As some of you know by reading my About Me page, I was diagnosed with SIBO myself in 2018. It took me a full year from the time it was diagnosed (with a Lactulose breath test), to the time I received a negative/clear breath test after treatment (again, with a Lactulose breath test).
Thankfully, after months of research, persistence and my infamous level of stubbornness (my boyfriend would attest to that), I was able to finally resolve the bacterial overgrowth. From my experience in the SIBO facebook groups, not everyone is able to do so (see Recommended Books/Groups).
I have seen countless stories of people who have been struggling for months or even years, and I really hope to be able to help at least ONE person make progress with tackling SIBO. I strongly believe what contributed towards me achieving this, was my understanding early on in the process as to how important a role finding your root cause plays in regaining your health!
Here is a quite famous quote from a philosopher named Hippocrates:
“All Disease Begins in The Gut.” He was ahead of his time in knowing just how essential of a role the gut plays in our well-being. While the disease, such as IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease), dysbiosis or SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), may have stemmed from your gut health, the cause of the gut health issues may have stemmed from a variety of factors, both environmental and/or genetic. That is the topic of this post, and I hope it helps get you started on a path to taking down SIBO once and for all!
So, What Does “Root Cause” Mean?!
What is a “root cause”, you might ask? Well, in short, the root cause (or causes) is what allowed SIBO to develop in the first place. I hope I am not confusing you even more with this statement. You might have been led to believe that SIBO IS the root cause. You may believe that SIBO is the thing you should solely focus on, and is the thing that once fixed, will allow you to feel amazing again.
However, this is sadly not accurate (at least not usually). In reality, SIBO is just a symptom of something else not working well in the body. For example, chronic stress can slow down or impair our Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), allowing food to ferment and opportunistic bacteria to feed off of it, and proliferate/grow out of control. If you fixed the SIBO, it is likely to return if you did not address the underlying cause (chronic stress).
So, while you might be focusing solely on how the hell to get rid of SIBO, please bear with me and understand that you also first need to address what caused it in the first place. This will prevent you from becoming a statistic (44% of people who treat SIBO relapse within nine months) after Rifaxamin treatment, unnecessary suffering and your health from not progressing in a positive direction!
You can take round after round of antibiotics, or herbals, and often times it won’t even clear SIBO, because it's like trying to plant a flower garden in a garbage dump. It will kill bacteria, but not addressing the underlying issues/causes, will enable the bacteria to overgrow again.
In summary, one of your very first steps in eliminating SIBO (and even some autoimmune illnesses such as IBD, which I also have personal experience with, as I have Ulcerative Colitis) is finding your root cause(s).
In case it wasn’t already clear: SIBO is a disease itself, but it is also symptomatic of a larger issue! Something caused your SIBO to occur. Until you figure out what that might have been AND address it (both by eliminating that issue and supporting the body in a way that heals it), SIBO is likely to relapse/re-occur.
How To Begin Finding Your Root Cause
Now, something I see quite often in the SIBO support groups (see post Recommended Online Groups) – where you can often find me – is many people expressing how difficult it is to find their root cause(s), or how to even begin figuring it out. This leaves them feeling very frustrated and often despondent. Understandably so! The process is not easy, but can be simplified with the right outlook, tools and information.
Personally, I found working with a skilled naturopath who has experience with SIBO very helpful. With her guidance and my own research, I was able to find some potential root causes to investigate one by one. There are many many potential root causes, but with the right information, support, tests, and a bit (actually, a lot) of determination, there is hope in finding out your own root causes!
My naturopath, being very knowledgeable, sat me down and went through my medical history during our initial two-hour appointment, and started putting the puzzle pieces of my health together. At that point in time, due to my brain fog and chronic fatigue, it would have been impossible to solve my health mysteries alone without professional help. I also had very limited knowledge on SIBO in general, as well as on supplements, how digestion worked in detail, how certain things can affect the body, how my IBD/Ulcerative Colitis is really likely linked to leaky gut, etc.
However, over a year since that initial appointment, and countless hours spent researching, I am even finding more potential root causes that my naturopath didn’t catch! That’s right – almost two years since my initial breath test and diagnosis, I am still researching and working towards regaining my health. That is how complex these health challenges can be!
However, I am not attempting to scare or overwhelm you, nor am I trying to make it seem like an impossible feat. On the contrary, it IS possible to get better. In fact, I have made great progress since my initial diagnosis, despite not reaching my goal of optimal health – yet!
My goal with my website and these posts is to show you how others, and myself, have taken back control of their health, and learn from our mistakes! I really want to help you avoid any unnecessary roadblocks and suffering by taking something from what I (and others) have learned, and hopefully be able to apply it to your own health journey.
My hope is that some of it might resonate with you, or show you just how outside the box you might need to start thinking in order to piece together your own root causes: So let’s begin by going over some potential root causes to SIBO, as well as some of my own!
Common Ways We Can Develop SIBO Or A Bacterial Overgrowth
If you don’t have access to a naturopath, and must go through this process on your own, we can start by outlining some of the more common (but not always obvious) ways we can develop SIBO
1 – Taking Antibiotics
A single dose of antibiotics is enough to wipe out (sometimes even permanently) essential bacterial strains that help with all kinds of functions. In an ideal world, taking antibiotics would only kill off the “bad” bacteria your doctor wants to see eliminated. The reality is that antibiotics can’t distinguish between beneficial and harmful bacteria. When you take antibiotics, you also end up killing off protective (good) bacteria in the process.
When our microbiome becomes imbalanced, it leaves room for the “bad” bacteria, or certain strains of bacteria, to take hold and overgrow in the small intestine, causing an imbalance or “dysbiosis”.
Our gut microbiome is so fragile yet so important to many functions, such as digestion (those little bacteria break down nutrients!), serotonin and dopamine production (anxiety was a huge symptom for me at my worst state), and maintaining the wholeness of the intestinal mucosa (which is why we often see Leaky Gut along with many if not all autoimmune illnesses).
Some things you can do if you absolutely need to take antibiotics:
1) Taking a probiotic that can withstand and survive antibiotics, such as L.Plantarum. Taking this bacterial strain alongside antibiotics can help ensure that opportunistic bacteria such as Candida albicans will not proliferate afterward.
2) Saccharomyces Boulardii:
This cool discovery was made by French scientist Henri Boulard all the way back in 1923, when he observed natives of Southeast Asia chewing on the skin of lychee and mangosteen in an attempt to control the symptoms of cholera.
Sacc. boulardii has many functions, namely its ability to stop or even prevent diarrhea that is associated with antibiotic usage. It works by helping to fight off disease-causing organisms in the gut such as bacteria and yeast. As mentioned above, when we take antibiotics, it will kill off both good and bad bacteria, since it can’t distinguish between the two, leaving us vulnerable and at risk for bacterial strains and yeast to proliferate and cause dysbiosis/SIBO. Sacc. boulardii can help prevent this from occurring!
Fun fact: I am quite grateful for Sacc. boulardii myself, because it helped me out a few months ago!
When I triggered an ulcerative colitis flare-up by enjoying myself on vacation a bit too well (I can’t resist a good pizza and dessert!), Sacc. boulardii was there to help. I had diarrhea close to 10 times a day for a good 5 days, until I took Sacc. boulardii (two 250mg pills a day, one in the morning and one at night – note: dosing was recommended by my naturopathic doctor. I always recommend that you get specific health information from your own Naturopath or doctor – note that naturopath and naturopathic doctor are two very different things!).
It only took two days for the diarrhea to stop, and I can’t help but assume Sacc. boulardii rescued me and my poor digestive system. In fact, there is some evidence that shows it can help with IBD patients, as well as a whole host of other ailments such as UTIs, canker sores, hives, etc. Sacc. boulardii has been shown to be non-pathogenic and non-systemic (it remains in the gastrointestinal tract rather than spreading elsewhere in the body).
2 – Food Poisoning
Every year, thousands of people develop health issues related to food poisoning. SIBO is one of those health issues that can develop.
Fact: Low stomach can make us more susceptible to getting food poisoning. This is because the acid in our stomachs kills and protects us from bacteria and pathogens in our food. Stomach acid also plays a vital role in both proper digestion (it breaks down our food and lets the next stage of our digestion know its ready to move on).
This is because when we get food poisoning, the body can trigger an immune response to fight against the toxin, with CdtB antibodies (anti-cytolethal distending toxin B). Through a process called molecular mimicry, the body also makes antibodies to vinculin (normally, vinculin is important for nerve cells in the gut, which stimulate surrounding muscles to push food down the digestive tract, thinking it's the toxin. The body essentially attacks itself, damaging the nervous system of the small intestine, potentially leading to SIBO or other IBS type symptoms.
In other words, when the gut becomes damaged, the normal muscle contractions of the digestive system get thrown off. This can then cause bacteria to become trapped in the small intestine, resulting in SIBO or dysbiosis.
How to test if your IBS stems from food poisoning:
There is now also a new test called the “ibs-smart”. Anti-CdtB and anti-vinculin are highly specific biomarkers for IBS, according to a study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. If you have these markers in elevated amounts, it can indicate that your IBS symptoms are due to an experience of food poisoning.
According to the makers of the test, the test is highly specific in distinguishing between IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease).
3 – Low Stomach Acid
Many of those with SIBO also have low stomach acid, and the causes of the low stomach acid can be attributed to many things. Inflammation, H.Pylori infection and the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), overuse of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, overuse of antacids, zinc deficiency, and thyroid issues.
Unfortunately, low stomach acid can cause SIBO as well, due to the important role stomach acid plays in protecting us from harmful pathogens/bacteria/parasites from our food and water. Stomach acid also helps us to break down our foods so we can properly absorb the nutrients, as well as allows the food to be broken down efficiently. If it is not broken down efficiently, it may end up sitting in our stomachs for too long, fermenting and/or allowing our gut bacteria to feed off of it! This then allows those bacteria to to proliferate and you end up with an imbalance (dysbiosis/SIBO).
It is highly recommended to check if low stomach acid is an issue for you. (I found this article by Dr. Jockers helpful). It outlines with detailed steps how to find out if you have low stomach acid.
Personally I think the HCL method is the most sure way to find out whether or not your stomach acid is low. I take 1000mg per meal, of HCL + Pepsin by Thorne,
4 – Certain medications/NSAID Usage
There are medications that exist to help us, but some are often abused or misused, and many (myself included at some point) aren’t even aware of their negative side effects. I took the acne medication Accutane twice in my mid teens (16-17). Very shortly after this, I started experiencing issues with digestion, particularly nausea and diarrhea off and on. It occurred very slowly so I wasn’t too concerned and I did not seek medical attention.
After about two years, I had my first “flare up” (an exacerbation of a chronic disease. Sometimes referred to as a flare-up, a flare occurs when symptoms of a disease that has been present for a time suddenly worsen). I had extreme urgency to go to the bathroom, and blood in my stool. It was quite scary, and it prompted me to have a colonoscopy shortly after. I was then diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 21.
Later on, I learned that Accutane is associated with causing ulcerative colitis (among other issues). The chronic inflammation I had could have also resulted in scar tissue on my intestines (scarring and/or adhesions can also lead to SIBO). In fact, the company has since discontinued Accutane due to the settling of multiple lawsuits over side effects. However it is now being sold under different company names since the patent expired.
Something that many of us don’t yet know (I only learned this last year), is that many autoimmune illnesses (if not all) stem from leaky gut. Essentially, leaky gut is when the tight junctions of the delicate intestinal lining become damaged, allowing harmful substances like bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to enter your bloodstream. This can thus trigger an immune reaction, causing various health problems.
Leaky gut is experienced as symptoms such as constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, skin rashes, acne, etc. It can be caused by NSAID usage, inflammation, gut dysbiosis, consuming gluten/zonulin.
I am quite certain I had a leaky gut long before I actually developed SIBO. As I mentioned, I have IBD, specifically ulcerative colitis. I learned of this at age 21(SIBO came later, at age 26).
Leaky gut preceding auto immune illnesses, is unfortunately something I was not aware of when I was diagnosed with UC (thanks, Doc). So I spent many years just managing symptoms, eating a limited diet because I was afraid of fiber (this probably just made my poor gut/microbiome worse-off), and taking a prescribed medication for the UC called Mezavant/Mesalamine for over 5 years – unnecessarily, I must add.
As I listed above, NSAIDs, or anti-inflammatory drugs, are so so terrible for our gut. This is also something we are not informed about. In fact, NSAIDs used to be by prescription only, due to the risks. They damage the lining of our gut, which can lead to low stomach acid (remember how low stomach acid can cause SIBO to occur?).
Think of your stomach lining as a shag carpet from the 70’s (hopefully my fellow-millennials know what this is!), which contain cells that release the stomach acid. NSAIDs effectively damage the gut, and then your lining looks more like those cheap carpets you use for shoes that you have in your door-way.
These anti-inflammatories I was taking for my UC, which I thought were helping me, probably caused at least in part, my leaky gut. I do want to point out that they did help me at the beginning, when I had my first flare-up. They stopped the bleeding quite quickly in fact. However, I do strongly believe that I could have avoided taking them (at least for the most part) if I had known that I just needed to heal my leaky gut with certain supplements (L-Glutamine being the top choice – Also great for curbing sugar and alcohol additions!), make some dietary changes (Paleo AIP for the win!), and not put all of my faith into a single Gastroenterologist and prescribed medication.
I also used to pop Ibuprofen (also an NSAID) almost daily in some periods of time, due to neck and shoulder pain from slouching in front of a desk all day at work (good posture was neglected), or headaches from staring at the computer or my cell phone (I highly recommend blue-light filter glasses, lesson learned!).
I think many of us can relate to the above, or at least the part about using Ibuprofen as a pain reliever. You might be asking “Well, how can I avoid these seriously damaging drugs?”
Something that helps me is self-massage (or professional if you can afford it), and knowing your limits. I used to push through fatigue constantly, both due to having no choice – I worked full time, and studied in the evenings for my University degree for a little over SIX years! Because I am the most stubborn person you will ever come across, I hate to quit just because I'm tired, and I also didn’t want to admit that I might need to slow down and take it easy. This is something I still struggle with. I’m in my twenties, I don’t feel like I should have to do this!
But I've come to learn that while healing all of these health issues, it's a temporary slow-down that is quite necessary if I ever want to feel good again. It's something that if you have an illness (or multiple, like me, how lucky!), adrenal fatigue (yep, I have that too), or any other limitation, it's something you just have to do.
On the bright side, “slowing down” shouldn’t be forever. Look at it as an investment into your future – you may have to miss out on some stuff now (FOMO 🙁 ), rest when you’d rather be doing anything but, and sooner rather than later you will feel better. Right now your focus should be on healing!
It doesn’t have to be a negative thing, either. The next thing on my recommended list of how to avoid stress is taking time for yourself. Who doesn’t need more of that? Have a bath (epsom salt baths are recommended too, for detox and soreness), watch a funny movie (who doesn’t need some comedy in this darkness?), heck, play with your cats if you have any (mine definitely entertain me and lift my mood with their silly nature!) – whatever helps!
Lastly, if you do work in front of a desk, make sure to get up as often as you can and take a break from sitting and staring (sitting is also terrible for our health, by the way, in case you needed something else to worry about). Do some stretching if you can too (I used to just go to the washroom and do some quick but effective back and shoulder exercises my Physio Therapist told me to do), it can take as little as 5 minutes but really help to awaken your body, re-adjust your posture and take some tension off of those neck and shoulders, which will hopefully help you avoid needing to pop a damaging Ibuprofen.
If you can’t get up and take a break often, at least take your eyes off the screen and stare into the distance for at least a minute. Do this every 20 minutes if possible. There are also some other ways to help with eye strain such as having your monitor at eye level, and having a blue-light filter or day-time adjuster on your screen (I recommend the App ‘Flux’.
The hope is that with more self-care and being aware of how you feel, you can avoid overstraining your eyes, adding tension to your muscles, and decrease your usage of damaging NSAID medications.
5 – Birth Control
Sorry ladies, but your birth control pill might be one of your underlying causes to SIBO. The pill has been shown to have the ability to alter our microbiome and impact gut flora in negative ways.
According to recent studies, 11 million women in the U.S are using the birth control pill.
Chances are, if you’re a women reading this, you have or are currently taking the pill. I took the pill for about 10 years straight, starting at aged 17 to 25! Shortly after, I started experiencing digestive issues, and later was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
I now know that autoimmune illness is associated with birth control usage. That is because the synthetic hormones used in birth control can impact the tight junctions of your intestinal barrier, and can impact your gut flora.
If you recall from my other posts, leaky gut is usually a precursor to autoimmunity/autoimmune illness. Leaky gut can be caused by all sorts of things, but in this context, it can be caused by birth control, for a few reasons:
1 – The altered gut flora makes way for dysbiosis and/or SIBO, which can cause leaky gut.
2 – It can also cause candida overgrowth, which is another factor to getting a leaky gut.
3 – One other important reason is the connection between birth control and bile and gallbladder production. According to studies, there is evidence that birth control may impact gallbladder function, and can even cause gallbladder disease.
Bile has multiple roles within the body. It helps get rid of excess estrogen (excess estrogen can lead to gallstones), and also helps keep bad bacteria at bay, due to its antimicrobial properties. Your gallbladder helps support hormonal balance, and regulates your digestive mobility – remember impaired motility is a big contributor to getting SIBO)!
You might be wondering what your options are if you are taking birth control. If you are like me and millions of other women, you might be concerned about unwanted pregnancy, as well as the lesser desirable options out there, such as condoms or the pull-out method!
I ended up going off the pill immediately after finding out I had SIBO. My naturopath informed me of the consequences to my gut health by being on the pill. When I was trying to clear SIBO, and transform my lifestyle, I decided to give the pill up, even if it added another layer of inconvenience to my life. I knew that if I would have any chance in getting better, I had to make sacrifices. I knew it would be worth it (P.S it was!)
Condoms aren’t great, but you know what else isn’t great – SIBO, Candida overgrowth, bloating, gas, fatigue, acne – shall I go on? You know exactly how terrible these symptoms are.
If you are struggling to get off the pill due to extreme cramps, pain, heavy flow etc, I highly recommend reading Beyond The Pill, by Dr. Jolene Brighten. She explains that those symptoms are not normal, and the pill given to you by your doctor is merely masking the symptoms, not to mention they never inform you of any consequences (see a trend here?). She explains how to go about leveling out your hormones so that you don't need to be on the pill to manage them.
If you absolutely cannot or will not go off the pill, Dr Brighten suggests taking a probiotic such as Megaspore. If you have trouble finding a practitioner to help you purchase the product, please get in touch with me and I can try to help get you a practitioner code!
Dr. Brighten also suggests taking supplements to help heal your gut (or counteract the side effects of the pill). Check out my post on healing leaky gut to see which natural products can help!
She also offers free material to help you get started:
6 – Social Isolation/Loneliness/Stress
In today's society, social isolation and loneliness has become an epidemic. We are so connected through social media, yet the rates of people who say they are lonely has sky rocketed in recent years. I also have yet to meet a single person who genuinely isn't affected or downright overtaken by stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately guys, I am not immune to this, either (might have a bit to do with the hell that is SIBO, or not to mention having to live with IBD since my early 20’s). I had a terrible childhood filled with neglect, abuse, and countless incidents that have given me C-PTSD. I’m still working on this. It's a process. But now that I know just how damaging stress is to our bodies, gut, and digestion, (it isn’t something to just accept, live with, normalize, ignore), I am being much more conscious of my mood, thoughts, and behaviors (emphasis on work in progress! I kinda suck at this still).
I struggled with anxiety and feelings of depression on and off for many years, likely stemming from my upbringing and childhood trauma. I have a hard time connecting with people at times, and tend to isolate myself because it feels easier to be alone than put energy and effort into socializing.
Pair that with being sick with SIBO, and feeling exhausted all of the time, it was a self-perpetuating cycle of sadness, loneliness, anxiety. To my defense however, having SIBO may have also contributed to my anxiety, as about 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. Having a disruption of the microbiome and this hormone likely made my anxiety worse. Now that I am SIBO free, my anxiety is a lot less severe, but still something I am working on.
These things may not seem like it could cause any health issues, but they certainly can. There are many studies that show that loneliness and health issues are associated. For example, being lonely can trigger the stress hormone which can cause us to be more susceptible to health issues, such as our immune system and even cause cancer!
A second major potential root cause of mine is likely stress. You may be wondering how something like stress, which everyone has at some point, could have given me SIBO. But we aren’t talking about the normal level of stress that is actually good for us, I'm talking about the stress that is chronic, unmanageable, and downright unhelpful.
See, stress isn’t our enemy. For our ancestors, stress was a helpful motivator for survival, allowing them to avoid real physical threats. That's because it makes your body think it's in danger, and triggers that “fight-or-flight” survival mode.
In more modern times, it protects us, motivates us to do things, makes us care about things (something was motivating me to study for hundreds of those University tests). It can even serve a self-validating function (i.e., tells us something important in our life is changing or is affected, and helps us learn how to deal with recurrent stressors over time).
It's the stress that you experience day in and day out that isn’t good for us and needs moderation. Especially if you’re dealing with health issues, namely digestive ones, it is important that you both understand how stress is likely contributing to your health issues, holding you back from getting better, and how you can manage it!
Stress also can literally rewire the brain, particularly regions such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and amygdala. They respond to acute and chronic stress and show changes in morphology and chemistry. Stress can make us susceptible to illnesses such as Cushing's disease, and anxiety disorders.
This is how it works: When we’re stressed, a stress hormone called cortisol is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands (listen up, adrenal fatigue sufferers). Normal levels of cortisol are also released when you wake up in the morning or exercise. These levels can help regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar levels and even strengthen your heart muscle. In small doses, the hormone can heighten memory, increase your immune system and lower sensitivity to pain.
However, prolonged stress literally maxes out your adrenals’ ability to properly regulate, as the constant cortisol demands “fatigues” them. This is where the term adrenal fatigue comes from, and can cause many symptoms such as:
- Trouble getting to sleep and waking up
- Craving salt and sugar
- Unexplained weight loss
- Reliance on stimulants such as caffeine to get through your day
- Nonspecific digestive problems
- Feeling extra tired after exercise
If adrenal fatigue symptoms resonates with you, I recommend checking out the Adrenal Fatigue support group on Facebook (see post on Recommended Books/Online Groups). There, you will find help figuring out if you have adrenal fatigue, how to test for it, and what to do (or not to do) if you have it so you can heal!
Stress also takes a toll on the digestive system running smoothly, slowing the whole thing down. Again, when we’re stressed, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Prolonged exposure to cortisol can actually damage the gut. This happens because cortisol curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system.
This chronic, prolonged exposure to cortisol revs up your immune system and is highly inflammatory. If not dealt with, over time, this can lead to an autoimmune disease. While your digestive system is temporarily shut down, it is also unable to fight off bad bacteria by producing enough good bacteria to combat them, which can lead to imbalances in your gut, such as SIBO!
Stress and a damaged gut can also slow down your Migrating Motor Complex and impacts the secretion of hydrochloric acid, or gastric acid. is produced by parietal cells (also called oxyntic cells) in the gastric glands in the stomach (which is also why its so important to be relaxed when sitting down to eat).
If your gut is damaged, and you aren’t producing enough stomach acid, this can also lead to SIBO through food poisoning or foods fermenting in the stomach. The MMC is a mechanism that sweeps residual undigested food and other matter through your GI tract between meals. This allows bacteria to build up and causes food to stagnate, which ferments and further feeds the bacteria in your gut (hello, SIBO!).
It can also mean toxins being left in your body since, with a slowed down system or impaired peristalsis movements, we may not be going to the bathroom frequently enough to eliminate waste, allowing it to redistribute in the body and making us feel yucky.
Note: A great book I found interesting is “Childhood Disrupted” – the authors show the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and adult illnesses such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer—Childhood Disrupted also explains how to cope and heal from these emotional traumas as well as how to reverse the rewiring of the brain that trauma cases.
7 – Bad Sleeping Habits
Sleep disorders are one of the biggest health related issues in the western world, with 50-70 million Americans alone, reporting having a sleep disorder.
For as long as I can remember, I too have been unable to sleep through the night without waking up at least twice (I average about 3-4 wakes a night). I often wake up feeling groggy and it takes a good couple of hours for me to feel awake enough to be productive.
I would go to sleep and wake up at different/inconsistent times. I would watch TV and use my phone right before sleeping or even to fall asleep. I would be so stressed and anxious from work and school that I would wake up several times a night. My sleep was terrible and in case you didn’t know, sleep plays a vital role in our health!
8 – Bad Diet
My Gastroenterology who diagnosed me told me that diet played no role in managing or healing ulcerative colitis. I was young, and still believed that doctors knew best. I did my own research and came up with a few things however, such as don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables, and high fiber could make symptoms worse. Being afraid that I would trigger another flare up, I limited my intake of fruits and vegetables. Not eating a wide variety of veggies leads to deficiencies and can cause a whole host of issues. I especially stayed away from cruciferous veggies – as they are notorious for producing gas – which are so important for gut health and our microbiome.
Looking back, I also ate SO much sugar. I was a sugar junkie, eating a chocolate bar or a bag of candy sometimes daily, often in an attempt to keep myself awake at my office job. It also gave me a high which is why sugar is so addictive . Overall, I was probably lacking in some important vitamins and minerals in my diet too, which over time could have been a contributing factor in eventually getting SIBO.
Fact: Since starting and being on Paleo AIP (and clearing SIBO), my tolerance level for sweetness and sugar has dramatically declined! Things I used to crave and enjoy have become actually quite disgusting to me now (who would have thought).
What can happen when we clear our overgrowth is that those bacteria (who literally signal to our brain that we need sugar) are wiped out or put back into balance, and we no longer have the same cravings for carbs or sugar like we once might have. So, if you find yourself struggling to not eat that candy bar, that cake, or a cookie (or 10, sorrynotsorry), don’t feel bad or guilty! It isn’t your fault that you are having trouble controlling the cravings. Those bacteria are insatiable and know that their survival is dependent on you feeding them sugar. They are screaming at your brain and telling it that you need sugar. But really, you don’t need it. They just want you to think that you do because it benefits them.
Another thing, once you are able to stop eating sugar (or at least significantly reduce the amount), your taste receptors AND gut taste receptors (yes, another amazing function our gut has on our health) literally change! The things you thought weren’t so sweet before, will become way too sweet.
I remember really craving a Funfetti cake for my birthday last year. I waited weeks to make it. When I finally took that first bite, I was so disappointed! It tasted so gross to me! Way too sweet and synthetic tasting. I had some friends over that were gladly helping me eat it, because otherwise the whole thing would have gone into the garbage – that’s how much I no longer enjoyed it.
9 – Mercury/Heavy Metals
Heavy metals can wreak havoc on so many bodily functions, but often goes undetected for years. Doctors often do not think to test for this (my doctor outright refused to!), and many aren't even aware of how prevalent they are. From water, to the products we use every day, heavy metals are increasingly difficult to avoid.
This is a root cause that I have discovered only recently, almost two years since my initial naturopath consultation/SIBO diagnosis. Let my experience be a friendly reminder to you – it may take several months and attempts to finally piece everything together, and get your health back. I thought once SIBO was gone, I would be a new person. Boy was I wrong! There is so much more to it than just clearing the bacterial overgrowth.
I purchased a hair test (HTMA) a couple of months ago, which can show deficiencies, heavy metals and signs of adrenal/thyroid issues. I came across a very helpful facebook group shortly after, called ‘Andy Cutler Chelation: Safe Mercury and Heavy Metal Detox’ where I was able to submit my hair test results and have them interpreted (for free, by the way) by their very nice Admins.
According to their Admins, my results show that I have a 95% likelihood for mercury toxicity! I met two out of four of the Andy Cutler protocol’s “counting rules” – these are statistical shortcuts that are used to determine the likelihood of mercury toxicity. They are based on patterns of mineral derangement that Andy devised. Meeting just one rule meals about a 95% likelihood of mercury toxicity
Side note: It is very important to have this test properly interpreted by someone who is very knowledgeable on this test and the results. Something I did not know prior to doing the test is that some metals (namely mercury) will NOT necessarily show up on the test as positive, unless you have been recently exposed to mercury.
This is because with a fresh mercury exposure, it will still be in your blood which will then show up on the test through your hair. If it is not a fresh exposure, it will only show up as signs or indications of mercury toxicity. This is because of mercury’s insidious nature. It eventually hides in your organs (liver and brain especially).
These signs are not well-known by just any doctor. Even my naturopath wasn’t as knowledgeable on this as the Andy Cutler group Admins are. Andy Cutler wrote a book ( “The Mercury Detoxification Manual”) on the subject,
I highly recommend his book, by the way, even if you have not yet been diagnosed with mercury toxicity, some of the signs or symptoms he points out might resonate with you or a loved one. Mercury toxicity has become much more common in the past few years, so unfortunately chances are you or someone you know may have this issue and not even know it, and suffer needlessly for years before they ever (if ever) figure it out.
10 – Eating Foods That Weren’t Properly Prepared/Balanced
About 3 months before I became really sick with SIBO symptoms, I had just finished going through a vegetarian diet phase. I had a friend at work who had been a vegetarian for almost 10 years, and after asking him about it, I was inspired. He did it both for animal ethics reasons as well as health.
Something I have had a passion for since being very young is my love for animals. I used to go down to the fields and find frogs, fish, worms, anything in nature that I could find! I also had all kinds of pets growing up, many of them being rescued in some form, from cats to dogs, hamsters, fish, birds. I even saved a baby dove from being tormented by school children, and he became my beloved pet for over 10 years (his name was Dovey. Looking back, that wasn’t very original lol)!
I questioned how I could see some animals as pets and do anything I could to keep them safe and happy, yet eat others that have had terrible lives and deaths. So, that’s what started my vegetarian phase. I wanted to see if I could do it. Now to be honest, I didn’t go full vegetarian. I started off with having one vegetarian meal a week, and that increased to my weekdays being vegetarian, and weekends having some meat (I had an addiction to Domino’s pepperoni pizza).
The way I saw it was, I was doing my body, the environment and animals a favor by cutting down my meat consumption to zero during the week. If I could stick to that system by “rewarding” myself with meat on weekends, so be it!
Alright, so I was eating a partial vegetarian diet, great, right? So what was the problem you might ask? Essentially, with many types of diets and cuisines, there are traditional ways of preparing foods that you might not know about!
Specifically with a vegetarian diet, I was consuming a lot of lentils, beans, and chickpeas. There are two main reasons why I believe soaking legumes to be best:
1) Reduces flatulence: Soaking leaches out sugars in beans or legumes that are responsible for gas production
2) Anti-Nutrients: All legumes contain anti-nutrients (phytates or phytic acid, and tannins),which essentially is a protective coating. This reduces nutrient availability for humans. Soaking deactivates these anti-nutrients. Without soaking, you might not actually absorb some of the great nutritional benefits of legumes! Also, when legumes are unsoaked, it makes it difficult for your gut to break down these foods, causing inflammation (which can lead to a leaky gut). So while you may think you’re eating healthy by consuming legumes, it might be having the opposite effect.
Here is a very easy way to soak your legumes:
1. Put legumes in a bowl and add enough water to cover them
2. Add a pinch of baking soda
3. Soak at room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours, while changing the water and baking soda at least once
4. Rinse and cook normally
The same goes for all grains, flour, nuts and seeds prior to cooking! They all have their own unique way of preparing, which can easily be found with a quick google search.
Another important note is that I likely wasn’t eating a balanced diet. As previously mentioned, I consumed a lot of legumes, but not many other types of vegetables. Something that can lead to dysbiosis (or SIBO), is both having a limited diet (we need to feed those bacteria a diverse range of fiber/plant sources!), and not having the right minerals, vitamins and nutrients for all of our bodily functions. Missing key elements can have a negative cascading effect on our body and our health.
I can only assume that I wasn’t getting the proper nutrition, looking back at what I was (and wasn’t) eating. I do want to clarify that I do not believe a vegetarian diet when done properly, to be a bad thing. In fact there are many studies which show how eating less or no meat, and upping our fiber is beneficial to our health. There are also studies that show the opposite. It isn’t something I am going to debate here, though! I just want to say that the way I had done the vegetarian diet might not have been the best way. It's important that when starting any diet, we understand what we are doing by researching, and planning our meals to ensure we are getting all of our required nutrients.
All this to say, I do suspect that eating vegetarian and not soaking/preparing my foods properly was a contributing factor to both my leaky gut and my health declining and developing into SIBO. I may also not have had the gut bacteria available at the time to help break down all of that fiber! As previously mentioned, when I was diagnosed with UC, I avoided fiber or greatly reduced my fiber intake. When we stop eating certain foods, the bacteria responsible for breaking down that food can disappear. So when we go back and eat that food, we can find ourselves experiencing discomfort (indigestion, bloating, gas) and it may even be damaging to our gut.
My hope for you after reading this post is that you now realize that finding your root cause sometimes requires us to think outside of the box a little (or sometimes a lot). Also research as much as you can! I luckily have lots of time to do this, and I realize not everyone is that fortunate. But I don’t think I would be at the point I am now in my health journey if I didn’t spend time reading, researching, talking to other members of the support groups, and trying to piece things together the best I can.
I realize this process can be frustrating, daunting and confusing. The root cause(s) are sometimes not obvious. But piece by piece, you will get to the bottom of it! You may need to try many things, and go down the list of possibilities, but eventually you will figure out what your root causes were/are, and regain your health! Personally, sitting back and waiting for it to come to me isn’t a possibility or option. I feel I must continue fighting to find out what went wrong with my health, and rebuild a lifestyle that prevents illness from occuring again. I believe with the proper information and support, you can too!