by Josh Sabourin
Most people have the occasional gut symptoms after eating a heavy meal or during periods of high stress. This is normal, as the human body has ways of telling you that you need to take a break and take better care of yourself.
What’s not normal, however, is when your digestive symptoms get so bad that they start to control your life, causing chronic, debilitating symptoms like excessive gas and bloating, diarrhea, cramps, fatigue and an overall reduced quality of life.
My name is Josh, and I’m the creator of SIBO Survivor. I experienced the very symptoms I just mentioned, and they were caused by a nasty gut condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In this article, I want to share my story of diagnosis, the dramatic impact SIBO had on my life, and what I’ve learned in my recovery that can help other people dealing with similar digestive problems.
Coming Down With SIBO and Gut Issues
My first year after high school, I was an all-conference baseball player at a small junior college, and I was in great shape physically and mentally. I clinched my team’s conference title with a walk-off home run, giving me even more confidence that I’d receive a full scholarship to a larger, Division I college and continue toward a long and successful baseball career.
But that’s not how the story unfolded.
During my second year in college, I started to struggle. My gut began to cause me serious issues, and I was constantly feeling burnt out and fatigued. I developed severe symptoms, including excessive gas and bloating, and ongoing diarrhea and altered bowel habits kept me tethered to the toilet. Baseball had always been my greatest passion, yet I was suddenly dragging myself to practice. I knew something wasn’t right.
In desperate need of anything that could help me feel better, I started searching for answers. I saw plenty of excellent doctors, including a gastroenterologist who conducted routine tests like a colonoscopy and stool test, but all I got was some sort of vague diagnosis called irritable bowel syndrome and was told to avoid dairy and reduce stress.
I tried those two tactics, but unfortunately, neither of them helped.
Baseball became a chore, and keeping up with school was nearly impossible. I continued searching for treatments, but as I continued to hit one dead end after another, I began to slip into depression. I had never been someone who struggled with worry or fears, but during that time I often wondered if I would ever get better. The pain of trying everything and seeing no results was too much to bear.
Searching for Answers
Once I hit rock bottom, it became clear that I needed to do whatever it took to get my health back. I became committed to learning everything I could about IBS, SIBO and the digestive system, so that I could find the best ways to start feeling better. This is when I started to uncover research suggesting that a certain percentage of patients with IBS actually have a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth, which occurs when there is too much of a certain harmful bacteria — or a dysbiosis — in the small intestine.
Immediately, the light bulbs went off because I knew I was experiencing most of the symptoms that are associated with SIBO. To confirm my suspicions, I conducted a lactulose breath test and discussed the issue with my current doctor, who was actually doing research on SIBO at the time. After receiving my test results and studying my health history, the gastroenterologist diagnosed me with SIBO and post-infectious IBS. And while it was refreshing to finally have some answers, I still needed to find some relief.
I was very lucky to have the support of my family to help me through the darkest hours. After I received my diagnosis, they helped me find a new gastroenterologist who treated her patients with holistic approach and encouraged natural health protocols, and it wasn’t until I found this integrative doctor that I started to feel better.
I experimented with all sorts of natural treatments — including dietary changes, medicinal teas, herbal tinctures, IV nutrition therapy and various supplements — alongside pharmaceutical drugs to help treat the SIBO. Through my time working with my gastroenterologist, my body gradually started to come around again. I started to regain normal bowel habits, gain more energy, and see a reduction in symptoms like gas and bloating.
I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and finally had some hope again.
Throughout my diagnosis and recovery, one of the most important realities I have learned about SIBO is that there is no simple cure. I had to change my mindset and realize that this would be a lifestyle change if I wanted lasting health. This was hard to swallow at first, but I eventually realized it was the only option.
Once I came to that realization, these are the things that were most effective throughout my healing process:
- Eating a healthier SIBO diet, mainly sticking to low-FODMAP foods
- Herbal teas and tinctures
- Antibiotics and elemental diet
- Learning to surf, which helped me get my mind off the condition
- Working with a caring doctor
I also began to understand that healing takes time, and that it’s important to trust the process. The recovery from any disease has its ups and downs, so it’s important to be patient with yourself and your treatments. It has taken me a few years to slowly heal, and I still have to stick with my physical and mental health routines on a daily basis. But the good news is that I am now able to incorporate a wider range of foods into my diet and do a lot of things I wasn’t able to do when I was sick.
In retrospect, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what caused this condition for me. The first helpful gastroenterologist diagnosed me with post-infectious IBS, so it could have been from food poisoning, or one of the following catalysts:
- Antibiotics or altered gut motility as younger kid
- High stress period of my life
- Weakened digestive motility
My journey of suffering has lead me to deeper thoughts about the world, as well as a search for true answers and ideas. It has ignited my curiosity and motivated me to do something amazing with my life. I am also grateful for the deep sense of empathy I now have for others who suffer in silence from digestive illnesses like SIBO or IBS. It’s not easy living with a digestive condition like SIBO.
Steps You Can Take to Heal Your Gut
Coming down with a digestive illness like SIBO or IBS is challenging. Here is my advice for anyone else who is trying to improve their health.
- Seek out a practitioner who is knowledgeable in natural and conventional medical practices. Sometimes conventional approaches are needed, but the basis of all healing should start with natural medicine. Using herbs, acupuncture and alternative forms of medicine can be very effective.
- Work on eating a healthy, whole food diet. If you’re struggling with gut issues, you may need to cut back on certain foods which aggravate your tummy for a certain period of time, but work towards eating real food.
- Learn about your body and different approaches to medicine, and educate yourself with resources from credible sources like DrAxe.com.
- Get recommended testing done. If you think you may be dealing with SIBO or IBS, you may benefit from completing a SIBO breath test to see if you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your small bowel. If this is the case, there is a lot you can do to manage and treat the condition in to establish healthier gut flora.
- Lastly, make sure to work on your lifestyle habits. Find time for relaxation, get some quality exercise and enjoy a few laughs with friends. These things can impact our gut health more than we realize!
Josh Sabourin is a gut health hacker and healthy lifestyle entrepreneur who created SIBOSurvivor.com. After dealing with a personal health crisis in his own life when he came down with a gastrointestinal condition called SIBO, he decided to dive into the natural health world for remedies. He is working to combine his passions for natural health and business to create products that improve the quality of life for people who suffer with intestinal issues. Josh is an advocate of yoga, herbal medicine, healthy cooking and other alternative treatment methods.