Reversing Chronic Illness & Colitis/IBS through Diet
“I am sorry, but there is no more I can do for you.” said my highly rated gastroenterologist (GI) doctor in Northern Virginia. That really was the turning point for me. I became absolutely determined to get well. At that point when I would eat, and often even before I finished eating, I would have to run to the bathroom with uncontrollable violent diarrhea, often 25+ times a day. I was often working from the toilet and learned the hard way that I absolutely could not go anywhere where there wasn’t a bathroom. My hair was falling out in large quantities, I had bad eczema on my back and face as well as rosacea, heart arrhythmia (ventricular tachycardia), large thyroid cysts, and my menstruation had stopped. At 40 years old, my gynecologist told me that I was in early menopause and that my menstruation stopping most certainly had nothing to do with my severe diarrhea. She was even sweetly condescending telling me that she understands how I could be confused to think that even though both systems are in the gut, there is certainly no linkage between the two health problems.
My digestive system was so broken that I knew I could no longer go on the way things were. I felt disabled.
Some context on me and my background… I’ve had a long journey of connecting food to health. I’ve spent my career working in food systems, first internationally in agricultural development and natural resource management, and now domestically working to build healthier more sustainable local and regional food systems. I worked in, lived in a few, and visited almost 40 countries worldwide. I understand how inputs (synthetic and non-synthetic chemicals) that we put on and in our foods are toxic to our health, and especially to our children’s health. I’ve eaten organic for over a decade. I am a huge proponent of small and medium scale farming through an integrative, regenerative approach – meaning, building up the foundation of the nutrition in our food through the soil. All of this, and I was still seriously ill.
Decades with Mainstream Doctors and No Help
After two pregnancies in my late-30s, I realized that I was addicted to sweets, and sadly, my two little girls were also all too fond of sweets. I was 25+ pounds overweight and chronically sick with horrendous GI issues. I remember being intestinally ill in my teens and 20s – I took more Imodium than I care to remember. However, I mostly attributed my adult GI problems to 15+ years working in Africa, the Caucasus, Russia, and Southeast Asia, given that I’m sure I had parasites over the years. Additionally, along with the travel came a lot of vaccinations that could have contributed to an inflamed system. Finally, when my oldest child was almost five, and seeing a lot of normal poop from my kids, I realized that I should no longer be so intestinally ill, especially since I haven’t been working in developing countries for the past five years.
I went to many doctors. Celiac (a gluten induced autoimmune disorder) was suspected. After many mainstream tests and doctor visits I was told that I tested negative for Celiac and blood testing showed no food allergies. But, then a skin prick test allergy test was done and the findings showed that I had a mild allergic histamine response to corn, as well as to pears, lettuce, yeast, and clams. They had done hundreds of skin pricks up and down both of my arms and I was not sure that they had logged them all properly; so I asked to be retested. The allergist/immunologist doctor declined retesting me because he said that retests don’t always give the same results. He did explain to me that food allergies affecting the gut cannot reliably be tested for.
I was truly astonished that my GI doctor had given up on helping me. I have great respect for our medical community with their capacity to treat life threatening trauma and save lives. However, I find it completely reproachable that I was told 20 some years ago that I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and to take fiber, then again the same message throughout those two decades, then a decade ago told I have microscopic colitis. Seriously? No kidding. I tell them I have severe debilitating diarrhea and they tell me I have IBS and colitis, effectively repeating back to me exactly what I told them. The doctors recommended taking anti-diarrheal medicine. Never finding the cause to my misery and allowing my body to get more and more degraded. That is completely against the Hippocratic oath. I found it incredibly disillusioning and disturbing to have lost faith in mainstream medicine when I realized they could not help me get well. I did have many mainstream tests done (most at my urging): bacterial overgrowth, H. Pylori, parasites, Clostridium difficile, Campylobacter sp., mainstream Celiac, genetic Celiac, blood: CBC, thyroid, hormone, cholesterol panels, and vitamin and mineral levels. Everything came up negative, and because they did not know what was wrong with me my gut trouble was labeled IBS. I find that irresponsible, at very best.
Road to Early Death
My father died suddenly right after he turned 48 years old. I was in my 40s and realized that I needed to get healthy to not follow that path. As I researched and investigated the causes of my GI problems, I realized the extremely serious effect they were having on my body: malnutrition due to lack of absorption of the food that was passing through my body so quickly; inflammation in my gut (which can develop into cancer – inflammation is one of the leading causes of cancer!); and, leaky gut characterized by small tears in the intestines allowing toxins to pass outside of the intestines and into the blood stream which can lead to autoimmune disorders. Serious scary sickness loomed over me. No wonder I wasn’t feeling well! This knowledge gave me the mind switch I needed; literally, it was as if there was a knob that was turned in my mind, and I made the decision that I had to heal and get back my health.
Devona Bell has over two decades of professional experience in building regenerative local and regional food systems, food/farming/health/nutrition nexus, and natural resource management in the U.S. and internationally. She has worked in, lived in, and visited 40 countries and speaks English, French, and some Russian. Devona and her 2 girls left the DC suburbs and live on their beyond organic farm in southwest Virginia raising their own food and meat without toxic inputs!
Photo credit: http://jlaphotography.com/
Note: I get no financial benefit from the companies, people or organizations that I have recommended here. I recommend them because I think they are terrific!