About seven years ago William went overseas with me for the very first time. We were headed to the Solomon Islands to visit my family (they owned a business there during this period). Unfortunately Will experienced chronic food poisoning within the first couple of days. This is basically where his health saga started. We have been in and out of doctors, specialists, dieticians, naturopaths... the list goes on, with no idea what was wrong or why he continued to experience symptoms. We completed multiple tests (blood, parasite, breath tests, colonoscopies etc.) with no results and not much guidance. Majority of doctors would palm us off and basically say "I'm not that knowledgeable in that field, but I think you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This was beyond frustrating especially as Will didn't even experience 90% of IBS symptoms, he didn’t have a problem with toilet duties (bowel movements) and he did not experience gassiness. What we have learnt over the years is that a lot of medical practitioners have not actually been exposed or taught about food, diet, or stomach/bowel complications, there is very minimal science, testing or research in this field and a lot of the information you receive is quite new. Unfortunately a lot of victims who are experiencing stomach and bowel problems will likely be immediately placed in the "you have IBS" pile.
After our one hundredth visit to the doctors (slight over exaggeration, only slightly though) and being told Will had IBS we were advised to be on the Low Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols Diet. You’re probably thinking, what the hell was that all about? It’s short for Low FODMAPS Diet, FODMAPs are essentially a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that ferment in the stomach due to lack of absorption in the gut. This is what causes victims to experience symptoms. While on the topic of IBS even though William didn’t/doesn’t have IBS – it’s a syndrome that is quite common. According to the Monash University, 15% of the world’s population are affected by IBS. I have a couple of close friends who have to deal with this syndrome and struggle with it everyday.
After a couple of years of doing the Low FOMAPs Diet we were able to see a slight difference in Wills symptoms, he was no longer experiencing as many, however, the problem was still present and not fixed. We didn’t want to forever be constrained to certain foods anymore and Will really wanted to know the underlying issue and answer. To be honest I have no idea how Will stayed with me during this time as for those of you who know me, know that I am a huge foodie and literally eating is one of my hobbies. Anyway, so after two years of changing his diet to accommodate the Low FODMAPs we decided to stop and continue researching for another possible diagnosis. Before I continue though, if you do have IBS, I highly recommend downloading the Monash University FODMAP Diet App for $7.99 (I know that’s pretty expensive for an app but trust me this was our bible when dealing and preparing foods). I will be writing some posts in the future on some of the recipes I came up with during the two years so that Will didn’t lose his mind when eating this restricted diet. So hopefully that can help anyone who is dealing with this at the moment! The Low FODMAP Diet is a god send when trying to reduce bowel symptoms, it’s also a great way to figure out which specific food groups react badly and what to avoid.
William and I have spent countless hours on the World Wide Web, trying to find case studies, research articles, science journals, blogs and everything else in between for an answer to his problem. It wasn’t until twenty seventeen while sitting on our couch in our new home that we stumbled upon a forum filled with a handful of people, that we got the ‘uh huh’ feeling. We read through each person’s list of symptoms and surprisingly William could 100% relate. I remember thinking ‘tick, tick, tick… this is Will to a T’. We read the diagnosis… ‘SIBO’ and had never heard of it. We both sat silently and typed away in our web browsers to find more information and instantly had a gut feeling (pun intended) that this was it. It took us about a week before we started contacting specialists who dealt specifically with SIBO and organised an appointment with a certified dietician to arrange to do tests ASAP.
After completing various examinations and doing the lactulose breath tests we waited patiently for the results. When we walked into the patient room I clearly remember feeling quite negative and was prepared for the same lines that we heard countless times, “hmmm, sorry guys the results are negative, not sure what you have, possibly IBS, have you tried the Low FODMAPs Diet?”. The outcome was oh so different. The dietician walked straight in waving around the results paper and straight away said “looks like you have a positive result William, you have Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth”. Normally at this point most people would be quite unhappy with a positive result for a health issue, but instantly Will and I looked at each other in absolute relief, we finally had a diagnosis. After 7 years we could finally proceed with the correct treatment. I think our dietician must of thought we were crazy by this point.
For those of you who have not heard of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, it is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine. Basically the bacterium from the colon has moved its way up into the small intestine. The bacteria then disrupt and interfere with digestion therefore damaging the intestine lining which in return can cause autoimmune disorders and leaky gut syndrome (where food particles, bacteria, toxic waste “leak” out of the intestine and into the blood stream). Main symptoms of SIBO include but not limited to abdominal bloating, pain, loud gurgling and rumbling of the bowels, immense discomfort, malabsorption, weight loss, constipation or diarrhoea, fatigue, but put simply a feeling that you are pretty much allergic to the majority of foods you eat everyday, milk, wheat, sugars, fruit, and yes, even certain vegetables.
The only way you can find out whether you have SIBO or not are by measuring the levels of hydrogen and methane in your breath. This test is called the lactulose breath test, I have placed a link at the bottom of this post with the centre we went to, to organise all of this. It’s a pretty time consuming test, it took Will about 3 to 4 hours to complete, and with his high demanding job we were pretty proud of ourselves by managing to squeeze it in at 3AM Monday morning before his work commenced.
We were given two options of treatment.
If you were to take method 1, you would need maybe 1-2 rounds of Rifaxamin, unless you have methane producing bacteria in which case you would take, Neomycin. We did quite a bit of research and although antibiotics are obviously a faster way of killing off the bacteria it also has a faster and more common relapse percentage. I guess this is because the antibiotics are so strong that they hurt the gut lining while eradicate all the bad bacteria as well as the good.
We decided to proceed with number two, the natural way. Our dietician started Will on an 8 Week SIBO Bi-Phasic Treatment Plan consisting of three phases:
Each phase involves different antimicrobials (essentially natural antibiotics - message me if you want to know which ones Will is taking). The goal of the treatment is to initially starve the bacteria, repair the integrity of the intestinal lining and restore normal motility in the small intestine. The treatment is very restrictive, you can’t eat a lot of things such as no rice, no bread, no potato, no dairy, no sugar, no fruit, no legumes, no spices, no dried herbs, the list goes on. You can only consume a small variety of unlimited veggies within the first phase, bok choy, bok choy, and bok choy, I’m just kidding, but kind of not. There’s bamboo shoots, bok choy, carrots, chives, cucumber, ginger, kale, radish, lettuce and only two or three other veg. All other vegetables have to be eaten in small amounts for example he can have 5 snow peas, or 1/4 cup of pumpking etc. Thank god he can have meat or there probably won’t be any William left after the 8 weeks.
Will’s just completed three weeks of the treatment, we are approaching the beginning of the forth week, he’s lost around 6kg (I know, I wish) but seems to be stabilising which is good. We have done a lot of prancing around in the kitchen together, organising and meal planning. William has been surprisingly helpful, and has been promoted to my sue chef! He instantly has had a major reduction in symptoms and is feeling pretty okay considering he hasn’t had a coffee in two weeks! I will be posting updates and a few of our recipes to hopefully help others who also have to experience and go through this. If you have any questions, again just send me a message or comment away and I will respond as soon as I can…
SIBO TEST CENTRE - https://www.vivehealth.com.au/