IBS and Food Intolerances - Some Common Causes
I LOVE talking to people about their gut health problems, finding out how they came about & hopefully being able to help fix them. The best bit is that I learn so much from everyone I speak to. I learn what started their issues, what helps them most, what they can & can’t eat now, what else they do to support their health….everyone becomes a bit of an expert on their own gut & I love to find out as much as I can from each person. Some of my special interests are the development of IBS, food allergies & intolerances. While working in healthfood stores & pharmacies I would always ask ‘when did it start, what was happening around that time’ & often there are some pretty interesting lead ups that can turn a previously non-reactive person into someone who really has to watch what they eat. So what are some of the common causes of IBS and food intolerance?
‘I went on a medication & now I react to X / Y/ Z’. When you throw a chemical into an ecosystem, there will be changes. That is what you do when introducing new medications, you make changes to your gut ecosystem, & that can change how your body works and can be one of the most common causes of IBS. Some of the most commonly used meds can really upset our guts - think ibuprofen, which people start feeding to their kids for all kinds of minor ailments FROM 3 months old! If overused (like for most kids), it actually has potential to create serious long term issues by letting stuff out through the gut lining (ibuprofen makes the gut leaky) into the bloodstream that should never get in there - think eczema, asthma, allergies, arthritis, hay fever, auto-immune problems, food intolerances…ibuprofen is not as harmless as we’re all lead to believe. And there are countless other 'every day' meds that disrupt the way your gut works too - antibiotics are obvious, but the list is long - & includes antidepressants, opioids & reflux medications (3 of Australia's most commonly prescribed).
Are you one of those people who pressures your Dr into a prescription every time you go in to their clinic? Drs often feel pressured / obligated to prescribe when they know it's totally unnecessary / potentially going to make a situation worse! Don't be that patient / parent (it's often parents)! So many people start taking meds unnecessarily - either because they trusted the advice of their prescription-happy Dr...who was just matching a medicine to a symptom as per their training - or because they 'demanded' a medication to fix their symptom (which their Dr probably knew could be 'cured' with a few days rest, or some better lifestyle choices, but just couldn't be bothered arguing about)! Meds have a place, definitely some are needed, they can be life-saving & I am grateful we have access to them. BUT, there are many, many cases where the best long term treatment plan involves diet & lifestyle changes & maybe some nutritional / herbal supplements that are less likely to mess up the all important gut balance! (HINT: Save pharmaceutical meds for when you are really ill, as a last resort. One drug so often leads to another, & remember - pharmaceutical companies (very sneakily) train & use Drs & pharmacy staff as their ‘sales reps’ to ensure company profits. Break the chemical meds cycle, get help from a naturopath or holistic GP so you aren’t ‘drug dependant’ or teaching your kids to be.
‘I was on X diet that meant I had to eat loads of eggs, now I’m intolerant to eggs!’ (HINT: don’t keep forcing a food down your throat when you are sick of it just because your diet book says ‘you need to eat X food for X meal’) When you are getting ‘sick’ of eating something, your body is sending you a fairly clear message to eat something different / avoid that food for a while! You may (literally) be getting sick from it! Listen to your body, or you may actually become sick! Keto dieters beware - if you’re over the cheese + almond meal ‘bread’, stop eating it (or it may become no longer an option for you!) If you just can't stomach another day of green juice with kale & spinach, for goodness sake put the juicer away!
Cutting Out Foods Without Addressing An Underlying Gut Issue:
‘Now I’m reacting to the foods I replaced my food intolerances with!” Cutting something out which seems to not work so well for you & then all of a sudden eating loads of another food to replace it can backfire. (Ie replace dairy with soy milk & you develop an soy intolerance - it happens). This makes you realise the food wasn’t the issue, it was the compromised gut / immune system reacting inappropriately! If your gut is out of whack, ultra sensitive & reacting crazily to something other people tolerate ok, it can start reacting crazily to other foods too. (HINT: If you think you have a food intolerance, don’t just cut out the offending foods & carry on with life thinking everything is fine, take your reactive state as a clue that your gut-immune axis really needs some attention. Unless you do something to help fix / change the gut environment & gut lining, you may just have to keep cutting foods out. If you are reacting to something all of a sudden, chances are, your gut just needs some love). Book in to see a naturopath or holistic / integrative GP who can help support the gut, calm the immune system, & order any relevant tests.
‘I had a huge weekend & then after that I had intolerances / my old gut problems all came back’. Yup - it seems that you can inflict food intolerances upon yourself & bring back previously resolved gut issues if you destroy your gut enough on a bender! (HINT: Alcohol in excess is bad news for your gut lining & your microbiome, keep it to a minimum, especially if you already have a sensitive tummy - one weekend of partying hard can really take the freedom & fun out of life when you can’t eat what you want & no longer feel like going out)! If you are reading this after a huge weekend - don't despair, just make yourself a big pot of bone broth (or buy it concentrated), pick up some 'gut repair' type supplements from a naturopath / local health store or pharmacy, & eat really well (loads of prebiotic fibre & minimal sugar), at least until the next big weekend!
‘I got sick with a gastro bug & my gut has been different ever since’ I hear this a lot too, bad gastro infections are like a war in your guts, & even after your good bugs ‘win’ the aftermath can be devastating. (HINT: When you have a bout of gastro, invest in some after care / gut recovery products & eat really mindfully until you’re back on track again - don’t just jump straight back into normal eating, have a few days on soups / broths to ease your system back into the hard job of dealing with food 24-7. Get some recovery advice from a naturopath / healthfood store).
‘I went overseas & got sick, I’ve never been the same in my gut since’. So so common - the food, the water, the climate, the broken routines & loss of sleep, the change in timezones, coming into contact with people & microbes from all over the planet within hours, airport & plane food….Travelling can take its toll on your gut-immune system! (HINT: When you travel, it's great if you can pack a quality prebiotic supplement (shameless Blend11 plug), some shelf-stable probiotic support, a natural antimicrobial / anti-parasitic formula, & stick to filtered / safe water, be careful with ice / salads & wash your hands vigilantly. But - there are huge potential gut benefits of travel too, imagine the microbial diversity you’ll develop compared to non-travellers! Just take precautions & if you do end up going down with the dreaded traveller’s tummy, be sure to treat it with respect as you could end up with an unwanted 'souvenir' for life! If you are currently battling with symptoms, do get tested for parasitic infection that could still be present, & try Blend11 & Greens+Aloe together (we have had some amazing feedback on this combo for people with travel acquired 'IBS').
Extreme / Prolonged Stress:
‘I went through a really stressful period & since then have been reactive to X / Y / Z foods’. You went through an awful break-up & then had to break-up with some of your fave foods, double sob!!! No more wallowing in cheesecake to numb the pain (made a gluten free, dairy free, nut free, low FODMAP version??) Stress can upset your tummy big time, it can even make it become leaky. So many people get nervous diarrhoea or become constipated when stressed & busy, or just start to eat poorly / not look after themselves in general - which creates tummy issues. (HINT: when you know you have a stressful period coming up - ie exams / new job / moving house etc, ensure you’re getting plenty of prebiotic fibre daily to keep your good protective gut bugs winning, & make it easier to eat well by prioritising food prep / sourcing time, or paying to outsource that job until you’re able to take it over again. If stress hits you out of the blue, remind yourself that your gut is going to be your ally in getting through this rough patch, it will look after you if you pay attention & look after it)! Definitely worth making the effort to avoid trouble down the track.
Athletes / Over-Training:
‘I overtrained for an event / went too hard in a comp & my gut hasn't been the same since.’ Athletes can be the worst at self abuse! Sacrificing health by pushing past your limits to achieve goals = great short term plan for sporting success, not so great for long-term health & happiness! When you train hard, know that your gut requires TLC before, during & after to avoid damage that can sideline you for days / weeks / months / forever. (HINT: If you are serious about getting the most from your body for as long as you can & still have a life after sport, search for a coach who understands how nutrition, training & your gut all play together - many are pretty clueless. Better still, educate yourself - really learn how your body functions).
'I think I was born with a dodgy gut' or ’My mum has always had problems, now my gut seems to be doing similar things’. Both are possible, & both totally make sense, because you probably have a similar gut microbial ecosystem to your mum. If you were born vaginally, you would have picked up mum’s microbiome on the way through the birth canal (also conveniently located next door to where poos & their resident microbes exit!) If your mum had gut issues due to a microbial imbalance, your gut may be kinda similar - it might cause you trouble literally from birth, or it might not cause you any major symptoms until later in life. We can also pick up gut microbes from people we share living environments with, humans (& other animals) sharing spaces closely can ‘share’ microbes (choose your flatmates carefully)! (HINT: If you inherited a dodgy microbiome or feel like you’ve picked one up along the way somehow, don’t despair. Ask your mum / dad what works for them, try it yourself, & if there’s nothing that helps, find a replacement microbiome (yes, you can really do that - if your gut problems are severe enough, you should look into getting an FMT - fecal microbiota transplant. Yes it is exactly what it sounds like, someone else’s poo, being 'transplanted' into your bowel! With the right preparation & after care, it can really help reset your microbiome. Use a specialist clinic, & make sure donors have been well screened (or you may go from the gut microbial frying pan into the fire, as there are still a lot of unknowns about what else can change when you change your gut microbes). I've covered some of the more common causes of IBS and food intolerance in this post.
I would love to hear the story of how your gut issues started, please feel free to share in the comments! Jeanie