Can a Plant-Based Diet Cure SIBO?
After returning home from a short trip abroad, I began experiencing an illness that wouldn’t go away. The symptoms kept getting worse and for more than 6 months I went from doctor to doctor, none of whom could give me a consistent diagnosis or conclusive remedy. Out of sheer exasperation and determination, I researched and implemented my own cure. This is my story…
My stomach was killing me, I had just returned from Mexico and come down with an on-the-floor bout of the stomach flu. I’ve had stomach flu’s in the past after trips abroad, but there was something different about this one. Over the course of the next 6 months I would discover something that would radically change my life.
I work in technology strategy consulting for fortune 500 companies. It’s a demanding job with a lot of responsibility. Succeeding in the business requires putting in long, difficult hours, including some weekends. I usually travel every week for work. Most people are under the impression that regular business travel is glamorous. In reality? It’s a grind. I was once stuck in Atlanta for 3 entire days because of an ice storm! Crazy!
One of the many benefits my company offers, because of the demanding frequent travel, is the ability to fly almost anywhere at their expense, any or every weekend! I took full advantage of this policy and racked up millions of frequent flier miles, venturing to nearly 60 countries in 5 years.
When I was staffed in New York City, sometimes I would fly to different countries in back-to-back weekends (returning to Manhattan for the work week). In fact, I think my record was 6 new countries in a row in back-to-back weekends. I’d been doing consulting for 5 years at this point and, while you might think there would be added health risks by traveling internationally with such frequency, aside from the occasional flu, I never really had any major illnesses.
Spring 2016 – Phoenix, Arizona
Last year I was working a post-merger divestiture in Phoenix. After a casual weekend getaway to Puerto Vallarta (a fantastic beach town), it all began. I returned home with some symptoms, primarily the stomach flu, which would come and go over the next many months. After that came excessive gas and bloating, cramping, and stomach pain. Then it was nausea and depression. I would get full early during meals, then experience headaches, and lots of diarrhea – especially right after eating. All of these symptoms would come and go in varying degrees and seemingly randomly, but eventually they all become worse (mostly the gastrointestinal symptoms). The symptoms got so bad that it became very obvious that I needed to go see the doctor, to see if something could be done. Surely they would know what was going on, right?
It’s difficult trying to make appointments when you are constantly traveling every week for business. I didn’t really have a primary care doctor at the time, so the easiest option for me was going to Urgent Care. Because I didn’t have an appointment, I was relegated to the least experienced General Practitioner. She listened to what I had to say and emphatically stated that I had gastritis. She handed me a printout, told me to cut out some acidic foods and said that I’d be fine. I left somewhat relieved, the hasty diagnosis had me doubting the veracity of her claims. Even so, I heeded the doctor’s warning and cut down on my consumption of alcohol and spicy foods (which were quite the staples at the time).
Summer 2016 – Medellin, Columbia
Early in 2016 I was able to negotiate a 5 month sabbatical from my employer. I was stoked: for the next 5 months I was free to do what I wanted and travel anywhere in the world! Can you imagine that kind of freedom and opportunity??? On top of that, I had begun to feel much better as the less spicy, alcohol-free diet seemed to be working well. Naturally, I chose to link up with my roommate, who was already living in Medellin at the time.
Not even a week into living in Colombia, though, I was hit with a nasty week-long bout of food poisoning. Aye dios mio. Once recovered, my internals returned to their previous state, feeling like an open pit of lava about to erupt. Oddly enough, it was at this time that I discovered a close friend was also going through similar issues. They had been diagnosed with gastritis.
Needing to improve my condition, again, I did some googling and came across a host of conditions. Diseases like gastritis, acid reflux, crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, HIV, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and many more. Instead of freaking out over the potential for these diagnoses, I stuck with the doctor’s recommendation of gastritis. I came up with the decision to try Prilosec, generic for Omeprazole. Luckily, I had a very nice Colombian friend with me at the time who was able to translate my terrible Spanish into something for the Pharmacist. It took a few days to kick in and lessened many of my symptoms, although they certainly were not gone. Good enough, I thought, and continued the prescription for another 15 days.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Once off the Prilosec, my stomach certainly wasn’t as bulletproof, but by now I was even more careful with what I was eating, and thus didn’t have as many bad days as before. It should be noted that by this point, I was almost completely off of alcohol and spicy foods. I stuck to “healthy” foods, trying to eat fish or chicken whenever possible. I increased my intake of veggies, fresh fruit, eggs, and salads. My symptoms would change frequently, going from good to bad, bad to worse, and then back to good again. Things were a little better with the new diet, but over time it became obvious I couldn’t continue living this way. I knew I needed to see a doctor again as soon as I arrived back in the states.
Fall 2016 – Minnesota
A few months later I found myself back in the land of 10,000 lakes for a period of time and first on my priority list was seeing the doc. We went over the same basic, usual questions a doctor would ask for someone with stomach problems. It felt like deja vu, but this time, a new culprit was discussed, an infection called H. Pylori! Surely, after 60 countries, the cause of all of my problems must have been an infection I picked up somewhere along the way, right?
A few weeks later, I received a call. The test was negative, it was “just gastritis” and I should “cut out spicy foods and try Prilosec if needed.” Something wasn’t exactly adding up, but I didn’t know enough yet.
I based most of my eating on what they said I had a problem with, acidic foods. So to the forums, blogs, and WebMD I went, trying to track down a list of acidic foods and wow was that harder than I thought. Was I looking for foods that were acidic outside of the body or foods that made my body acidic after eating? And boy is there lots of conflicting information on this topic. Lemons have citric acid, which means they are acidic by themselves, but when you eat them, they have an alkaline effect on the body! So which one of these states of acidity should I be paying attention to? I was fairly certain it was whether foods were acidic outside of my body, so out went lemons and most fruits. To make matters worse, citric acid is in almost every type of food in the grocery store (i.e. preservatives)! Here’s the other thing, you might have a dish made up of 10+ ingredients, each of which might be acidic leaning or alkaline leaning, and they each counteract each other! Trying to figure out if a dish I ate was alkaline leaning or acidic leaning left me feeling like I needed another 4 year degree!
Further research continued and I tried to avoid tomato sauce, most meats, eggs, most fruits, carbonated drinks, nuts, and so on. I even started drinking alkaline water! I felt like all I could eat was extremely boring and uninteresting foods, but I was willing to try anything to see if it eased my symptoms. I wanted to solve these gastrointestinal problems, but the effort would have to be put on hold for the next few weeks as nothing was stopping my yearly Oktoberfest tradition.
Oktoberfest 2016 – Munich & Berlin
Off to Germany I went with my roommate for some of the best festivities known to man: Oktoberfest. To say I was nervous to drink beer was an understatement, but I came all this way and it was Oktoberfest, so I felt obliged to participate. We did what any self-respecting person did at Oktoberfest, we drank, and drank, and drank, and then drank some more. Surprisingly, aside from some gas, my body handled it quite well. Oktoberfest was checked off, and it was onto Berlin for the last two weeks of the trip for the hipster experience. Berlin ended up making it into my top 5 favorite cities due to its many unique neighborhoods, great food, and vast nightlife.
TJ’s top 5 foreign cities in the world (in no particular order)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Many people get gastrointestinal issues while traveling because the foods they consume are raised, stored, and cooked to different standards than what they are normally used to. After only a few days in Berlin, I was no exception to this rule, so back on the Prilosec I went. It was effective enough to allow me to eat massive amounts of currywurst and shawarma, although I refrained from alcohol & spicy foods. I felt like a true Berliner.
Winter 2016 – Minnesota
I returned back to Minnesota as I needed to drive my car back to California a few weeks later. I was off of Prilosec, but the same problems persisted. Needing a quick fix, I tried Pepcid AC (which has a different active ingredient than Prilosec). The irony here is that this particular medication, for whatever reason, made me feel even worse, so I stopped taking it immediately. My symptoms had clearly not improved through on and off use of Prilosec so back to the doctor I went. More tests were ordered, including a tube that was stuck down my throat. I received more of the same unconvincing advice, “eat more bland foods, the blander the better! Oh, and no coffee either!”. Additionally, I was advised to go on Prilosec for 3 months continuously. To make matters worse I was due back to my desk job in only 1 week, thus I made the road trip back to Los Angeles, no better than when I left 5 months ago.
Beginning of Winter 2016 – Los Angeles
Further down the path to a lame diet I went, searching for anything uninteresting to shove down my pie-hole, hoping that it might peacefully protest its way through my body. Two of the most boring culinary weeks of my life went by, when I got a call from the doc to tell me the results of the tube that they shoved down my throat; I was told there were no signs of anything, maybe mild gastritis. Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic.
Any next steps were not provided and I was told some people just needed to cut out certain foods (which felt like everything at this point). While speaking to an attending nurse, I expressed discontent that I was unable to drink coffee. I immediately received this hostile response:
“NEEDING COFFEE TO WAKE UP IS NOT NORMAL!”
I felt like a puppy that had just peed on the rug.
This was my morning ritual! And an essential part of corporate survival. This was an adjustment I was unwilling to make. How could I keep myself amped up? I needed my warrior fuel!
This is when I began seriously researching my conditions and possible remedies. I was beginning to gather more data and slowly check off conditions such as gastritis and acid reflux. I was surprised at the amount of information which existed on my symptoms. My potential condition list was down to irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and leaky gut syndrome. Surely, the doctor could have discussed some of these with me?
A week later, obviously no better and needing to play my own doctor, I thought to myself, if the stomach is fine, then it must be intestinal related, right? What else could it be? I called the doctor back, demanding to know next steps. Surely, there were more tests to be done. I could not live like this. With some prodding, the doctor agreed to more tests centered around the intestines, and so I scheduled an ultrasound a few weeks later.
As a precaution, willing to do whatever it took, I did the unthinkable and further restricted my diet by cutting out all meat. It was around this time when I started to observe my body reacting more favorably to my diet. I found this very interesting and seemed immediately clear to me it was due to a lack of meat in my diet. Seeing some light at the end of the tunnel I continued on, meatless, but kept dairy in my diet.
Things were looking better, my symptoms were very slowly getting better, but many problems still persisted. I was cautiously optimistic. Research continued.
I’m a documentary freak. It was around this time, when I first watched Food Choices on Netflix, and oh boy did it pull the wool from over my eyes in terms of animal products and their effect on health. Without hesitation, I immediately removed dairy and any other animal products from my diet.
By now the results had come back from the ultrasound, and were negative.
Six months of struggles and countless tests, and NOTHING. Six months! This was not some cold that had been dragging on for 3 weeks. I was starting to become seriously concerned that I had something which I had no control over.
One thing had become perfectly clear, I had to be responsible for determining my own diagnosis and charting a course to remedy my own health.
However determined I was to be accountable for my own health, I relented and decided to schedule a follow up appointment with my doctor in December 2016.
Winter 2016 – Phoenix
Ironically, a few weeks later I was back working in Phoenix, flying for one hour flight, only to be stuck in over an hour of traffic upon my return to LA. Oh the joys of business travel. However, there was some good news. As I continued on with a plant-based diet, the way I felt, my stomach, my intestines, were all feeling better. My nausea, depression, diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramping, almost all of my symptoms, kept getting less and less.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, but with no animal or dairy products. It is essentially the same as a vegan diet, but typically refers only to a diet, whereas veganism refers to a lifestyle, including avoiding animal products outside of a diet. The reason I choose to use plant-based is because I am primarily avoiding animal products for health benefits.
My large intestine, also known as the colon, was an area of many symptoms for me. It’s also interesting to note that the colon is an organ of the body which is the target for one of the most common forms of cancer. There are many medical studies which link an increase in meat and dairy intake with many forms of cancer, including colon cancer. After only a few weeks on a plant-based diet I could feel my colon, which was a major problem area for me, feeling much better.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet was no easy task. Frequently I would crave meat or ice cream, especially when going out to eat at restaurants. My motivation to eat entirely plant-based wavered, but I kept going. I did cheat on my diet sometimes, but when you get literal feedback in the form of unpleasant symptoms immediately, you tend to cheat much less frequently.
It took just over 1 month of eating a plant-based diet to fully realize that it had cured me of nearly every symptom. It was truly fascinating. My nausea had disappeared. Depression? Gone. Severe bloating. Gone. Stool issues. Gone. Cramping. Gone. It was almost as if I’d taken a magic pill.
This new plant-based dietary lifestyle had me feeling so good that I felt compelled to share the benefits with everyone I knew. Everyone should have an opportunity to feel this great so I felt a need to educate and convert as many people as possible to this healthier lifestyle. So far I’ve converted my father, mother, and step-father. And now I am hoping to get all of you reading this on a plant-based diet as well.
Consider a plant-based diet for yourself. Try it for a month. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term inconvenience.
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tags: Can a Plant-based Diet Cure Leaky Gut Syndrome, Can a Plant-based Diet Cure SIBO, Can a Plant-based Diet Cure Leaky Gut Syndrome, Can a Plant-based Diet Cure Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth