm just happy I can live a relatively normal life thanks to them. So I thank these things for my good health

  • High fat
  • Low carb
  • Probiotics
  • Acidic foods like pickles, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar that helped make up for my low stomach acid
  • Traditional foods
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Gluten-free