SIBO? IBS? What are they? Why do we use acronyms to describe them?
SIBO and IBS are digestive conditions. IBS is estimated to plague approximately 20 percent of Americans (to varying degrees), yet, like many other people in the non-medical community, I had not heard of this condition until I was diagnosed three years ago. I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist for my abdominal pain, excessive gas, atypical bowel patterns, and itchy skin that kept me up at night. The doctor told me that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). She said that it was not curable and that I would just have to learn to live with it. First, she recommended eliminating dairy. This seemed to ease my symptoms initially, but as time went on, my symptoms worsened and I returned for another appointment. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to be controlled by my digestive disorder. I just wanted to feel young and healthy like a normal twenty-year-old college student should. At my second appointment, the gastroenterologist showed up 45 minutes late, saw me for five minutes, and prescribed me a colon relaxer (after I told her that I did not want to take any prescriptions). It was at this point that I utterly gave up on the Western medical model.
Luckily, I did not give up on my goal to become healthy. And fortunately, I found a medical model that matched my goal to figure out the root cause of the problem and not just cover up the symptoms: naturopathic medicine. A simple Google search led me to the amazing Dr. Erika Siegel. She is a compassionate listener and attentive naturopathic doctor who gave me the hope and support I needed to keep striving for optimal health amidst many setbacks. Over the past year that I have been visiting Dr. Siegel for bi-weekly or monthly appointments, my symptoms have improved dramatically (from a “10” one year ago down to a “5” (on a 1-10 best to worst scale)). Sometimes it is difficult to remember how much progress I have made because there is still so much more progress that lies ahead.
About four months ago (shortly after NCNM’s first SIBO symposium), Dr. Siegel introduced me to the idea that I may have Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and she recommended testing. This next statement may seem odd, but I was ECSTATIC the day that I learned I tested positive for SIBO. Why? Finally, I was being told that what I had could be cured. I would not have to suffer for the rest of my life. The results indicated that I was suffering from SIBO induced IBS (too many bacteria that were supposed to be in my large intestine had traveled into my small intestine and were causing me all of this agony).
Moving forward, Dr. Siegel has referred me to Dr. Keller in order to utilize her expertise and personal experience with SIBO to ensure continued progress. My first appointment with Dr. Keller reminded me how important sharing knowledge of personal experiences will be to creating a society that is no longer plagued by embarrassing, silencing, digestive discomfort.
Now to my final question: why do we use acronyms? My theory is that the reason we use acronyms such as IBS and SIBO is that they are a little less embarrassing than telling people you have “small intestine bacterial overgrowth” or “irritable bowel syndrome”. These terms do not exactly ring like wind chimes. But why is our society so afraid of talking about poop? I laugh every time I think of my little sister Amina’s response when the doctor asked her about poop. We took her to see Dr. Erica Peirson, a wonderful naturopath who specializes in Down Syndrome. In Amina’s comprehensive new patient examination, Dr. Peirson said to Amina: “so tell me about your poop”. The look on Amina’s face and accompanying “Pooooop???” remark led everyone in the room to burst into laughter. Our society teaches children from a young age (“no potty talk”) that it is completely taboo to talk about our bowels. Yet, there is so much to learn from paying attention to this oh-so-important and oh-so-natural indicator of health. If I had known from a young age that it was not normal to go two or three days without a bowel movement, I could have saved countless time and money. I would have seen a naturopath when my gut flora imbalance first appeared as embarrassing acne in high school.
But there is no reason to dwell on the past. In a weird way, I am grateful that I have had to struggle with SIBO at a young age because my journey with SIBO has provided me with the ability to help others recover from chronic illness. My goal is to make it easy for busy people to heal by providing them access to meal plans, grocery lists, cooking lessons, and more that I had to spend hours of self-study learning about because there were not enough trained individuals to help make my journey feasible with my career.