My food intolerance journey and one tool that's helping me reverse it
For years now I've been so confused as to how my generally healthy diet ended up having to become so restrictive and causing me so much pain.
I've gone from simply wheat intolerance, to also gluten intolerance, as well as lactose intolerance, and then had to end up cutting out all dairy. I was diagnosed with full blown IBS, and began following the trial and error path of the low FODMAP diet. I was stressed out from uni, not eating a great deal, and just never really felt any better! I did tonnes of research, trialled certain foods, but it all just got too hard when nothing seemed to be working. For those of you going through this right now, I completely know how you feel!!
I decided to visit the gastroenterologist again to make sure coeliac disease was definitely out of the question, and try and get a diagnosis that I knew how to manage. His summary: IBS, fructose malabsorption and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Boy was I fun to take out to dinner!
My diet had become so restrictive that I started to be really sick of food, I didn't want to study it, cook it, eat it. I'd lost my inspiration because most of the time it made me so ill.
What all this eventually led to was a chance encounter with a lovely man who produces something called water kefir, and workmates who are big fans of fermented foods. I'd never really had much to do with so called 'alternative practices' in the past as I didn't see the point. We don't get taught much about these ways through uni, as usually clinical trial evidence is either unclear or non-existent in humans. Regular 'healthy food' - fruits, veggies, lean meats, dairy, wholegrains, legumes, nuts/seeds etc seemed to be all we needed, right? That's where individualised, tailored nutrition, incorporating a holistic approach comes in. Evidence for nutrition guidelines, protocols and "healthy eating" is forever being tweaked and expanded in scope due to ever emerging discoveries about the body and the foods we eat.
That's why my approach to nutrition is different. I examine the old science, the new science, and seek anecdoctal and clinical evidence for the alternative therapies that help so many.
Water kefir is one of these discoveries.
I started drinking water kefir just to see what happened. And you know what, I started feeling a little less bloated, and a bit more energized. I was curious as to how it worked so I checked out the research behind it.
Well controlled, clinical studies are few and far between with authors suggesting better controls and a consensus for developing and analysing trials are needed to further substantiate the evidence. However, this is what I found....
What it is:
More commonly, kefir is a fermented milk product. Water kefir is the same thing but as the name suggests, uses water kefir grains and is based on water rather than milk. Water kefir grains, also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) are introduced to sugar water. The kefir grains are a SCOBY held together by a polysaccharide matrix called kefiran. It looks kind of like mashed up gummy bears!
What's in it:
Once the scoby is added to the water, it eats up most of the sugar and produces beneficial acids, microorganisms, B vitamins and food enzymes. Hence, a fermented beverage is formed that's actually a potent probiotic! Studies have shown natural differences in the number and types of beneficial bacteria present, but the drink is consistent in being a source of numerous types of lactic acid and acetobacter bacteria strains.
What it does:
Probiotics source - Certain bacteria found in probiotic foods (like yoghurt) are great for gut health. They help restore the good bacteria and balance out the bad guys in there.
Antibacterial/antifungal properties - The collection of bacteria in kefir has been claimed to act against Salmonella and Helicobacter, Ecoli and Listeria, among others, as well as producing anti-inflammatory effects, but more studies are required.
How do I get it?
You can order kefir grains or a kombucha SCOBY online to make your own at home. Just be sure to choose a reputable source and follow the instructions to the tee, as home fermentations can create bad bacteria too if you're not careful.
Kombucha is readily available these days in health food stores. Mojo makes delicious ones, but there are many others available too.
What do I do with it:
Start off with a shot glass full each day to assess your tolerance, then have up to a glass a day. It's best to use it like a tonic, rather than sculling it by the bottle full, as you may find it causes a bit of bloating if you have too much too soon. The kombucha tastes similar to a light ginger beer, but water kefir has a very bland, unique taste that you'll either enjoy, or totally hate. They're both mildy fizzy too, due to the gas produced by the bacteria, but the store bought kombucha tends to be fizzier than the homemade ones.
Want an alternative?
I really dislike taking supplements, pills and potions unless I absolutely need them. Since going low FODMAP, a lot of the natural prebiotic and probiotic foods had to be eliminated, or greatly reduced - legumes/pulses, cruciferous veggies, and all dairy for me.
So, I trialled a new food source of probiotics.
I gathered the courage to try the sauerkraut on my dinner plate when I went out one night (trying to stick to a low FODMAP diet, I avoid the usual cabbage like the plague). I waited in anticipation for the usual stabbing pains, gurgling, and pretty much instant bloating like my stomach wanted to break free from my abdomen. But nothing. Nothing happened!! I went to bed feeling fine, but the test wasnt over yet. Occasionally the day after I eat something, I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a bus. Or atleast very badly hungover. I can hardly move from bed from tiredness, have a belly like I'm 3 months pregnant, heavy nausea, headachy and a sensitive abdominal region all day, sometimes for days. Not fun. But guess what- still nothing.
The fermentation process actually made it easier for me to digest, as well as being a healthy, potent source of probiotics. Now I have fermented veggies a few times a week, and the occasional kombucha. I still avoid most high FODMAP foods and occasionally get the immediate bloat after I overdo it. But stomach aches and bloating has been greatly reduced. I no longer have SIBO after a strict elimination diet and introduction of these foods. Plus now I can tolerate a higher dose of FODMAP foods on most days. That's progress in my eyes!
If you're suffering from any of these symptoms and are looking for some advice, please contact me as I'd love to help you on your journey to improved gut health.
Enjoy being you,
For those interested in a little science: