Hi again friends - I have to admit that this certainly isn't a glamorous subject. Tonight I wanted to talk to you about gut-health; specifically, my gut-health journey and the strategies I use today to keep myself feeling (somewhat) normal. Fun stuff, right? I want to preface this with the face that I don't know everything (just today I came home from work with a terrible stomach ache), but I at least know how to better manage my symptoms. And that is progress.
About twelve years ago, I had a bout of strep throat that just would not go away. I went through three rounds of antibiotics, and the last round was so regimented that my mom had to wake me up during the middle of the night to make sure that I got the requisite dose in for the day (thanks mom!). Shortly thereafter, I also began to experience severe nausea, diaherria, and some serious stomach cramping/pain. I can vividly remember my mom attempting to drop me off at school one day, and laying in the backseat until I tearfully asked her to drive me back home because I felt nauseous. I missed 21 days of school that year, and needless to say - although I never talked about it with my friends, it was a tough experience for a 13 year-old who was trying so hard to fit in (especially at that age).
Fast forward a couple years through high school, and I started a regime of anti-acids, no dairy, and digestive enzymes, and I started to feel better. I still had that voice in the back of my head after getting sick at so many public events, but I enjoyed high school, my friends, and worked really hard to be accepted to Bucknell University. And my stomach still felt ok! Even throughout my first year at college, I felt pretty darn normal. Until my sophomore year. After struggling with some disordered eating, the stomach pain that I had experienced earlier in life came back with a vengeance. All I could do once I felt the familiar pain in my belly was lay down in bed and wait it out.
This pattern of unpredictable (but still life-altering) stomach pain continued as I started my new job after graduation, and into my next three years of working. I tried so many different times to correlate the pain to what I was or was not eating. It was devastating to me, because there were SO MANY times all I wanted to do was go out to dinner and meet up with friends, but my stomach hurt so badly that I couldn't get out of bed without doubling over.
I eventually moved from my hometown in Pittsburgh, PA to Boston, MA because my boyfriend at the time (and now husband) lived there. My stomach got progressively worse (just as I was living for the first time with a significant other - woo-hoo!), and I decided enough was enough. I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist in Boston, and I underwent a colonoscopy (terrible!), endoscopy, MRI scan of my stomach, breath test for SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and extensive blood work. Everything came back negative - and believe me, while this was a blessing, I also felt extremely defeated because I still didn't have answers. I suffered through the next year trying to see if dietary changes would help me at all (eliminating FODMAPs, eliminating dairy, going gluten-free) and experienced the same symptoms. I eventually searched online, and was lucky enough to make an appointment with Kate Scarlata, RDN (no seriously, I truly believe this was a sign from the universe as she had a sole spot open up in her practice, and I was lucky enough to snag it).
At my appointment, Kate changed my life. She looked at all of my prior test results, and discovered that although my breath test came back negative for SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), it was actually a (seemingly) misinterpreted positive test. We quickly came to the realization that I should have been treated a year ago for SIBO. I immediately called my doctor, and she agreed with Kate's recommendation that I should be treated with Rifaxamin immediately. I was pretty angry (to put it lightly) - but also excited at the prospect that I might finally start feeling better. I took a two week course of rifaxamin and felt an almost immediate difference. I was so thankful.
Fast forward another year of high-stress at work (we're talking 80+ hour weeks for multiple months), and I found myself back in the cycle of severe stomach pain. I found a new doctor through Kate Scarlata who genuinely listened to my background and symptoms, and she determined that the SIBO likely came back. She recommended another course of Rifaxamin. By this time, it was the beginning of June which was three weeks away from my wedding. Stress was still high - and I'm not going to lie that the days leading up to the wedding, my stomach was still all over the place. My goal was to enjoy the wedding and not think about my stomach at all. And I did that (for the most part). After the big day, we went on our honeymoon in Greece and Italy, and my stomach did not hurt ONCE. This was eating cheese, bread, anything I wanted. I think that this taught me a couple of things about SIBO and in general: 1) Sometimes things get a little worse before they get better, and it can be a slower process; and 2) Natural (and unprocessed foods) are extremely important for my digestion. Once we got back from our honeymoon, I progressively felt better and better. I started drinking apple cider vinegar and kombucha daily (I still drink one kombucha a day) and I also focused much more on eating fresh, whole foods. I can honestly say that I feel the best that I've felt in a really long time. All this to say - keep fighting for answers if you know in your heart that something isn't right. If I never would have found Kate - I probably would still be suffering through the terrible stomach pain.
Moving forward, I know that this is something that I always will need to keep a handle on. When I first saw Kate, she made a great comparison that my digestion would always be like being on a balance beam - and when I first saw her, she told me "You aren't even on the beam right now." I'd like to think that I've worked hard enough the past couple of years that I am now successfully standing on the beam, and although some days I fall off (right now as I'm laying on the couch, waiting it out), most days I'm successfully balancing. And that feels GOOD!
I have a lot more to say on this topic, but this is probably more than enough for now :).
Has anyone else out there struggled with gut health? What changes have you made to notice a difference in how you feel? Would love to hear your stories!