Testimonial written by: Andrew
In my mid 20s I suffered unexplained bouts of gut problems after a night on the town or just my home cooking. I blamed this on hangovers and my uni student grade of cooking packet pasta. Over the years these episodes became more pronounced and frequent. By the time I was in my early 30s, working a full time job and traveling the world for my pharmaceutical research job, ‘it’ was really starting to knock me around, particularly when tired, jet-lagged and always after eating the usual SAD – Standard Australian Diet high in cereal, breads and pasta.
Around this time I had taken up triathlon after being a life long runner, swimmer and part time ‘athlete’. I loved training and competing but had some pretty fast training sessions to get home to the bathroom in time! I decided enough was enough and I went to see my GP who promptly ordered a long list of tests on me. The results came back confirming I was fighting fit, including negative for Coeliac disease. So, my GP scratched her head and promptly referred me to a highly regarded gastroenterologist consultant. Long story short, including more tests and a glove, he diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) based on symptoms. He prescribed low dose loperamide (Gastro-Stop/Imodium), limiting coffee to once per day (horror) and cutting back on travel and things that might cause stress (easier said than done with a job). I started taking the daily loperamide which slowed everything down and made me sluggish which, ironically, made me crave more than a daily coffee so I could stay awake. I was unhappy with a life time ‘sentence’ of daily medication. Although this controlled the IBS, which was a relief in more ways than one, it hammered my well-being due to the medication dependence, ongoing sluggishness and regular ‘brain fog’ which I had before the medication.
So, being a scientist, I started doing my own n=1 experiments. I even tried a set of hypnotherapy MP3s which did put me to sleep really quickly but didn’t cure my IBS. Long story short, I found Robb’s website. I started following Robb’s blog and podcasts and started to get results. For the first time I was able to link food that I ate or didn’t eat with an improvement with IBS! It turned out that gluten had a nasty effect on me, and if I could avoid it as much as possible, the IBS improved substantially. Not long after this my son was born and I dropped triathlon due to lack of time for training and a new priority in my life. I thought this would lead to serious weight gain. So, as Paleo folks tend to do, I took up lifting (weights and baby) and more or less stopped running and swimming completely. The spin classes at the gym were finally dropped after a further 6 months. However, I continued lifting and took up some sprinting on the oval but only once every few weeks. My lifestyle had become more and more ‘paleo’. It was more than just diet. My weight remained stable, I put on some muscle, and lost some fat. Fast-forward to the present day, and my IBS is under control and I only take loperamide when the IBS flares up after poisoning myself with a pizza and beer or something else with gluten in it. We also have a baby daughter now who is also equal in priority to our son, so I have to be even more organized to train and eat well!
It’s been a long journey of 7 years since I was first diagnosed, but these days I feel healthier, stronger, happier and clearer-headed (goodbye brain fog) since the IBS haze has lifted. Although I’m not 100% paleo, as I eat dairy which doesn’t bother me, I still completely avoid gluten. I still drink coffee but no more than 2-3 cups per day and all before the afternoon. I’m not 100% IBS free and have always put that down to hidden gluten contamination but have recently discovered the low FODMAP approach from Monash University which complements a gluten free paleo lifestyle. Through elimination and reintroduction I’m experimenting with what FODMAP foods I can tolerate while keeping my eating clean around gluten, and including other paleo foods that contain good fats like omega-3s, less omega-6’s and no trans and poly fats.
Although the gluten-free paleo diet with low FODMAP foods has been a major factor in managing IBS, other factors have also helped. I think it’s best described as a holistic approach to good health and wellbeing or ‘wellness’. For me this involves play with my 2 great kids and wife, getting to the gym regularly, socializing with mates, sleeping (whenever the kids allow it) and avoiding ‘breaking news’ (it’s nearly all depressing!). I keep a close eye on my blood levels with close support from my new GP who also suffers from IBS and lives a paleo/primal lifestyle himself.
My job involves research trials to cure patients of lymphoma which is very rewarding but I have also seen a lot of data from non-oncology trials where patients ended up sick because of poor lifestyle choices or just plain lack of awareness. There is also some significant evidence that poor diet and lifestyle leads to a higher incidence of cancers, in addition to obvious causes such as smoking. I hope that my story can in some way help others, particularly IBS sufferers, to look at their diet and lifestyle, and take control with help from a good doctor to track progress and not end up on a research study! I’m always happy to answer questions and talk with people about their own story.