Gut Health Update: SIBO Test, Spectracell Results, and Re-Introductions, But Still Unwell

I realize it's been a while since I've posted a gut health update. This is partially because I had forgotten I should do that, but partially because it's difficult to know what to update you guys on. Let's start with where we left off last time, my second SIBO test.

After completing one 6-week round of herbal antimicrobial treatment in conjunction with remaining on a low FODMAP diet (which I've been on since the end of December), I was feeling better. But after 3 weeks of being off of the antimicrobials (while still following low FODMAP), my symptoms were back in full force, and I was having symptoms (bloating, discomfort, reflux) most days. Because of this, my functional medicine practitioner recommended we run another SIBO test to see if were were barking up the right tree, since typically with SIBO, symptoms get better progressively, not worse, after antimicrobial treatment and low FODMAP. So we ran the test, and it came back negative.

This negative result hit me like a ton of bricks. If it wasn't SIBO, what is it, and how do we treat it so I can start feeling better? I felt like I was back at square zero.

In my follow-up appointment with my practitioner, I mentioned that I was feeling bad again -- symptoms like severe bloating after eating and pretty much at all other times was back in force. Reflux has also reared its head again, and I've been inexplicably gaining body fat despite eating well and getting enough movement.

I also mentioned that, for what it's worth, I know I had been feeling a lot better toward the end of my first round of 6-week antimicrobial herbal treatment along with the new HCL & ox bile digestive enzymes (Designs for Health Digestzymes) I was taking with each meal. So she recommend we start on a pretty generic/general gut-healing protocol that can include taking the GI Synergy antimicrobial treatment again, along with some other things.

While I was treating for assumed SIBO (see a few posts back for why it was "assumed" and not definitive), I had been steering clear of any form of probiotics (in capsule form, and in fermented foods and kombuchas), because if you have SIBO, taking probiotics makes it worse since it's an overgrowth of bacteria in the wrong place that's causing the problem. So in this new gut-healing protocol, I'm starting to re-incorporate probiotics. This is especially necessary because lab tests showed my good gut flora was low, so I know that I'm already starting in a deficit and really need to re-populate my good bacteria.

Part of the gut-healing protocol is (obviously) focusing on healing my gut lining. As a result of chronic stress (physical and mental), I believe that many of my symptoms can be chalked up to a leaky gut, which means that the junctions in the walls of my digestive tract that normally tight in a healthy person, are opened up and hyperpermeable, allowing toxins and food move freely into my blood stream. If you think of it like that, it's not hard to imagine how someone with leaky gut could have inflammation from eating just about anything. With that said, to work to heal and seal the gut lining, I'm starting to take Designs for Health GI Revive powder (a powdered supplement that contains lots of herbs and amino acids to calm inflammation and heal the gut lining), along with L-Glutamine (an amino acid that the epithelial cells in the digestive tract readily absorb to rebuild). I also continue to use collagen peptides daily (have been doing so for more than a year now), whose amino acids also help to heal and seal the gut lining (along with a host of other benefits to hair, skin, nails, joints, and other body tissue).

My practitioner also put me on monolaurian (Lauricidin), which is a long-chain fatty acid derived from coconut oil that acts as an anti-viral and anti-fungal. The goal with me taking this is for added immune support and balancing.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been following a low FODMAP diet since December, which is a long time without garlic :) As far as elimination diets go, this is a long one, and my practitioner and functional dietitian thought it best for me to begin re-incorporating some things. After all, we had me on this diet because we were assuming I had SIBO, and since we don't know what is causing my symptoms, the best thing to do for now is to begin to re-introduce food that I haven't been able to eat in a while to give me some variety. You can only eat spinach day-in and day-out for so long before your recycling men begin to wonder if everything is okay (our recycling bin has at LEAST 5 or 6 large spinach boxes in it every week -- the limited veggie option struggle is REAL).

My dietician has me re-introducing foods by FODMAP category for a week, and then moving onto another category, only incorporating one category at a time. For instance, starting last week, my I started with polyols (the P in "FODMAP"), which include foods like sweet potatoes, avocados, mushrooms, and corn. So I included sweet potatoes and avocado (YASSSS) for the first time in SO long, and man was it nice. And thankfully, my body didn't seem to react specifically to those foods, which I was grateful for. This week I'm moving onto the Fructans category (ironically not the "F" in FODMAPS....Don't ask me, this shit is complicated), which includes foods like garlic, onions, asparagus, eggplant, and brussels sprouts (which I've been missing so much!). But because I'm introducing this new category this week, I have to stop eating foods from the polyols category again so that we can isolate the foods and really see how my body reacts to one category versus another (it's like a controlled science experiment. THIS IS SCIENCE, PEOPLE!).

I'm looking forward to garlic and onions again! Food has been quite bland without it, but I've been making do. Once I go through and re-introduce all of the categories independently, then I can see if I have any specific reactions to certain types of foods, and then avoid things that my body reacts to negatively.

With all of this said, even though I'm going through all of this gut-healing protocol, my symptoms the last several weeks have been quite bad (bad bloating and discomfort, reflux, some nausea, and lethargy). I'm just hoping that as I start incorporating the probiotics and gut-lining support supplements more and more, my body will start to respond.

In addition to my digestive symptoms, I've been experiencing a flare up of underarm welts/lumps that are raised and painful. Usually they go away by receding back into my skin as if they were never there after a few days to a week or so, but this particular flare has lasted more than 3 weeks now.

I'm continuing to do acupuncture as another form of treatment. During these treatments my acupuncturist is focusing on immune system support and detox pathways, which I seem to respond to the best, so we're continuing on that path. My acupuncturist and functional medicine doctor are not exactly sure what the underarm welts are an indication of, but they think it's likely an immune response to something or a sign of detox. In my acupuncture treatments we are going to be focusing on that as well.

I'm going to be doing an in-depth post about my acupuncture experience, so stay tuned for that at a later date.

I also had a lab test called the Spectracell, which tests your white blood cells for levels of nutrients your body has been absorbing over the last 3-12 months. This test is beneficial to deficiencies.

My results showed deficiencies in: oleic acid, calcium, vitamin E, copper, and overall antioxidant function. I was borderline deficient in carnitine, glutathione, Coenzyme Q-10, and was borderline low on the test's immune system response.

I haven't yet had my follow-up with my functional medicine doctor on these results, but after meeting with my dietician, we are already supplementing me on oleic acid in the form of olive oil and avocado/avocado oil. Other deficiencies will be addressed (or not) after meeting with my doctor in a few weeks.

Here's a summary of my current symptoms:

  • Bloat and digestive discomfort
  • Abnormal stools
  • Reflux
  • Occasional nausea
  • Underarm welts that are raised and painful
  • Fatigue/low energy
  • Continued increase in body fat and inability to form lean muscle
  • Swelling of ankles, and general swollen-feeling

Here is a summary of the current supplements I'm taking:

Note: My recap above is my personal experience. I am not a doctor or medical professional. If you are experiencing health concerns or symptoms, please find a medical professional (I recommend a functional medicine doctor) to get checked out. Don't begin taking any supplements without first consulting with a medical professional or dietician who is familiar with your case.

As always, thanks for reading.