Taming Grumpy Gut
Many people with MS experience symptoms related to digestion. According to the Pittsburgh Institute for MS Care and Research, “Nearly two-thirds of MS patients have at least one GI symptom that persists for 6 months or more.” Some of the most common problems are dysphagia (trouble swallowing), heartburn, nausea, dyspepsia, diarrhea, constipation, and fecal incontinence. I was shocked to read that “… up to 25-30% of all MS patients suffer from dyspepsia, a rate that is twice that of the general population.” Dyspepsia is pain, bloating, and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness.
As a child I had a touchy stomach, prone to motion sickness and vomiting. In my teens certain things, particularly dairy or starchy foods, would cause my belly to swell uncomfortably. Not bad enough to stop me from eating anything. In fact, my college roommates found it amusing to watch me down a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and then run to put on sweatpants and moan about my “cheese baby” pregnancy! Add some Mickey’s Big Mouths to the mix and I looked like I was carrying twins.
As the years went on I became smarter about which foods to avoid, or consume in moderation. However, in my early thirties, around the time of my MS diagnosis, I started to have more frequent and painful stomach problems. Sharp and stabbing pains, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting … you name it, I had it! I would start my day in size eight pants, and finish it in size 12. After eating out at restaurants I frequently spent the evening in the bathroom, vomiting and texting friends to inquire if anyone else had “food poisoning.” Nope. Just me.
I was referred to a gastroenterologist and subsequently scoped, north and south. While nothing revealed itself as the source of my pain, we did have a twisted silver lining in the discovery of some precancerous colon polyps. And I must confess that I felt splendid after the conscious sedation, requesting a trip to Taco Bell (where I had never eaten in my life), and JC Penneys (where I lasted 30 minutes before declaring nap time).
Perks aside, I remained desperate for some relief. My grumpy gut was causing me to miss events, take time off work, and spend far too much time in the bathroom, not to mention the physical discomfort.
The standard diagnosis, when they cannot find any other cause for digestive problems like mine, is irritable bowel syndrome. I took the GI doctor’s suggestion and tried to go dairy-free and gluten-free, with minimal relief. My grumpy bowel and I decided to give the naturopathic route a shot. She explained that we needed to find out what was making my innards so angry. To do this we could try a strict elimination diet, or I could pay $225 for a simple blood test that would reveal my body’s inflammatory response to certain food groups. I did not trust myself to follow the elimination protocol, so I opted for the immediate gratification of the blood test, then treated myself to a DQ blizzard for being brave. The results took 10 days.
I know this will sound corny, but they changed my life.
This particular blood test is not looking for true food allergies in the more common sense. Traditional allergen tests look at the body’s IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibody response to foods. The test I took measured my body’s IgG/IgA antibodies to foods. According to the test manufacturer and my excellent naturopath, elevated IgG and IgA antibodies may indicate an inflammatory response. This would show more of a sensitivity or intolerance to foods, rather than an allergy.
I am going to skip over the scientific debate around this type of testing to simply say “This worked for me!” Four food categories revealed themselves as the culprits- yeast, eggs, bananas, and pineapple. The removal of them from my diet eliminated 80% of my digestive symptoms. I also was prescribed something for paresthesia and nerve pain in my arms, which has been very helpful to me. Coincidentally, this medication is used to treat IBS.
Three pant sizes later, I am able to plan events with confidence and rarely have stomach problems. When I do, it is usually because I have eaten out and likely consumed one of my “just say no” foods accidentally. The relief from grumpy gut is great, but the silver linings that came with these changes included less skin inflammation, itching, achiness, and fewer headaches.
Not too long ago something caught my eye related to T-cells and IgG. It caused me to wonder if perhaps my avoidance of foods that may cause an inflammatory reaction in my gut might also be keeping my MS relapses at bay. Add in the latest research on leaky gut and the immune system, MS and gut flora, etc., and my curiosity has been piqued. A quick search revealed that I may be onto something, and led me to an article on Healthline.com titled “Leaky Gut Implicated in MS.”
I’m curious if any of you have done similar IgG/IgA testing or elimination diets and what sort of results you have seen? I’m also curious if any of you have a great yeast-free bread recipe?
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