Could Food Poisoning be the Cause of Your IBS?
I recently saw a new doctor, and during her questioning of my patient history, I told her I had IBS-D. She asked if I had had IBS as a child, and I replied I had not. She asked when it had started, and I had to think back. It’s been so long, I consider this to be my normal, even though it’s anything but. I estimated that it began in my late 20’s. Then she asked if I had ever had food poisoning, as studies have linked food poisoning with IBS. I did have food poisoning – a particularly severe case in my mid-20’s that led me to the emergency room for dehydration. Could this be the cause of my pain, bloating, and diarrhea?
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) defines this as post-infectious IBS. It’s occurs in a subset of all IBS patients and is related to a bacterial infection, which can be introduced into the body through contaminated food, water or contact with infected people or animals. IFFGD estimates that between 6-17% of individuals who previously had normal bowel function may have post-infectious IBS. Of people who experience gastroenteritis (bacterial infection of the GI system), about 10% of them develop IBS. Risk factors for developing post-infectious IBS include:
- The duration and severity of the initial illness
- Features in the affected person, including stress levels, gender (women are more at risk), and age (more common among 19-29-year-olds)
- The capability of the bacteria to produce a toxin1
Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
SIBO is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine. While we all naturally have beneficial bacteria in our intestines that help us digest food, in cases of SIBO, there is an imbalance in the bacteria. The abundance of bacteria causes problems with normal digestion and absorption of nutrients and can cause damage to the lining of the intestines, also known as leaky gut syndrome. Common symptoms of SIBO include abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or both constipation and diarrhea, symptoms that are awfully familiar to anyone with IBS.2,3
The overabundance of bacteria present in the intestines can lead to leaky gut syndrome. In leaky gut syndrome, the lining of the intestinal wall is damaged, which allows larger food particles to pass into the body before they are fully digested. These larger food particles are often identified as foreign by the immune system, which reacts with inflammation. This process leads to food allergies or sensitivities. Leaky gut is also characterized by headaches, joint pain, fatigue, skin symptoms (like eczema or rashes), respiratory symptoms (like asthma), and mood symptoms (like depression).2
Treating SIBO and leaky gut
SIBO and leaky gut are treated in a three-step approach:
- Reduce the bacteria, usually through the use of antibiotics, herbal supplements, and/or diet;
- Heal the lining of the intestines, which can occur on its own with the reduction in bacteria and/or can be aided through the use of supplements; and
- Prevent relapse, which may include ongoing diet modifications and/or the use of additional medications.2
In my case, the antibiotic I was prescribed (Xifaxan (rifaximin)) helped reduce my gastrointestinal symptoms dramatically. I’m continuing to modify my diet and working towards healing leaky gut, and while it’s an ongoing process, I feel better than I have in years.
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