Who am I?
My story’s not important. I’ve lived with IBS since late 2011 and after months of pain and no help from the medicinal world I took the future into my own hands. My sporadic research has led me to knowledge every person with IBS ought to know. This quick run-through should help anyone, new or old to the topic, on their quest to health. I am NOT a health professional. The idea here is to give you all the information 1,5 – 3 years of research on the internet will give you.
You have IBS – here’s the menu
I won’t lie. If you have IBS you’re in for a horrible treat. The menu looks like this:
Confusion about what’s happening. No examinations or tests show anything and your doctors can’t help. (Obviously you’ve been tested for Colitis, Chron’s, ulcers, kidney stones, allergies, cancer, liver problems etc.)
Hopelessness because you don’t know what to do.
Hope when you DO find something to do.
Disbelief and provocation from people around you because you don’t eat like them (if you do, stop immediately)
Pain, physical and mental, because life sucks and then you –
The basics of IBS – The four reasons you might have it.
On a brighter note: to fix something you must understand it. There are probably one or more of four reasons why you have IBS.
1: Food sensitivities.
Many people won’t test positive on any allergies but are still sensitive to certain foods. They may be capable of eating a bit of it but not in the amounts (or mixes) that they’re served. For these people, cutting out the bad foods helps tremendously. (We’ll get to this later)
2: Stress/anxiety/depression induced IBS
It’s the eternal question of the chicken and the egg. Do you have depression because you’re in chronic pain, or is the pain created by your depression? No doubt it goes both ways, but it’s a lie that most people who have IBS have it for stress or anxiety reasons. Most people GET depressed once they’ve lived with IBS for a few years. However, a great deal of people do have anxiety-related IBS, so it’s worth looking into.
3: Damaged gut lining
I mentioned stomach ulcers. Ulcers are basically damaged surface of the gut or intestines and when you eat, some molecules get absorbed into the bloodstream through these damaged surfaces. This causes your immune system to react and attack – causing an allergic reaction.
4: Damaged gut bacteria
There are more bacterial cells on and in the human body than there are human cells. Your gut biome is endlessly important for your well-being and if you’ve had antibiotics even once you may have damaged them for good. You may have killed enough good bacteria that they can’t make a comeback and as a result the bad bacteria take over, causing all kinds of havoc.
How do you start?
The following is a bunch of basic stuff you’ll hear if you hang around the internet for long enough. These are the first things they’ll recommend you and as a result you get tired of hearing them. That’s why I made this list! If anything’s missing on it, I hope you, dear reader who is more informed than me, will write it in the comments 🙂 Now everyone can link to this list and we can be like “good, done, we all know this now? Let’s move on to bigger and better things.”
Things you ought to try and their reasonings:
You could do an elimination diet. Cut out one thing, see how you react, put it back, see how you react. Or the opposite: find the few things you KNOW you can eat and start adding things back in every third day to see how you react. Track how you react with an app or diary. (I use mysymptoms, which, granted, has its flaws, but it’s fine.) This way you’ll eventually get a gist of what you can or cannot eat.
-If you’re not up for cutting everything out, which may be a bit extreme to begin with if there’s ONE food bothering you, start here:
-Cut out gluten and grain products. This includes rice and bread made on sourdough. Many people have gluten sensitivity.
-Cut out dairy. Yes, even fermented stuff. I’m serious. Especially hard cheese, which gives a lot of people troubles. Cut it out.
-Cut out legumes. (peanuts, peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils etc.) I find that I can eat peanuts and peas but not much of the other stuff in this category.
-Try FODMAP. Read up on FODMAP, which is all about avoiding a certain sort of carbohydrates that some people cannot digest.
Supplements you can try:
Glutamine. If you have a damaged gut lining, glutamine is the protein for you. It exists naturally in bone broth and raw cabbage. It becomes a thin layer on your gut lining and briefly protects you – which is why you must take it for a while so that your body gets a chance to heal. In an experiment with prisoners, researchers found a profound effect on peptic ulcers after only 8 days of drinking raw cabbage juice 3 times a day.
-Probiotics. These will help your gut bacteria. The issue is that they only work while you take them. The bacteria from probiotics do not colonize. However, they may help the good bacteria already present in your gut take back the power from the bad bacteria. You can also try making your own sauerkraut or pickles, which are abundant in probiotics. Don’t buy it, though, as it’s hard to find a good source. The stuff you buy at the supermarket is typically made with vinegar and doesn’t contain bacteria. Yogurt, kefir, kambucha, kamchi and miso are also good sources of probiotics, but it’s always best if you can make it at home or know a trustworthy source.
-Prebiotics. If you do have the good bacteria, but too few, prebiotics will feed them. Prebiotics are better explained as resistant starch. Starch you don’t digest but that reaches the colon intact and feeds the bacteria instead. Resistant starch is the reason why cold starch is so much better for you than warm starch – so if you do eat rice or potatoes, try eating them cold, when they have more resistant starch 🙂 Resistant starch is particularly prominent in unripe, green bananas. (5-15 g per 100 g)
-Pebermint oil to soothe the intestines and minimize bloating. Take during flares.
-Different herbs. Ginger, chamomile, mint, cinnamon, dandelion, milk thistle etc. etc. Which herb works for you depends on the reason you have IBS.
-Apple cider vinegar. Not sure why it works, but a lot of people report that it helps. So try it 🙂 It tastes delicious on salads.
-Psyllium HUSK: A kind of fiber. It helps pull water into the intestines. It’s particularly helpful for people with IBS-C but also for IBS-D.
-Drinking Aloe Vera. Though no official studies have been made yet, there are several anecdotes of people feeling less pain and a soothing effect when they drink aloe vera. Drink 15 – 30 minutes before meals and watch out for drinking too much.
-Try the specific carbohydrate diet. If you have SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) this is the right path for you. If you have SIBO you have too many of a bad kind of bacteria and they feed off of the carbohydrates you eat. These are typically killed off by avoiding the carbohydrates and using antibiotics. It’s a rough round and many people battle it for years. Also look into biofilm, which helps protect pathogens from being killed by your immune system and could be one reason why you have such troubles getting rid of SIBO. Also, look into fasting, since fasting doesn’t just keep food from you but also from the peeps in your gut.
-HCl. If you have weak stomach acids you’re not digesting your food properly and it will ferment in your intestines, causing bloating and irritation.
-Baking soda. If you have too strong stomach acid you may be aggravated for this reason, as the stomach acid could create ulcers. (Some people will also have acid reflux if this is the case.) Take a teaspoon of baking soda, put it in a bit of water (watch out, this will taste horrible) and pour apple cider vinegar over it, which makes it sizzle. You need to drink it before it finishes sizzling as this sizzling effect is supposed to happen in your stomach to neutralize the acid. So put the vinegar in and chuck, chuck, chuck!
-Enzymes. Maybe you’re not digesting properly because you don’t have enough enzymes in your spit or stomach to break your food down. Try taking enzymes, but watch out for the quality. Some people are trying to scam you. Chewing your food better may also help – or you can try spitting in your smoothies and let them sit for a minute or two to let your natural enzymes pre-digest. (I’ve heard some chefs spit into a sauce if they’ve made it too thick.)
-Try the GAPS diet. (This is too big a topic for me to discuss here. Look into it.) Basically you drink a lot of bone broth, which has a lot of gelatine (like glutamine, this helps rebuild the gut/stomach lining), while you take probiotics.
-Intermittent fasting. For reference read the book “Gut: the inside story of our body’s most underrated organ” by Giulia Enders. It’s a little silly sometimes but she has a lot of good information. Unfortunately she’s not always right, but when she sticks to her own field she’s brilliant.
After you’ve eaten, all of your food goes into the intestines and nourishment is extracted. Once this is done, a “sweeping” is carried out and the intestines move everything along, becoming nice and clean. This, in effect, means that cleaning begins about two hours after you’ve eaten and is finished about five hours after you’ve eaten. (That doesn’t mean your food is fully digested yet. That can take up to 36 hours in a healthy person.)
You must allow yourself to digest properly. Eating too soon after a meal can disrupt the process.
Some people do 36 hours of fasting during a week. Others do 16:8, where you fast for 16 hours and eat for 6-8 hours. Figure out what works for you and let your digestive tract rest.
-Eating small meals frequently. This is at the other end of the field from intermittent fasting. Some people find that smaller meals are easier to digest than bigger meals. If you’re one of those people, go for it. I’m not and I’m sick of seeing this advice given out like it’s the holy grail. It’s not, but it has helped some people.
-Food combining. Some people can’t eat certain things together but digests them perfectly fine by themselves. These people would benefit from trying simpler meals. For instance, don’t eat fruit after a heavy meal, particularly meat. Fruit is much easier to digest than meat, so as it lays on top of the meat it ferments in your intestines. (I’ve not been able to figure out why or how it works. All I know is if I eat a banana after I’ve had meat I have to go lay down, that’s how uncomfortable it gets. Meanwhile, if I eat bananas first thing in the morning I feel totally fine and full of energy. In fact I NEED a banana in the morning to function.)
Keep a food diary
Get mysymptoms or some other app. Start viewing your flares as an opportunity to figure out what’s wrong with you.
Make people understand – create a safe environment
You need to get a routine and you need to have someone to talk to. In order to make the people around you understand what’s going on you’ve got to get personal. Tell them stories where your pain got in the way of something you wanted to do and refer to something they once wanted to do but couldn’t – or make them imagine they couldn’t.
Mental exercises are key
Take time out of your day to do nothing. Stare at a wall. Meditate. Do breathing exercises. 2 x 10 minutes per day is enough.
Go for walks or run.
It goes without saying, that …
An unhealthy diet won’t just show itself on your appearance. If you eat a lot of junk your system will get backed up. You’ve probably heard this already – as I’ve heard everything in this post a hundred times over – but it wouldn’t be a comprehensive basics guide without this info. A recent study shows that fast food kills the good bacteria in your gut, so it’s horrid for IBS.
Aaaand – alcohol
Most people are aggrivated by alcohol. Personally I abhor it. I’m not myself for 2-3 weeks after drinking.
However, a few people find that their symptoms clear up after a night in town. Why? I don’t know yet. Maybe your body gives up for a few hours and doesn’t create pain as a result or maybe your IBS is anxiety induced and you needed the relaxation. There’s not been done a lot of research on this topic.
Drugs should be a last resort but don’t treat it like the devil. It comes with side effects, but are those side effects worse than the horror you’re already going through?
Drugs didn’t work for me. They make things better for a short while, then make everything worse.
Marihuana/hash/the green stuff …
Some talk about the effects of marihuana on IBS. I’ve seen talk of the two different sorts, Sativa and Indica. Apparently indica is better for people with IBS (as far as I understand this is mostly if your IBS is anxiety related). I don’t have any personal experience with this.
A particularly interesting pro argument concerning marihuana is that it is easier on your gut than alcohol. (As I said, I’m not myself for 2-3 weeks after drinking.)
Go do your research
Read up on all the things I’ve mentioned here. Learn for yourself. Keep seeking your answer, your truth, but accept that maybe you’ll never find it. Read up on FMT (and bacteriology), which is a totally new procedure in medicine that I have high hopes for and ask any questions you want in the comments.
I’d also appreciate additions to this list so we can all get smarter. Every new update will be added at the end of this post.
There is plenty of hope for you. Don’t give up yet. Be resilient but forgive yourself for when things get rough and you have to slow down. Energy will come to you in periods and the lows will be dark in-betweens.
I wish you the best of luck and hope to have been of service.