My Experience with the Elemental Diet for SIBO
SIBO is the cause of approximately 70% of cases of IBS.1 You might have already seen some of the different treatment approaches for SIBO, one of them being the elemental diet.
What is the elemental diet for SIBO?
Following my SIBO diagnosis in 2015, I went through several rounds of herbal antimicrobial and antibiotic treatment accompanied by the SIBO bi-phasic diet. This diet incorporates the low FODMAP diet with the specific carbohydrate diet, which reduces the amount of fermentable carbohydrates and sugar. Given the SIBO bi-phasic diet is a combination of the two above-mentioned diets, it’s quite restrictive. After years of trying to clear my SIBO, I decided to try the elemental diet.
The elemental diet is a liquid formula that replaces food for a length of time. For SIBO treatment, it’s often taken for a period of two to three weeks. Because the liquid nutrients are absorbed at the top of the small intestine, it’s supposed to starve off and kill the bacterial overgrowth that causes SIBO / IBS symptoms. One study showed an 85% success rate using the elemental diet.2
My elemental diet experience
I did the elemental diet for two weeks and instead of food, the only other thing I consumed was water. Was it difficult? Yep, it was, but I handled it well thankfully. The trick is to find an elemental diet formula that doesn’t taste like rubbish, so you can actually tolerate it. I sipped mine during the day and found it quite pleasant to taste. I wasn’t hungry all the time because I was consuming the right number of calories.
The first four to five days were the hardest for me, when you’re not eating you realize how much a part of your life food is. Keeping busy was a savior for me, some people take time off to do the elemental diet but I decided not to, because I knew I’d be constantly thinking about food. I often felt like I was having blood sugar swings, probably due to the lack of complex carbohydrates or fiber in the elemental diet.
After being on the formula for a few days I started to get diarrhea, I suppose it was just from consuming liquid only. Then I got quite bloated, which went away after a few days, which maybe due to the bacterial die-off. I didn’t lose any weight, not even a kilo because I was consuming exactly the right number of calories.
It was a long two weeks, but overall it was doable.
Success of the elemental diet
After I finished, I felt great, my head was so clear and I was symptom-free. When I started to introduce food I got some diarrhea, I think I may have introduced solids a little too quickly which led to this.
Unfortunately, my symptoms came back post elemental diet and I wasn’t cleared of SIBO. There’s a pretty big reason why my symptoms returned post elemental diet: when you’re dealing with SIBO it’s important to try and find the root cause because this will then determine treatment and it's success. I believe the reason my symptoms returned is because of anatomical changes to my intestines due to my endometriosis adhesions. Having adhesions from endometriosis or after surgery means the normal outflow of bacteria can be impaired, causing excess bacteria to be in the small intestine, causing SIBO.3 Another thing to consider is that three weeks is shown to drive better results for SIBO on the elemental diet and I only did two weeks.2
Would I do it again? Maybe I’ll try three weeks next time, followed by herbal anti-microbials. Right now I’m taking a break from treatment and feeling well, as I manage my symptoms pretty well through diet and probiotics these days.
Are you considering the elemental diet to treat SIBO? Or maybe you’ve tried it? Let us know how your experience went.
Do you think there is enough awareness of IBS?