Saturday, January 17, 2009

Food Allergies and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Happy New Year everyone, sorry I haven't posted in a while. In past few months, my computer crashed and I had to retrieve the hard drive, the holidays were crazy as usual, I was sick for a few weeks, and I took a ski trip vacation. Whew! Anyhow, the New Year is here, things have settled down a bit and to add to that we're only days away from getting a new president -- so I'm feeling hopeful, which is a nice thing.

Anyhow, during my hiatus I discovered that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and wanted to share what I've learned. Readers have frequently asked me if their stomach pain was a symptom of food allergies, and up until now I had no answers. But now I think I do -- medical research believes they are related.

Back in October, after several months of severe stress, I developed chronic stomach pain (crampy, food-poisoning type) that did not go away after several weeks (I've had the beginnings of an ulcer previously, but this time the symptoms were different). I was also a little dizzy, nauseous and bloaty, which were also new. At first I thought it was a stomach flu (which is really gastroenteritis, not the flu, btw) but it lasted more than two weeks and I finally went to a doctor. He ran a standard battery of tests, and found nothing out of the ordinary. He suggested over the counter Zantac 150 for pain, and if it didn't lessen after a week or so, he asked me to return. It helped, but didn't completely take care of the problem. To be extra thorough, I also went to my gynecologist, to check if I had any female trouble that was impacting my stomach...also to check for ovarian cancer (I had a friend who died from it and she made me promise to always check) since the symptoms for that are frequently misdiagnosed as stomach issues (the test is a CA-125, which isn't always covered by insurance). All was clear...

Hm. So what was making my stomach so miserable? Now in addition to my stomach pain I progressed to changes in bathroom habits, which made me even more unhappy. I started to avoid going to places that didn't have bathrooms available every 10 feet. I started researching sources of relief, as well as possible reasons for my stomach pain on WebMD, Google and a few of my other trusty resources (Prescription for Nutritional Healing, and the Merck Manual), and ran across a key phrase...that with IBS stomach pain is relieved by a bowel movement (sorry, that's the nicest way to put it). Aha! This was a subtle change that I didn't notice. Also IBS also impacts the frequency of trips to the bathroom....going more times than usual per day (diahrrea) and less (constipation) at the same time are common. Jeez. There are no tests for IBS, basically you have to test for other digestive problems (Crohn's, Celiacs) and diagnose IBS on the process of elimination. Yikes. I figured that I had really nothing to lose by changing my diet (yet again), and the worst that could happen was that nothing changed.

Apparently, symptoms of IBS are so common doctors believe that 1 in 5 people are affected but don't know/treat it. More women than men are affected because hormones are thought to contribute to it, as does stress. But then stress screws up everything, right? And of course, those with food allergies (esp to pollen) and food intolerances also show a higher rate of IBS.

And now I am a card-carrying member because I am a stressed-out girl with pollen and food allergies. Ding! Ding! Ding! So, what to do? I immediately started following the dietary directions in my Prescription for Nutritional Healing (great book, pick it up if you can, it gives me things I can do immediately myself, and also saves me many trips to the doctor) and cross referenced it with Eating for IBS. The author, Heather Van Vorous also has a Website,

Minimized the amount of animal fat
Stopped drinking coffee
Stopped drinking soda (I gave up Diet Coke, I felt THAT bad!)
Increased soluble fiber (more potatoes, quinoa, bananas, avocados)
Drank LOTS more water
Had psyllium fiber every night
Drank peppermint tea
Added vitamin B, peppermint oil and acidopholous to my vitamin regimen.

Anyhow, I immediately made these changes, and after a few days felt better than I had in weeks. For New Years, we took a ski trip to Mammoth (picture of the chalets where we stayed attached), where I made sure that I could still follow my new tummy regimen (lots of fresh and dried fruit, nuts (see recipe below) lots of liquids, and I brought the psyllium along!). But recognizing that that the stress was aggravating the whole thing helped as well, so I tried to get very zen in the snow and relax by the fireplace. And I did. Luckily for me, I was able to combat this bout of IBS and stabilize my stomach so that I can be better prepared for next time. There are unlucky people who feel this way ALL THE TIME, so I consider myself fortunate that this was just a temporary thing that was manageable. But I feel confident with the knowledge that I can help myself feel better and get set to go boldly into the future. Yay.

These are yummy mixed with dried cranberries. We ate handfuls of this on the trip.

2 1/2 c. pecan pieces (or you can use other nuts that you're not allergic to!)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of chile powder (I use Ancho)
pinch of salt

Grease a cookie sheet.

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat, then mix all ingredients, stirring well. Mixture will come to a boil, be careful of the sugar bubbles because they can pop and burn your skin! Cook until water disappears and nuts have a sugary appearance. Remove from heat and pour nuts onto cookie sheet, separating quickly with forks so that the lumps aren't too large. Cool and store in covered container. Makes 2 1/2 - 3 cups.

PS. For the reader who asked for three recipes, please email me your address again since I lost it in the crash.


Jake Dillon said...

Wow FA Queen. You have been through the ringer of late. Thank goodness you were able to figure it out.

Thanks for the info.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

You can also try Solray's Multidophilus. It must be refrigerated. I have used it for years and it works great. Get the pill form, not the powder.

Anonymous said...

Try Solray's Multidophilus it works wonders on IBS. It must be refrigerated. Get the pill form and not the powder.

Lisa Cooks Allergen Free said...

Food Allergy Queen,
I love your blog, it is interesting and insightful. I also have an allergen-friendly blog/website and am hosting a 5 course meal in Chicago that will be free of the 8 marjor allergens plus gluten on March 7th. All proceeds are going to charity (FAAN and FAI). The event is being hosted with The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. Check out my site and let me know what you think. I am building the site out to include other bloggers/resources and would love to include you.

Lisa Williams

Anonymous said...

First of all ... Do you realize that you have one of the best blogs on the subject of Food Allergies on the Net?

Rich with great content. And, so wonderfully personable that it's not funny!

Secondly ...
Food allergies or not, this post on IBS is really helpful. I related 100% to what you went through - and I've never been diagnosed with any food allergies, personally. But, I have struggled with IBS and you're right, it's no walk in the park. I cater to (and have a special affinity for) food allergy patients, is all.

Keep up the good work.

Now you'll have to excuse me ... but, I have to go check my web page to make sure that I've included your link for the people on the Net that may stumble upon my page.

Your blog is blog that everyone concerned about food allergies should be DEFINITELY be reading!

Food Allergy Queen said...

Thanks everyone for your support, this IBS thing has not been fun!

Lisa, I'll check out your site, but won't be able to make it to Chicago, thanks for the invite. Of course, no problem to link to me.

Carlo, thanks for the kind words, I'll check out your site too. People have approached me about specializing in food allergy catering, I'd love to support you since I can't do it. Definitely want to share links.

Amybear said...

I just found your blog and look forward to following it. I have IBS as well. I would be afraid to eat the nuts and cranberries because of the high fat and fiber content.

Food Allergy Queen said...

Hi Amybear, thanks for your note.

Like I said, I'm new to IBS so am still feeling my way around. You're right, the nuts and high fiber could be difficult for chronic IBS sufferers...but I seemed to handle these once I got my stomach back on track. Since my IBS is sporadic it worked for me, but is probably not a good idea for chronic sufferers.

cameron said...

hi there. so would you say that your ibs symptoms were triggered by your several weeks of stress? I've always wondered if my IBS were from a stressful couple of years abroad.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

In the past few weeks I have looked into the reasons behind my own IBS.

A major cause of IBS in people is Candida over-growth, and with dedication you can over come it.

Although, i think you (food allergy queen) have genuine food allergies, some people don't actually have allergies, it is the yeast (candida) in their gut reacting to certain foods. I suggest if you, like me, are reading this blog and have IBS you should google search for Candida over-growth and its associated symptoms/causes.

Any way, i thought this might be valuable to someone. This is the diagnosed cause for my IBS and hopefully in a few months I won't have the symptoms anymore. Fingers crossed!

Jennifer said...

I was also going to mention candida overgrowth. This is how it was explained to my by my natropathic doctor.

Too much candida(yeast) in the gut can lead to "leaky gut" which is basically holes in the lining of your stomach that leak undigested food into your bloodstream. Your blood then reacts to those and creates an allergic reaction. Of course the foods you eat the most will be the ones that get into the blood the most, making the reaction worse with time.

To fix this I'm on a (the candida elimination diet)no yeast, no sugar (unfortunately including fruit), low carb, no wheat, no dairy(cause i'm allergic), low soy, no alcohol diet for 8-12 weeks, while taking so many probiotics. Basically lots of veggies and meat.
And I feel tons bettter. There's a stool sample you can have done to determine if you have a candida overgrowth(at your local natropathic doctor). The diet basically changes the conditions so it's no longer hospitable for yeast to live in your guts dumping yucky toxins.

Food Allergy Queen said...

Thanks Jennifer for sharing this info about Candida. Since I'm already gluten-free and low-carb with no yeast, I think I'm in pretty good shape for that. I have a friend who is VERY knowledgeable about leaky gut since she has had it and she has been advising me as well. Since my symptoms have improved on the treatments for IBS I'm confident that I'm managing it. Also, since I'm in a new happier, less-stressful job, that has helped tremendously as well. Thanks again.