Have you seen this 4 letter acronym running amok on all the health websites, blogs, and podcasts around? Me, too. I never really paid attention to it, other than maybe thinking about how glamorous (ahem, gross) the diagnosis sounds. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth, known as SIBO, is a real bummer of a situation. We all have a beautiful universe of bacteria in our bodies, especially in our gut (often referred to as the microbiome). SIBO is diagnosed when bacteria is growing and flourishing in the wrong places (for example, the small intestine rather than further down in the large intestine).
I consider myself quite the “digestion enthusiast”. My process of healing from SIBO has helped me to finally understand why I am so damn enthusiastic about the moving of bowels. Until you know what it is like for that system NOT to work, it is hard to appreciate the majestic beauty that is the human body when it DOES work. I have a “will they/won’t they“ love affair with the movement of my bowels. And, like most of the great love stories of our time, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. My relationship with food and my body is complicated. I know that loving my body, in whatever form it may be in, is definitely a part of my soul’s purpose in this lifetime. It has been a JOURNEY. Food addiction is real, and for me, SIBO has been a major part of my complicated relationship with food.
Prior to learning anything about SIBO, I had been making steady progress in my wellness journey, but I had a few persistent symptoms that just wouldn’t quit. I had been dealing with terrible digestive distress, eczema, joint pain, and lots of autoimmune symptoms, along with stool test results that showed I wasn't absorbing any fat. I had made a lot of progress in righting many of these symptoms with things like Whole30 and going gluten free, but things still felt like they could be better. The joint pain, red blotchy skin, and chronic muscle spasms through my legs were still my body screaming for more healing. In talking with my fantastic doctor, we decided that a food allergy test could help.
Talking with an allergist proved a great stepping-stone to the next phase of healing. The allergist performed a skin test, testing 72 common food allergens. Turns out, I am allergic to EVERYTHING. Literally all 72 allergens that were tested resulted in hives on my skin. WHOA. The team decided I should visit a special clinic to explore the possibility of having celiac disease, who in turn told me to start taking WAY WAY WAY TOO MANY anti-histamines (ugh), eat a specific amount of gluten each day (double ugh), and prep for an endoscopy (medical test where they go down your throat with a camera to take a peek at and biopsy your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine). Within days, I was a MESS, but the experiment continued for a full 60 days... until I could get an appointment for the endoscopy. This “gluten experiment” resulted in significant digestive distress, non-existent attention span, sores all over my body, joints feeling like they were being hit with hammers, and nightmare moods. I was avoiding the top 15 food allergens from the skin test (they compared hive measurements to prioritize) and chowing down gluten to prep for the test. During the biopsies of my esophagus, small intestine, and stomach, they found that my small intestine was not working (total bummer). They also found everything inflamed and my mast cell over producing histamine. Everyone agreed that gluten was not my friend, and evidence pointed to a possible bacterial situation.
This conclusion of a possible bacterial overgrowth was later confirmed by “off the charts” results in a SIBO breath test. This test feels like a real science experience. After drinking a small amount of specifically formulated sugar water, I spent 3 hours breathing into weird science bags every 15 minutes to measure the hydrogen and methane gasses that were being produced by the bacteria in my small intestine.
This test is hilariously awful for a few reasons.
- I worried the entire time if I was doing it right. Maybe that is just me, as I am a chronic (recovering!) people pleaser. The bags seemed pretty hard to mess up, but I still worried.
- In my experience, the test was UNCOMFORTABLE. It wasn’t so bad hanging out in a room for three hours, breathing into bags, and even the sugar water didn’t taste terrible. However, my guts bloated so much that it was actually painful. Also, it is wicked embarrassing to look 6 months pregnant when you are NOT, in fact, with child.
- All the gas. All of it.
- A mild fear that I would poop my pants. NBD.
- The concern that the symphony of sounds and smells would never end.
In less than 24 hours following the test, a nurse called to tell me I needed antibiotics as soon as possible. (This was the beginning of a lengthy treatment process. More on that in the future!) For many people who test positive for SIBO, the results show that they are dominant in one gas versus another. I had high counts for both gasses, methane and hydrogen, meaning there was a highly overgrown microbiome filled with bacteria that was not where it was supposed to be. They concluded that I have most likely been battling this bacterial situation for so long that it triggered autoimmunity (every time I ate my body went into attack mode) and made me "food intolerant" (hence the 72 hives).
The human body is an amazing, intelligent, hard working machine. Can we just pause for a moment and ponder the fact that it can handle SO DANG MUCH? It works so hard to keep us balanced, even when we have no idea that it is clocking in so much overtime! It is fighting against our innate HUMANNESS - our vices, errors, addictions, numbing practices, laziness, and sometimes, at least in my case, stupidity. The human body is a miracle.
This process of figuring out what was going on with my body, advocating for answers, and then going through the diagnostic journey was just the beginning…
If your body is whispering to you that a change may be in order… LISTEN. It turns out that those whispers get louder and louder and louder, and taking steps to pause and ask your body what it needs and wants is easier and much more pleasant than doing damage control when it starts screaming. If you are looking for support in the pausing and listening to your inner wants and whispers, I would love to walk with you as you untap your sparkle. Your body has a lot of great things to say once you start giving it the time and attention it needs to communicate.
As always, if you have medical concerns, talk to your doctor!