Micaela’s Story – Her Fight With IBS (IBS Part 6)

Mic2Micaela’s recovery from illness is one I want to share. She had a condition called “gut dysbiosis” which means that the normal microbes in the gut are having a hard time. Due to the unpleasant and varying effects of dysbiosis, the condition has been called “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, “Food sensitivities”, “Spastic Colon”, “Chronic Constipation”  and more, but the fact is, that in 99% of cases, it is Gut Dysbiosis.

Micaela had most of these labels with a few more conditions thrown in, including depression. This is her story in her words and how we treated her and I am very grateful to her for allowing me to tell it.

Micaela – “Back in 1985 I had my appendix removed. The operation went OK and I was given antibiotics afterwards. I seemed to make a complete recovery, although when I look back it was around that time that I started to suffer from a lot of wind, bloating and constipation. I was a single mum trying to raise my boys alone and working in a fast food restaurant and didn’t have a very good diet. It was just one of those minor niggles you learn to live with.

“Over the next few years I took a considerable amount of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.”

Ten years on I started to suffer a lot of back pain. I was born with a congenital deformity of the spine and age and hard work had taken their toll on my back.  Over the next few years I took a considerable dose of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.  I started to suffer constipation and diarrhoea and a sort of empty rumbling in my gut.  I often used to crave toast and butter and it seemed to settle things for a while.
At this stage it had developed from a minor niggle to something that was becoming a bit irritating.

Early 1999 I had some gynae problems. I was prescribed hormonal treatment for about six months which did settle things down.  By the middle of 1999 I had my first ever migraine. That marked a major downturn in my life. I started to have migraines about every two weeks to begin with; they steadily got worse until at their worst point, I only had about 3 days in any one month where I didn’t have a terrible headache. I’d spend days in bed often battling the most terrible pain.  Doctors thought it was hormonal and want to do a hysterectomy, but I felt this was wrong I was sure it was something I was eating. I tried cutting different foods out for a while but never made much headway.

“I ..cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it”

In 2002 I had a food intolerance test, which came back positive for milk, eggs and yeast. I cut these foods out of my diet and although I felt a little better, I never made any real progress back to full health. The possibility of Candida was mentioned at this time, so I also cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it.  Some time after changing my diet I started to suffer from constant diarrhoea – 8-10 times a day.  It was so bad I didn’t want to go out anywhere.  I was trying to eat soda bread & homemade Cornish pasties, so as to avoid the yeast.
In 2005 I saw a gastroenterologist who put me on a gluten free diet and for a little while I seemed a little better.  It was short lived and things started to deteriorate rapidly.
I was put on an exclusion diet which started with lamb, carrots, rice and pears.  I never really made it much past 12 foods and once I brought in any kind of fats I had the most terrible headache.  At last I felt I had worked out a connection between food and the headaches.

Since this time I have lived mainly on rice, not fats at all and occasionally small pieces of rice(1)chicken and pineapple.  I gradually grew  sicker and sicker suffering from constant fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, got up tired and went to bed exhausted, stomach pain, cramping in my gut, constipation, diarrhoea, bladder problems, aching joints, depression, numbness in my fingers, earache, pain behind the eyes, nausea – need I go on? I could see life slipping away, everything I tried to eat apart from rice caused me problems of some kind. I’d seen numerous doctors and had many tests but no one could get to the bottom of the problems with my health.”

A desperate appeal for help went out in the Metro newspaper.


Treatment of illness this severe, often means that the sufferer has to suffer a bit more before healing can begin. Gut problems are almost exclusively due to gut-dysbiosis and this is regardless of the diagnosis. Because of this, treatment has to be similar in all cases.

With the emphasis being on “the absorption of the correct nutrients as quickly as treatment allows”, as priority, easily absorbed foods must be used. These foods have to be the ones that good bacteria and microbes thrive on – and it is no coincidence that these very foods are the very ones that nourish us too. They don’t nourish the microbes that have moved in, set up home and become pathogenic – the ones causing the illness.

All life forms eat, drink and excrete. Not in quite the same way perhaps but the microbes that are supposed to be in our gut, help us with their excretions or “metabolytes”. They produce vitamins and enzymes and help digest the food we eat. Those that have overtaken do far more damage than than just hinder this process! They have to be brought under control and largely be killed off.It is this that causes the worsening symptoms at the beginning of treatment. When pathogenic microbes die, their toxins can overwhelm the body and they have to be removed – whichever way.. Think – diarrhoea, foul breath, body odour and rashes accompanied with headaches and gut pain from intestinal spasm.

Once the bad boys under control then it is imperative to replace with the microbes that naturally live in our guts. Once they are established, more foods can be added gradually. Gut healing is a very long process of trial and error, but determination does pay.

When  Micaela reported back to the papers after only three weeks of treatment when she was eating around forty different foods, I was delighted that she felt well enough to do this. However, I was concerned that she felt she was almost “cured”. It had taken many years for her insides to make her as sick and malnourished as she was – and true recovery would take much, much longer. The first six months were extremely difficult, but it was a year before she felt she had the confidence to go it alone. She would have been fine without support after six months, but long-term illness saps confidence and so we still kept in touch frequently for this time.

I am very happy to report that right now (August 2014), Micaela has several part-time jobs, both at home and outside. When I met her she weighed 48 kilos and she is now 60 kilos. She is happy, healthy and living her life.

Here is a report of Micaela’s progress barely three weeks later.
..and 6 months later, looking forward to Christmas dinner

Here is a short audio on Micaela’s recovery:

 

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“How Did I Get Irritable Bowel Syndrome?” (IBS Part 1)

IBS is at the top of medical reasons for absence from work, sharing the slot with the common cold. The impact on the workplace is not insignificant, but it can have a truly devastating effect on the individual.

Toilet road signIrritable bowel syndrome is a miserable condition as any sufferer knows. It can vary in how it presents itself, how uncomfortable it is, how long it lasts and how it affects individuals. Perhaps the most disruptive aspect – is that a flare-up can happen without warning. Plans for the day go out of the window as  a day in bed, near to the bathroom is all that is practical.

When I started nursing in the 70s, there was no such thing as irritable bowel syndrome. Even ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease were rarities. I do remember that there were a few cases of “spastic colon”, which I guess was the forerunner to IBS but again it was rare. What has happened since then to make gut problems commonplace now?

I have interviewed hundreds of patients during my career as a nurse and I have often been asked “how did I get irritable bowel syndrome?” Over this time I have been able to put two and two together and after considerable researching, reflecting and witnessing, have at last made four! For so long, the sums just made no sense. Why do some drugs cause diarrhoea? Why is it many people do not recover completely after a nasty bout of holiday tummy? Why is an upset stomach common after chemotherapy? Or more to the point, the question I eventually asked was – why is it some people are OK after these things?

Most of us have had antibiotics at some time, but for women in particular, a course of antibiotics means another problem – thrush – why? Or for anyone, antibiotics can cause diarrhoea – again, why?

There is a common denominator in all the above situations and it is candida. The ubiquitous yeast, candida.

The symptoms of candida infection (overgrowth), exactly match those of IBS. Bloating, stomach cramps, headaches, gas, constipation and diarrhoea and more. Can this be coincidence? I don’t think so and over the next few weeks, I want to answer some of the questions I have posed here.

 

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Coeliac Disease

I meet people every week who have digestive problems. These conditions can vary from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhoea. Most sufferers believe that these are discomforts that they have to live with and manage in order to live their lives and many will learn by trial and error the foods that create or worsen these symptoms as this piece of research shows.

What is not generally realised is that these seemingly mild conditions are not only related to, but can be symptoms of more serious gut disorders. In addition, if allowed to continue, the mild conditions can become outright illnesses.

Coeliac disease is a condition whereby an individual cannot tolerate (it’s not a true allergy) gluten – a protein found in many grains including wheat. Symptoms can include all of the above, but these may not be apparent at all. Constipation, weight-loss, anaemia, mouth ulcers, muscle aches and depression can also be symptoms of this disease. Those who suffer gastrointestinal issues will often reduce their intake of bread and cereals voluntarily, as this will decrease the symptoms. However, whist it is very possible that they could be suffering from coeliac disease, there are other factors regarding grains that maybe causing the symptoms.

file1181249314967Modern grains (and therefore the flours produced from them), have been genetically tampered with over the years. Add to this the fact that bread and breakfast cereal manufacture has become a rapid process instead of a slow one, creating products that are hard to digest at best and make us ill at worst.

 

I would advise reducing grains in the diet for all. Many people have some degree of gluten intolerance, whether or not it is coeliac disease. Reducing grains will have many health advantages and not just to do with gut health. If you do include them occasionally here are a couple of tips; use organic, old varieties of flour for traditionally produced breads (or buy a good quality sourdough bread) and if you use porridge oats, make sure you soak them overnight in milk and/or water with a blob of natural yogurt, to help neutralise the toxins that interfere with digestion.

This interesting story also contains a recipe for home made sourdough bread.

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Fight or Flight

Part One

StressWhat does the word stress mean to you? Sitting in a traffic jam when you have a meeting to go to? Having more work than you can reasonably cope with? Family arguments? Illness? Stress comes in many guises. Some stress is needed – call it motivation if you like – or we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning! When we feel the effects, it is usually due to repeated or continual stress. We become tetchy – even volatile; our concentration diminishes; our judgement becomes impaired; sleep is difficult or unrefreshing; skin problems emerge or our digestion suffers. I could fill this blog with the effects of stress. We don’t normally suffer from all the effects but many of them will come and go as stress increases.

We need to understand why this happens to us before we can control its effects. All animals experience this, because it serve a purpose. It is all due to the need to survive. You will have heard of the “fight or flight” reaction. For example, if you have a close encounter with a snake, given the right circumstances the snake will “leg it”, but if it is cornered it will strike.  Having too much work to do doesn’t, superficially, appear the same thing but as far as the body is concerned, the same chemical reactions are started up. The effects of this are inconsequential when it is an occasional occurrence. It’s normal and our bodies cope well. We run into problems when the effects are repeated or constant.

Our stress hormones set up numerous responses to help us with the fight or flight decision; we breathe more rapidly; our blood sugar rises; blood pressure increases; the nerves to bowel/bladder/stomach become less sensitive (we do not need to be rushing to the loo before we run!); hearts beat faster; tiredness disappears – again I could fill the blog with these effects. Over time these change to more serious problems – blood pressure and pulse rate rarely return to normal, we have constipation or diarrhoea or suffer indigestion and sleep is elusive. This is an over-simplification of what happens but hopefully, you get the point. The fact is, it’s a whole body experience and can have lasting effects on health. The solution is easier said than done. RELAX! I know this is not very helpful and therefore my next blog will be about how you can avoid stress, or at least control it.

Part Two

Chronic stress can be felt as being out of control.  The condition which gets us up in the morning we call motivation – hunger, needing the loo, getting the kids up, going to work etc. These are all fine most of the time but sometimes the pressure of all this “motivation” starts to affect our ability to function normally (see previous blog).

There are many coping strategies and you already know most of them. Why then do we find them so difficult to implement? It’s mostly to do with our fears: We don’t want to appear weak/incapable/untrustworthy/slacking/uncompromising and neither do we want to be unpopular. We have to learn to say “NO”  as well as time management/prioritising and delegation – both at work and at home.

For example: I don’t “do ironing”. A very good friend of mine (in her 60s) told me that she doesn’t “do ironing” and I didn’t believe her – she always looks so lovely. She puts everything in the tumble drier for ten minutes then gets it out, shakes it and it continues drying on the line or radiators. So now I do this – if it is not good enough for those in the house – they know where the iron is (but I don’t!). This is a great time saver and there are many others, too many to list here. A brainstorming session at home or at work will undoubtedly come up with lots of ideas; just don’t be afraid to do things differently. If the outcome is the same, does it matter how it gets done?

Prioritising work is also important. Once you have made a list, stick to it. If you have prioritised at work, bash out some short emails to those at the bottom saying that you have the work in hand and you will get the work done by ****(over-estimate). Then, make a note and get it done a week before that time. They will be delighted and you will be less stressed and get brownie points too! At home, get the teenagers cooking the dinner – they get to choose the menu. (You can have pizza once in a while!) When someone offers (or even ask them) to help with collecting kids from school etc. SAY THANK YOU – you can reciprocate when you have less on.

Sleep can be the first thing to suffer when you’re stressed. You fall into bed, completely shattered, and are still awake two hours later working out how to cope with tomorrow. Or, you go straight to sleep and wake up at 2am! Get a routine. We get our children focussed on the bedtime routine because we know they need it. But so do WE! Having a little relaxation time during the day can pay dividends at bed time. Some people find that yoga or uplifting music can be helpful.

Even if it is just a half hour routine, it can make all the difference. A warm bath (with essential oils if you like), a warm milky drink, a chapter of a trashy novel and into bed – with ear plugs if necessary. Make sure you are warm enough – a hot water bottle can be a real comfort. I think it is good practice in a partnership to sleep in separate rooms if one partner is having trouble sleeping. Actually, I believe it can be a relationship saver for some.

Take control now before it gets out of hand!

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