The other day, on Facebook, I posted a picture of my little face surrounded by some supplements.
I commented that I had recently obtained the results of my stool test and was working on my digestive health. Since the middle of January I have been writing and “vlogging” via Facebook Live about digestive health, specifically looking at the link between digestive imbalances and weight loss.
Although I’m not struggling with weight loss, I think I have been in denial about some ongoing digestive issues and I am only really putting all the pieces of the puzzle together now.
Since I posted the picture I have had a few people reach out to me asking questions about what test I did, the supplements I am taking and the reasons why. I have mentioned bits and bobs but I wanted to build up the whole story for the main reason being, this is what I do with my clients.
I build up a whole picture of what is going on. I don’t deal in little bits here and there.
I couldn’t really decide where this story began.
The truth is, if you really think about it, it began when I began, which was in my mom’s belly.
But I will spare you all the details, although I will warn you that this will be longer than some of my previous posts. But I’ll do my best to not faff about with every little detail.
So grab your reading glasses and a cup of tea and enjoy.
The Back Story
My whole life I have struggled with my energy on and off. For the purposes of keeping things simple, I was in and out of hospitals from a young age. I had a hole in my ear drum which was eventually patched up by taking some skin from behind by earlobe. Before that however, I had multiple surgeries in an attempt to rectify the problem. This meant multiple surgeries back in the day when they put the anaesthetic over your mouth instead of in a vein (crucial point to remember later).
This was followed by the separation of my parents at age 7. At age 9 we shared a home with family friends who were immigrating to the US therefore became a temporary blended family for a couple of months, which I found quite stressful. After this point I was diagnosed with inflammation of the kidneys, nephritis, and put on daily medication (another point to remember later).
Additionally I was told to eat a high carbohydrate diet to “keep my energy up”, which ended up in donuts, crisps and ice cream and me gaining 2 stone in a couple of months, fast forwarding into early puberty.
I am still not 100% convinced about this diagnosis. But it happened. I was 9 at the time so I can’t remember much about it apart from that.
I don’t really remember much about my digestion growing up. It’s not really something you are very aware of but I do remember enough that definitely as a teenager there were some imbalances.
I now know that any of the following may impact the gut:
- Diet (low fibre, high in refined carbohydrates and sugars)
All of which I had plenty of exposure to, apart from the alcohol, before I even hit double digits.
My First Experience of IBS
I guess my first experience of what one would call IBS was when I moved to London in 2008.
I have written and vlogged about this several times now, so without trying to flog a dead horse, a huge amount of stress and poor diet caused me many digestive symptoms which were quite severe for 6 months. I managed to bring them under better control with diet and supplements after which they niggled on and off thereafter.
At the end of 2008 I had a laporoscopy to look for endometriosis after experiencing severe pre-menstrual symptoms as a result of said lifestyle stress. The laporoscopy came back clear, but it was yet another surgery in addition to having my appendix removed in 2006.
I found my transition to making my way and completing my studies in the UK stressful on many different levels. I could go into many details of this experience but one that sticks so clearly in my mind is walking up a flight of stairs at the gym I was working in one day, foggy, bloated and exhausted and wondering how I was going to keep on keeping on. I would struggle to go out with friends in the evenings as I was just too tired to stay out late and I could easily spend my Sunday feeling like I had been hit by a bus.
In 2009 I eventually started seeing a Nutritionist myself who encouraged me to do adrenal testing which showed my adrenal function was one nice flat line (see below).
This was the consequence of many aspects of my lifestyle, a very stressful relationship causing me a huge amount of anxiety, burning the candle at both ends with work and study, sub-optimal diet and exercise practises (too much exercise and not enough good quality food).
And so began what in my mind was a 2-3 year journey to getting my energy back.
It was not achievable all at once. There were many layers of change that needed to happen and with each layer came an additional benefit. The major themes of these layers revolved around the following:
- End negative and unsupportive relationships
- Find a place to live where I feel safe and at ease
- Find a way to better balance working hours with time to rest and recover
- Cultivate happy and healthy relationships and become part of a like-minded community
- Address energy balance between food and exercise (eat to fuel my bodies needs and let go of the need to do so much intense training)
The final pieces of that puzzle which came towards the end were meeting my amazing husband who is just one big ball of happiness and love but also the biggest support and rock in my life. Then creating a change and moving to the sea to have a greater sense of space and connection with nature.
All in all this took about 5 years.
I wanted to say this because health is a journey. You cannot unravel what you have been tangling up across years and years in 12 weeks. I’m not “lucky” to have the life I live now, there is no luck. I made it myself, including all the things that are not “perfect” yet.
More Recent Challenges
Since myself and Ben moved to Bournemouth I took my business online and created the my LTL coaching program to help women lose weight using the principles of Functional Medicine and mostly, by giving them permission to love themselves.
In doing so I created more flexibility and freedom in my day. But for anyone who runs their own business will know, it is fricken hard work.
I started to re-experience some digestive troubles shortly after our move. Although the move was a positive one, there was probably some stress involved relating to change.
This was mostly cleared up by a course of anti-microbials and fermented foods, hence my obsessive preaching about their benefits.
However, the problems returned mid-way through 2015 and I started to dig a little deeper.
The symptoms, if you must know, were smelly gas and lose stools. I would also sometimes be affected by urgency when all of a sudden I would need to find a bathroom, immediately! It is embarrassing to write this all down and admit these things even though when my clients tell me about their symptoms I am completely unphased.
It does occur to me now that these symptoms were not new symptoms. They had probably come and gone from time to time even when I was in South Africa. But their severity and frequency were mild and far between suggesting the imbalance was perhaps already there, but environmental factors (stress) were exacerbating it.
I did some investigating and I had a gluten sensitivity test done with Cyrex who test 20 different proteins associated with wheat and gluten. All came back negative.
Gluten was not the problem. But what was?
Eventually my symptoms were resolved on their own by fasting.
I experimented for one week with only eating two meals per day. About 1000 calories at breakfast at 8:30am and another 1000 calories at 5:30pm. If I could guess why this worked I would say that reduced meal frequency allowed the digestive system to rest between meals and therefore perhaps reduced inflammation and allowed for healing.
This is but a guess.
All was mostly well moving forward with the occasional incidences of urgency, particularly if I went running and this was aggravated by being out of routine (jet lag, foreign travel and not eating my usual foods).
Now here is the funny thing.
Last year September was 2 years since I had started my online business. I had 2 staff members as well as outsourced services and everything was running just fine. There was some money in the bank, things were ticking over, I wasn’t particularly busy or stressed out.
And yet, in this time I started to feel increasingly exhausted.
I lost my mojo.
I didn’t want to go to the gym, my digestion was getting worse again, I had no energy, my neck ached ever hour of the day. I was sleeping enough and felt tired all the time.
I remember going out for breakfast with Ben one Sunday morning. Where we lived you couldn’t go anywhere without walking downhill which meant to get home, everywhere was up hill! All I wanted to do was have Ben pick me up and carry me home, I couldn’t even face the uphill walk.
So I did all the things I knew how to do.
- Stripped back on exercise.
- I took a week off the gym, stopped running and just did a little yoga and walking.
- I had some acupuncture
- Ate well
- Meditated every day for 7 weeks
- Had Epsom salt baths
- Made sure I got enough sleep
- Took some supplements to support my adrenal glands
And it did help a bit.
I felt better but I didn’t feel at my best.
And then we moved house – which was actually pretty straight forward and not that stressful – and I went to Bali to stay with one my best friends. I thought I was going to get to Bali and just collapse, but actually, in Bali I felt much better.
You could say it was the sunshine or the company but actually, at the time I was also launching the Sustainable Slim Down and when I think about it now, I was probably riding high on the adrenalin that comes with pushing a launch.
And when I came back to the UK I felt okay too. But my digestion was off again and slowly before I knew it, my energy was gone again.
This is what inflammation feels like
What I noticed was that when I was tired, run down or gave myself space to relax, I didn’t feel well.
I had what I call feelings of inflammation (which are very similar to feeling hungover); achy, tired, headachy, foggy brain. All those non-specific symptoms which could really mean anything. I would even sometimes feel like this the day after a really hard workout, it went over and above just have some DOMS.
So enough was a enough and I invested just shy of £300 in the GI Map by Invivo Clinical.
10 days ago I got the results.
And what did they say?
I have a bacterial infection called Clostridium Difficile Toxin A. C.Diff can be present in some people who are symptom free. It can also be present in some individuals and cause life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Common symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain and cramping.
Exposure to C.Diff is often via hospitals (which I was in and out of at least once each decade of my life, not to mention a lot in the first 10 years of my life). Antibiotics increases risk of C.Diff infection, I had a lot of antibiotics and medications as a child which could potentially have increased susceptibility. Who knows when or where the infection started. It doesn’t matter so much but it’s interesting to see the links given my history.
What was also present was an increase in Calprotectin. This is a marker of inflammation. Very high levels can be associated with irritable bowel disease, such as colitis, and bowel cancer. My levels were raised, which would make sense in the context of C.Diff, but not enough for me to worry too much about IBD or Cancer.
I had low levels of the gut immunoglobulin Secretory IgA (sIgA). sIgA is one of the first lines of defence in the gut immune system. It is elevated in the presence of infection to help the body fight it off. If for whatever reason, the body is not able to clear the infection, it may fall low over time. Low levels have been associated with stress as well as intense emotions such as anger.
Before I knew I had this infection, I was pretty certain my sIgA would be low. I, like many people, spend a lot of time in my sympathetic nervous system. Although I have made many changes to spend less time in stress, it is continuous work in progress to rewire my nervous system against the norm I once created for myself.
The rest was mostly normal and my gliadin IgA (an immunoglobulin against gluten) came back as normal so I was pretty happy that I don’t feel like I need to remove gluten strictly from my diet and also that there was congruencey against previous testing.
The following is my interpretation of the information above so please do not hold this to be 100% scientific truth. It is supposition until proven otherwise.
I am not sure when I initially picked up this infection, but when I reflect on some of my symptoms, some of them I have been having for years. Of course they could be due to other causes and I am pretty sure the worst IBS which I experienced when I first moved to the UK was probably due to other things which have since cleared and/or rebalanced
Being the robust, young and health conscious woman I am, in times when I wasn’t under too much stress, I took a holiday, there was sunlight (vitamin D is great for the immune system), I am eating and sleeping well I had the resilience to mostly be unaffected by the infection.
If I travelled, ate differently, lacked sleep or was exposed to different time zones, jet lag, my resilience was low and therefore my immune system wasn’t able to keep things in check.
Who knows how long my sIgA has been low for and who knows how much it is able to fluctuate based on the above?
When I have taken probiotics, used fasting protocols and fermented foods, all of these have helped to improve resilience and reduce inflammation, but not necessarily enough to clear the infection as a whole.
What you may have gathered from what I have already said about gut health is inflammation in the gut = inflammation in the body.
This is then responsible for producing systemic symptoms whatever they may be. In my case:
- Foggy brain
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Achy body
- Low mood
- Feelings of hangover
When I am running on adrenalin and excited about work tasks or pushing myself in the gym, and doing my busy body whirl wind thing, I feel good because I am artificially pushing up my cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, it is also one of the body’s most powerful anti-inflammatories. Which is therefore, able to keep systemic inflammation in check. When I get run down, and I can’t sustain that high cortisol output, or if I relax and cortisol is naturally lower, what happens?
What I call, hit like a bus syndrome.
So what is the solution here?
There are a few things that need rebalancing:
- Gut health obviously: clear the infection, reduce the inflammation and increase sIgA to prevent future infection or recurrence. Keep good bacteria up.
This is the easy bit.
The second bit is.
- Rebalance the lifestyle: work on the busy body, A-Type personality behaviour and calm down.
This is the biggest challenge for me, because it actually involved rewiring my brain and creating a new way of being.
So what now?
I’ve bought a whole bunch of supplements as you may have seen.
- Saccharomyces Boullardi which has been shown to be beneficial in C.Diff and may also increase sIgA
- Vitamin A which is shown to increase sIgA
- Anti-microbials: garlic, oregano, berberine and grapeseed. I actually couldn’t find any research to support any of these as being effective with C.Diff but I have noticed a benefit taking these in the past when I was just guessing. So I thought I’d give them a go. The garlic capsules weren’t so fun this morning when I was practising handstands with garlic burps in the gym! Ben who was working away all week also came home and told me I stink. So I apologise to anyone who I’ve affected by my garlicky presence this week, it’s just for 1 more week!
- Inflammatone: a combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients such as ginger, curcumin, boswellia and quercitin
One of the consequences of all of the above is malabsorption. Not being able to absorb nutrients from the diet. So I am also taking
- Zinc: due to white spots on finger nails
- B-vitamins: due to geographic tongue, longitudinal fissure (the “denty” bit in the middle) and scalloping of the tongue (curvy bits on the outer edges), all of which can be signs of B-vitamin deficiencies and inflammation. See below (I am really sorry but there is no “pretty way” to photograph your tongue) The geographic tongue is actually something I knew about last year after a trip to the dentist. I couldn’t get my head around why I would be low in nutrients considering my diet, I was in complete denial of any link between my gut and absorption issues.
- Multi-vitamins: just to cover the bases
- Magnesium: because it’s good for everything especially sleep and I could do with better sleep.
General Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Please note, this is all on top of an anti-inflammatory diet. I am fortunate that my diet is good, really good. I am in a much better position to really notice the benefit of the supplements because I am not also learning how to eat well. Sometimes I have client who need to learn just to eat better and many of their symptoms may naturally improve before they’ve spent any money on supplements.
I do feel that my general diet and self-care have protected me against bigger and more complex issues.
I eat almost zero processed food (apart from some treats), plenty of fish & poultry, vegetables, gluten free grains, minimal dairy and added sugar, dark chocolate and homemade fermented foods. What you see on social media is what I eat. The bits that don’t get photographed just don’t look that pretty on the plate but it’s all good stuff.
In addition to the supplements already listed, I also add herbal adaptogens to support my adrenal glands into my morning smoothies, this includes:
- Holy Basil
What am I hoping for from here?
Well I have only been taking my supplements for the past week so I will have to write an update in a few weeks time. So far, my digestion is working really well, but I won’t hold my breath as I know it can do this from time to time and then act up again.
My energy is still a bit up and down. I started with my supplements on Monday afternoon and 24 hours later I was feeling really grumpy and really angry (like wanting to put a pillow over my face and scream kinda angry), which is not an emotion I often experience. I then did a meditation and cried proper sobbing tears. So I am not sure if that is a bit of “healing” going on and it will settle down in time or if I am just bonkers or something else.
I am however, hoping for the following:
- Better and more consistent energy and less symptoms of systemic inflammation, essentially mental clarity and like I am thriving, not just surviving
- Better digestive symptoms; no cramping, loose stools, gas or bloating
- Improved pre-menstrual symptoms and more consistent mood at that time of the month
- A calmer, happier and more loving approach to everything in my life
For the exact supplement protocol I will continue with the Saccharomyces, Inflammatone, B-vitamins, Vitamin A and Zinc for the next 3 months. I will do the anti-microbials in high does for 2 weeks and then probably take some probiotics after that. I’ll keep note of my symptoms and hope to retest in 3 months time.
So that is it.
If you have any further questions, more so specifically about working with myself on a similar journey, then please be advised that I take on new clients by application only. You can complete an application here or here or email me with a specific query here.