Fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) after a month of taking antibiotics for a bladder infection. My stomach hurt after every meal and I was experiencing daily gas and bloating. I had consistent constipation and diarrhea. I felt as if there was a rock in my stomach and my digestion wasn’t working. I was prescribed colon relaxers, but they did nothing. I kept getting “stomach bugs” and “food poisoning” and was given more antibiotics. Because my mom was also diagnosed with IBS years earlier, I thought it was something I would just have to live with. Gastroenterologists told me that my stomach issues were caused by stress and that there was nothing I could do if the colon relaxers didn’t work.
I figured I just had a sensitive stomach- it became the new normal. I got used to the stomach pain. I would make sure there was a bathroom nearby if I went out to eat, and I would come home with a stomach bug after every foreign trip. One day I even developed acute colitis which exacerbated my stomach issues for a few months.
When my Lyme symptoms started to become debilitating, my stomach issues also became debilitating. The stomach pain became so bad that I would often have to lie with a heating pad after meals, or even sleep with one just so that I could fall asleep. I started getting nausea and threw up a couple of times seemingly out of nowhere and was experiencing more constipation and diarrhea than usual. My food just sat in my stomach after every meal. Another gastroenterologist told me nothing was wrong, which was extremely frustrating! It wasn’t until my Lyme doctor (who is also a functional medicine doctor) ran a bunch of tests (which I will talk about below) and I figured out that my stomach issues were not just caused by “stress” (shocker!) I was diagnosed with parasites (several times over the course of a year), gut dysbiosis, leaky gut, and food sensitivities, all of which were contributing to my stomach issues.
I spent the last couple of years healing my gut. Today, my digestion isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was two years ago. I rarely experience pain after eating, my bowel movements are regular, and I only experience gas and bloating occasionally. I want to share what helped me the most. Everyone is different, but the puzzle pieces for me included a combination of proper testing, diet, supplements, coffee enemas, reducing stress, essential oils, binders, listening to my body, and developing a healthier relationship with food. I also want to note that healing Lyme and co-infections also helped to heal my gut!
My functional medicine doctor finally ran the right tests to figure out the root cause of my digestive issues. I did the Pinnar Test for food sensitivities, which showed which foods I was sensitive to and rated the sensitivity on a scale from 1-3. Some of the foods I rarely ate, but I did test positive for a yeast sensitivity, which means that the kombucha I was drinking to improve my gut was actually hurting me. I learned I needed to cut out gluten and dairy (at that point I had limited them but didn’t completely cut them out.) I also chose to cut out all refined sugar and even natural sweeteners for a while.
I also took a stool test and tested positive for a parasite and gut dysbiosis- the “bad” bacteria in my gut greatly outnumbered the “good.” Additionally, I had yeast overgrowth (not Candida.) A few months later, I tested positive for another parasite from an infectious disease doctor who specializes in parasites.
I was surprised I didn’t test positive for SIBO since my doctors thought I might have it and I had a lot of the symptoms, but at least that was one less thing to worry about!
As I mentioned above, I cut out all gluten, dairy, and sugar/sweeteners (but added natural sweeteners in occasionally after a while.) I cut out all grains and legumes for a year too. I ate mostly a paleo diet- lots of vegetables and protein (I started eating meat but after a few months my body stopped craving it, so I ate mostly eggs and fish.) I cut out all foods I was sensitive to, such as any yeast products, chickpeas, and corn. I ate mostly cooked foods because that was easier for my body to digest. After a year I found that I was able to occasionally eat gluten-free grains. Today, I am able to eat a mostly plant-based diet with gluten-free grains, legumes, eggs, and fish.
My doctor started me on:
L-Glutamine- which heals the gut lining
Berberine- which is anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory, kills gut infections, and helps heal leaky gut
Black Walnut- antiparasitic
Artemisinin- antibacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory
Aloe juice- to soothe the intestinal lining
Slippery Elm- also coats the intestinal lining and reduces pain
I also ended up taking a prescription antiparasitic for two weeks when I was diagnosed with a parasite for the second time.
Coffee enemas can help detox the liver and colon, help with constipation, and improve digestion. I was initially very hesitant to try coffee enemas. They sounded pretty complicated, and I am very sensitive to caffeine (and tested highly sensitive to coffee on the Pinnar Test) but I finally went for it a year and a half ago and kept going. I have tried a couple of different kits and coffees and like this kit the best and this coffee the best.
I recommend watching a youtube video before trying the enema. I started doing them once a week and actually found them very relaxing. They helped me release a lot of “weird stuff” in my gut, and I felt better after doing each one. I would start with a water enema to empty myself out, and then follow it with a coffee enema. In the beginning I had trouble holding the coffee in for a while (I read that 15 minutes is ideal) but it got easier over time. Sometimes I would feel my heart race a tiny bit after doing it from the caffeine, but otherwise I didn’t feel it at all. I think coffee enemas played a large role in healing my gut.
While I now know I was right, and that stress was not the root cause of my digestive issues, I do believe it exacerbated my symptoms. I think reducing stress is important for everyone, whether or not you have a chronic illness. Some things that helped me to reduce stress are :
Talking to a therapist
Talking to a friend or family member
Epsom salt baths
You can read my blog post on how to deal with emotional trauma here.
I LOVE these 2 oils for stomach pain, nausea, gas, and bloating: Young Living DiGize and DoTerra Digestzen. I mix the DiGize with a few drops of coconut oil and rub it on my stomach, or I use the Digestzen roll-on and rub it directly on my stomach. Both of these oils immediately help the symptoms.
I took binders (usually activated charcoal but also bentonite clay) to help with detox. I would also take them when I felt nauseous, bloated, gassy, or had stomach pain (and also before doing coffee enemas.) It’s important to take them in between meals so they don’t absorb any vitamins or minerals!
LISTENING TO MY BODY
This was really hard for me. There is so much information about what you “should” eat, “shouldn’t” eat, about supplements, etc. It can be overwhelming and we can lose touch with the most important thing- that our bodies know exactly what we need to heal. In the past I would sometimes eat when I was bored, stressed, etc. I would go overboard on sugar and desserts and feel miserable after. After I was diagnosed with Lyme, I veered towards the opposite end of the spectrum and was afraid to eat any food, even food I was craving, in case it made me feel sick or was making the infection worse. I developed fears around eating, which isn’t healthy either. It can be really challenging to eat intuitively and it’s something that I am still working on. Although I avoid foods that I know will make me feel really sick (like gluten and dairy), I have become better at eating what I feel like eating, even if it’s not what I “should” be eating for a meal. For example, sometimes I don’t really have an appetite and just want white rice and applesauce during the day. Although part me of me says “You can’t eat white rice for lunch and dinner- that’s not a meal. It will affect your blood sugar. Where are the vegetables? And protein?” I have been listening and not judging my body for what it wants. My intense sugar cravings went away when I healed my gut, but I still have occasional cravings for chocolate (let’s be real- more than occasional for chocolate), sugar, etc. I have learned not to be afraid of foods and that if my body is craving it, there’s a reason for it. Developing a healthier relationship with food has been vital in healing my gut!
An important point to remember in healing your gut is that it takes time and patience! I had stomach issues for 15 years, so I had to remind myself that my digestion may not improve after a month of treatments or even after a year of treatments. But know that you CAN heal!
** I am not a doctor. The remedies and information I share on this website have worked for me, but everyone is different and I would recommend checking with a doctor and doing your own research before trying anything.