How Do I Feel- Really?

Sometimes its so easy to get caught up in the daily symptoms you are still experiencing, and not take a step back and see how much progress you’ve made.

I can start to get down on myself and my health situation pretty easily when I’m feeling like crap or not happy with how my body looks.

It’s been four years since my health first started to decline, and four years that I’ve been trying to get back to good.

And while it seems like such a long time to feel like crap most of the time, so many hours spent researching, looking for answers, going to doctors (let alone the money I’ve spent on doctors and supplements), I really have made progress.

Here’s what’s better:

  1. Energy. While my energy is not where I’d like it to be, it is so much better. I used to crash every afternoon and need to take naps. Some days, I couldn’t even go to work my energy was so low. That happened usually about every 2 or 4 weeks. Now, those days are maybe every two months or so.
  2. Adrenal fatigue. It’s been about a year since I really burnt out my adrenals from running too much, but I can tell they are getting back to being better, based on my energy levels.
  3. Sleep. This is the big one. I have finally found the right combination of supplements, herbs, and sleep hygiene that gives me a LOT better sleep than before. I still have trouble falling asleep sometimes, and I don’t sleep totally soundly, but I sleep a lot better and do not have to rely on medications to help me fall asleep. This alone is a big part of the reason numbers 1 and 2 are so much better.
  4. Anxiety and heart palpitations. I’m still pretty high strung and tend to get anxious, but I don’t have debilitating anxiety attacks like I used to. And the heart palpitations are all but gone.
  5. Muscle weakness. Again, this is not 100% but a good deal better. And I’ve been lifting weights and strength training for the past 6 months or so, and seeing a good bit of progress there.

So while there are things that have remained the same or gotten worse over the past four years, some things have gotten better, or even much better. And it’s important to focus on that.

New GI Doc, New (Old?) Disappointment

Welp, I shouldn’t really be surprised. After all this is an old, conventional MD. But still, he came with good recommendations so I had high hopes.

He came out to get me right at 2pm, my appointment time, which was a great start. He listened to my history and asked a good deal of questions. But then, the fatal statement that proved to me he was not up to date on SIBO research.

“I don’t believe you have SIBO because you aren’t having diarrhea.” He said this, mind you, right after looking at my lactulose breath test results showing a significant rise in both hydrogen and methane production. “I think all of your issues are due to the fact your bowels are not moving.”

At this point, I had two options.

  1. Try and educate him on SIBO-C, methane, and how to properly read a breath test, or
  2. Don’t bother with the above and listen see what he had to say about improving bowel motility.

I quickly assessed my options and went with number two.

I just can not seem to make myself an authority figure to doctors. For the most part, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done the research. I even bring the studies with me to the office! But as soon as they say something that proves to me they haven’t read the latest research, I tend to think all is lost and there’s no point in educating them as they aren’t likely to change their minds anyway.

So I listened as he gave me the same information I’ve read on the internet as thousand time (eat more fiber, drink water, exercise, take fiber supplements and a laxative if needed). I tried to explain I’ve done all that (I was running an hour a day last year, same issues. I drink so much water I pee almost every hour. I have eaten up to 50 grams of fiber a day with no improvements. Ahhhhhh!!)

I told him I didn’t want to take a motility drug because I wanted to know why my bowels have stopped moving. The human body doesn’t just quit functioning properly for no reason. There’s always a reason!

Also, I am only 27. If I started the drugs now, it’s likely I’d have to take them for the rest of my life, which I hope to be for quite a few more years. And I don’t want that.

While he was very understanding about those concerns, he didn’t really have anything else to offer me. He said to try some of his recommendations and call him in a month.

He did offer me one solid piece of advice that I think may play a big part, if only I can implement it: Relax and have fun!

Stress can mess up the bowels, big time. And I’m certainly always stressed. Even though I love my job, my boyfriend, and my life as a whole is not stressful, I put so much stress on myself. To lose weight. To look better. To exercise better. To learn more. To do this, do that. Be creative, keep the apartment clean, find a house, where to live. I even stress myself out to have fun!

But even though I know stress is a part of it, it is not the whole of it. I still think SIBO and impaired colonic motility are a problem that needs to be fixed.

So here’s where I am now:

Luckily, knock on wood, the peppermint/fennel/ginger gels are still preventing most of my bloating and abdominal pain symptoms if I take them before a fibrous meal. The problem? They are giving me a false sense of hunger, so I am noticing I am eating more. And my weight is starting to creep up again. That’s unacceptable to me, (as well as another source of stress!)

However, I am going to continue with that supplement and try to keep my eating under control. I am also considering doing another round of herbal antibiotic protocol in conjunction with the peppermint gels. I don’t think it will hurt, and I also want to use up the remaining product that I have. Then, my plan is to get my functional doc to order another breath test so I can see where I am at.

If at that point I am still having symptoms and the breath test is positive, its time to bring out the big guns and find a SIBO expert, even if I have to go all the way out to Portland to do so.

If things are improved or the test comes back negative, then I’ll work on repairing and rebuilding my gut.

Until then, I am going to continue with the diet that I’ve been doing, but I think I may need to bring my protein intake down a bit and increase the fat intake. I’m considering adding collagen protein in the morning.

I might try a fiber supplement and see how that goes, though I have a strong feeling that my gut won’t care for it.

The 30 Day No-Alcohol Challenge

I think the time has come.

I’ve given up alcohol before in the past; I think the longest I went was about 2 months. I was trying to address candida issues at the time, and took a strict dietary approach.

It was difficult, but not impossible. I was really disciplined.

Now, alcohol is a big part of my “fun time”. My weekends surround going out for drinks Friday after work, and I pretty much keep drinking until the wee hours of Saturday night. And I pay for it all day Sunday, and a good part of Monday.

The question of whether that payment is worth it has been stewing in the back of my mind for a few months now. Now it’s at the forefront. And I’m also concerned that I’m actually paying for it all throughout the week.

My brain just still isn’t working as well as I know that it can, as well as it used to. And I wonder if the alcohol is playing a major part of that.

In addition, I’m noticing that my emotional state while drinking is becoming more dramatic. Last night, I had too much to drink and found myself crying hysterically while watching a documentary about mold exposure. A bit dramatic.

Though alcohol does provide a gentle lubrication to have more truthful conversations with the ones I love, I also know that anytime Alex and I get into an argument, I’ve been drinking. I overreact and become more sensitive to things that wouldn’t bother me when sober.

So, I’m going to do the challenge.

Thirty days seems like an awfully long time, but I think I’ll just focus on seven days. Going a full week with no alcohol. Making it through a weekend and seeing that I can have just as much fun and enjoy my time without the need for alcohol.

The question is- when do I start? I’m taking my last four day vacation at the end of this week, and then the following weekend is Alex’s birthday. Not great timing to decide to give up alcohol.

But maybe it actually would be better if I were sober for his birthday. That way I can make sure we get around safely and ensure he has a great time. And not have to worry about me needing to end the night early because I drank to much.

So as of now, next Monday, August 31 will be the start date.

I’ll start with one week, and if I can go a whole 30 days then I will be very proud of myself.

I’m excited to see how my brain function improves, let alone the weight and skin benefits I know I will get.

SIBO and Weight Gain

I gain weight very easily.

It seems I’ve been on a diet all of my life, and to some extent I’ve likely messed up my metabolism quite badly. I have to eat very low calorie and maintain and exercise regime to keep my body at the weight and shape I prefer.

Essentially, I’m fighting my set point. And its hard. But it’s a choice I’ve made.

With SIBO, though, it seems like I have to try even harder to keep my weight down. And when I do slip up and eat more than usual, my body stores it as fat immediately.

And now, I’ve come across some research that may explain what’s going on with that.

There are two types of organisms that are predominant in SIBO- hydrogen producing bacteria and methanogenic producing archaea.

And a study on nearly 800 subjects published in 2013 found that subjects who tested positive for both elevated hydrogen and methane levels had a significantly higher BMI than subjects who tested positive for hydrogen or methane alone. I have both hydrogen and methane producing organisms in my SIBO.

In a previous study by the same researchers, they found that subjects who were methane-producers had a higher BMI than people who were not methane producers (hydrogen was not tested).

And finally, a animal study demonstrated that when germ-free mice were colonized with a particular strain of methanogenic archaea called Methanobrevibacter smithii, they gained more weight than other mice.

M. smithii is the most abundant methanogenic archaea in the human GI tract, and appears to be the predominant species in methane-positive SIBO.

The researchers hypothesize the reason for the increased weight in humans may be due to this:

M. smithii feeds on hydrogen gas to produce methane.

Normally, hydrogen bacteria are self limiting. Once they create a particular amount of hydrogen gas, they get a signal to stop eating.

But if M. smithii is there eating up the hydrogen gas, the hydrogen-producing bacteria continue to ferment food and produce more hydrogen.

But that’s not all they do.

Hydrogen bacteria also synthesize short-chain fatty acids that you (the host) use as fuel, and they also make calories more available.

In essence, they help you get the most calories from what you eat.

So someone without SIBO may only absorb 75% of the calories from a particular food, but a person with SIBO may absorb 90%, and therefore need to consume less food overall to maintain caloric balance.

This hypothesis isn’t proven, and it’s likely there are more factors involved such as hormone dysregulation and metabolism dysregulation.

But it’s an interesting idea and it seems to make sense based on my experience.

So its at least good to know my struggle to keep my weight down since getting SIBO isn’t all in my head. And there are a number of folks out there that sees to have weight issues with SIBO as well.

New SIBO Relief

This will be a short one.

I also don’t want to jinx myself.

But I think I’ve made two major breakthroughs with my SIBO.

The first one started when I noticed that I experienced less digestive issues on the weekend.

After much examination of the food and lifestyle differences between what I eat and do on the weekend vs the weekdays, and a bit of experimentation, I think I may have found a major contributor to my symptoms: chewing gum.

During the workday, I chew a lot of gum. Sometimes it actually gets to be quite excessive, as I tend to crave the feeling and taste of a fresh piece of gum.

Whether the increased bloating and gas is a result of swallowing air from the gum chewing, or certain ingredients in the gum, or both, I’m not sure. But as I have become aware of the improvement in symptoms on days I don’t chew, I’m making a larger effort to give up the gum.

Now on to the bigger breakthrough: a new supplement.

Specifically, NOW Food’s enteric coated peppermint, fennel, and ginger oil capsules.

I had read about peppermint oil for SIBO before, but couldn’t find much science for it other than case studies and anecdotal reports. It seemed peppermint oil was more effective for SIBO-D or IBD-D, rather than C. So I hadn’t thought to try it.

But one day at work, the pain was so bad I thought I would go for a walk down to the local health food store just to see if they had it.

I found the NOW brand, which actually has ginger and fennel oil as well, two other herbs that are great for digestion.

And with the exception of one day, every time I have used these capsules I have not had bad gas, bloating, or abdominal pain. (I knock on wood right now as I write this, as I don’t want the effect to go away like so many other things I have tried typically do.)

The directions say to take the capsules 30 minutes before meals, but I’ve been taking them right before I eat. And so far, so good. I’ve taken them for about 10 days now.

I wouldn’t say the symptoms are completely gone, but I’d say I’m at 75-95% relief, depending on the meal.

I’ve even been able to eat a decent amount of broccoli with no major issues.

I’m wondering if the oils are actually killing the bugs in my gut, or just providing symptomatic relief.  

Hopefully I can get the new gastro I’m going to see next week to order another breath test and then maybe I’ll know for sure.

The enteric coating is most likely chemical and the product contains soy oil, so I don’t want to have to take these capsules long-term.

But for now, they are a lifesaver.

A Musing on Cravings

“I actually crave salads now,” said my meat, cheese, and Taco Bell-loving boyfriend.

Just a few months earlier, I had to strongly encourage  him to take more than one piece of broccoli at dinner. (One piece is not one serving, Alex!)

But after we talked more about healthy eating for health’s sake (and the fact that I don’t want him to keel over from heart disease at age 50) he committed to eating better, including salads for lunch and cutting back on grains and dairy.

So when he told me he actually craved salads now, I was partly shocked but it also partly confirmed a new idea I’ve had on cravings, and what they means and how to beat bad ones.

It’s pretty simple, really: You crave what you eat.

It’s well known that if you eat sugar on a regular basis, you crave it. And if you give it up for a few weeks, the cravings go away. That’s no big groundbreaking news to anyone.

But when it comes to other cravings, I believe that you only really crave what you eat (with a few caveats).

For instance, a few years ago I tried PB2, that powdered peanut butter you mix with water to create a lower fat version of peanut butter. I loved it. I started eating it everyday. It pretty much became my dinner most night; I craved it. And then I stopped eating it because I became concerned with aflatoxins in peanuts and wanted to see if I noticed anything but cutting out peanuts.

What did I notice?

My cravings for PB2 went away.

I had the same experience with popcorn.

I started eating it here and there, then on a more regular basis. And then every night because I craved it.

Then  stopped eating it went I switched to a Paleo-ish diet. And I don’t crave it anymore.

Same goes for nachos. I craved those every weekend as my cheat-meal. Now, cravings are gone.

I went through a green bean phase too. Craved them every night, eating about a pound for dinner.

Now that I’m eating more meat and coconut oil, what do I crave? Meat and coconut oil.

But what about healthy foods? Can you actually crave salads?

Not if you don’t eat them. But once you do, and you do it consistently, you almost will certainly start craving them.

Any food you start eating on a regular basis you will create a craving for. Habits and consistency create cravings.

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it does open up a whole new headspace on how to deal with and conquer cravings.

Once you realize that any craving WILL go away once you stop eating that food for a particular amount of time, it makes it so much easier to fight the craving. Knowing there is a light at the end of the craving tunnel is super powerful for combating unhealthy cravings and establishing healthy new cravings for veggies and other healthy foods.

I think the same goes for exercise and other habits as well, though I tend to only want to use the word “craving” in reference to foods.  

Now on to that craving caveat– sometimes I get a craving for something I haven’t eaten in awhile, or a very specific craving for chocolate or salt.

I believe that if you listen to your body very closely, it will tell you want it needs.

For instance, I used to eat apples every day. Then, when I developed SIBO, I had to cut them out because they gave me terrible gas and bloating.

But the other day I came down with a cold- sore throat, runny nose and the worst migraine I’ve ever had.

And I the strongest craving for apples. Nothing else seemed appealing.

So even though I knew they weren’t the best choice for my digestion, I bought a four pack of organic apples and ate three of them that day.

And wouldn’t you know it, I digested them perfectly fine.

I truly believe that there was something in the apples that my body wanted to help fight that cold.

The next day I had one apple- the bloating and gas was back.

So strange!

I also went through a phase where I craved sardines. I can’t recall exactly why I decided to try them, I think I was concerned with eating too much tuna at the time, but I wasn’t eating meat.

And I craved sardines, eating a can or two a day. And then after about a month, the craving went away on its own.

It wasn’t that I consciously stopped eating the sardines (like I did with the PB2 and popcorn), this was just my body saying “Ok, there was something in the sardines I needed. Now I’ve got enough, so we don’t need this food on a daily basis anymore.”

I have a suspicion it was the calcium and vitamin A my body wanted, but regardless, the body knows what it needs.

You just have to listen closely.

Hair Loss and Hope

My hair started falling out about four years ago, at the age of 23. I’ve always had fine hair and thought it was thin, but looking back it was rather quite nice.

Within six months, I lost about half of my hair. Luckily, it was thick enough at the start that it didn’t result in a noticeable difference to the outside observer. But I sure could notice a difference. Most of the volume was lost from the temples and the crown.

I remember crying every morning as my hand filled up with hair while I was blow drying. I would sit at work and run my hand through my locks and see how many would come out. Balls of shed hair would collect in the carpet under my desk, much to my embarrassment. Drain-o became a staple to keep the drain clear.

I tried a myriad of supplements and different shampoos to help halt the loss. A hair, skin and nails multivitamin, iron, biotin, Cyntaine, Nioxin shampoo, biotin shampoo, rubbing emu oil on my head before bed.

(Luckily, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful boyfriend who is 100% supportive, never once said a harsh word about me coming to bed with greasy, oil emu hair for a few months, and swears he would still love me if I were bald. He’s saved my self-esteem from tanking on more than one occasion.)

Then I tried Viviscal, a hair growth supplement made with vitamins, iron, silica, horsetail, and “marine protein molecules”. Since it was backed by human studies, I committed to giving it a full six months to really see if I could tell a difference. Around the six month mark, I noticed that my hair was growing and it was shinier. My hair wasn’t getting thicker, but the hair that was left was growing again and looking healthy. I continued on for another six months and finally my hair stopped shedding so much.

Another change that happened around the same time is that I finally found a practitioner that would treat my subclinical hypothyroid symptoms. Though my TSH was in the “normal range”, I had just about every thyroid symptom in the books. I started taking Armour thyroid and noticed a bit of an improvement in my fatigue and hair loss. (I still suffer from quite a few other thyroid symptoms, but that’s a post for another day).

Because Viviscal is expensive, I stopped taking it about a year ago. I still take Armour. And the hair loss?

Its started again. About two months ago.

At this point, I’m not stressing over it. Whereas when it first started I cried every day and convinced myself I would become bald, I now know that is really unlikely to happen. And if it does, whatever, I’ll buy a wig. I just have too many other things going on to freak myself out with some hair loss.

I know, just know, that the hair loss is resulting from my SIBO, improper digestion and resulting inflammation. Sure, I could try taking Viviscal again, but if my digested is so effed that I don’t absorb it, it won’t do me much good. My priority is to heal my digestion and be able to get first absorb the nutrients from real foods, and then find the right supplements to fill in the gaps.

Oh, what a journey this life is.