Oh the gut. My favorite thing to talk about. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart given my own health issues over the years. IBS has been an issue of mine for as long as I can remember, but it likely went much deeper than that. I just didn’t realize it until I began studying nutrition and functional medicine (and I hadn’t realized that it contributed to my depression back then, or that it was also linked to anxiety).
Disease Begins in the Gut
You see, Hippocrates really did say it best with “All disease begins in the gut.” Whether you’re experiencing traditional gastrointestinal issues or not, the gut is always the first place to look when there’s imbalance in the body. We now know that gut infections can cause things like anxiety and depression, and approximately 20% of those diagnosed with IBS are suffering with mood issues. It makes sense though, since serotonin is primarily produced in the gut, and that’s our “feel good” hormone.
So, you may be wondering…I have IBS, now what? You have a fancy diagnosis, but few treatment options. Thankfully I kept digging for answers based on my own knowledge and training. I quickly learned that more than 50% of those struggling with IBS are actually dealing with SIBO. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and means exactly that- too much bacteria in the small intestines.
If you’re an IBS sufferer, SIBO is something to learn about. That was my issue, yet I didn’t discover it for years. Unfortunately breath tests often give false negatives, and SIBO in general can be very hard to diagnose and treat. This is why I believe it’s so often overlooked. As you’ll see below, most of the symptoms are quite similar to traditional IBS.
- Stomach pain and distention
- Diarrhea and/or constipation issues
- Frequent heartburn or reflux (GERD)
- Skin rashes
- Nutrient deficiencies (especially b12)
- FODMAPS sensitivities
Unfortunately the causes of SIBO are not fully understood. While of course an imbalance (dysbiosis) of gut flora is one possibility, it is also thought that low stomach acid is a contributor. Thankfully, a comprehensive stool test like the GI Map can look at gut flora, and even basic lab work can give you an idea of low stomach acid.
Nutrition to the Rescue
If you suspect SIBO, are diagnosed with IBS, or are dealing with digestive issues AND mood related issues, I would encourage you to work to rebalance your gut through dietary changes.
- Cut out sugar, alcohol and refined grains (breads, muffins, etc).
- Adopt a low inflammatory diet rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds and high quality animal products.
- Rebuild your biome with a diversity of foods- don’t get stuck in a rut with the same 5 plants.
- Consider a low FODMAPS diet.
- Avoid overeating, but instead eat until you’re satisfied versus full (I say if you’re no longer hangry, you’re good!).
- Incorporate some ACV (apple cider vinegar) with meals if you have nutrient deficiencies and/or suspect low stomach acid.
As with any health issues, I often start by evaluating the gut since that’s where our immune system is housed. So if you’re suffering from anxiety and are dealing with IBS-like symptoms, take a look under the hood and see if your issues are stemming from there.