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My long journey with digestive wellness

I recently posted on Instagram about my own health journey this past year. After receiving so many encouraging words and notes from people saying "I wish I knew how to advocate with my doctor", I thought I'd share my experience here, as well.


Advocating with your doctor when you know something is wrong is so important. Keep pushing. You know your body. You know something is wrong. Did you know that it takes up to 7 years and an average of 4 different doctor visits to get a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease? Many times, people are dismissed as "chronic complainers" or "hypochondriacs". I'm not going to lie, I was beginning to feel like one myself this year.


I am not a fan of going to the doctor. The less time I can spend in a doctor's office, the better. Maybe it's because I'm a little bit of a germaphobe (even before Covid-19). But as I've completed my graduate level training in nutrition, I've found myself reading literature or studies that reference blood labs and wondering "I wonder what my levels are?" just for reference. As I've learned more, I've been able to feel more confident in managing my own care or pushing for additional testing.


Over the past year, I have been diagnosed with gallbladder disease, had the gallbladder removed (only to discover the stone was lodged in the common bile duct--not cool), been diagnosed with Celiac disease and, subsequently, methane-dominant SIBO. If you aren't familiar, that means my digestive system is struggling. I have a messed up microbiome. It also is a chicken-and-egg situation. Did I have one, which caused the other? Or is it just by chance they have all developed.


When I was trying to avoid gallbladder removal, I was reading up on all things gallbladder related. When the surgeon was telling me I had to have my gallbladder removed, I fought it. When the nurse giving me my lab results told me that she had worked in general surgery for "years" and that "gallbladders are my jam", it made me mad. Ever been there? Where the doctor (or someone) tells you that this is just a routine procedure, that it happens all of the time? As if it happens to you all of the time? The nutritionist in me knows that while the gallbladder is not a "vital" organ (meaning, you can live without it), it is essential. God put it there for a reason. As it turns out, gallbladder disease is common in those with Hashimoto's disease--an autoimmune hypothyroidism.


Well, guess who also has Hashimoto's? Yep, that's me. When I reluctantly agreed to the surgery, I was told that the gallstone would be removed as well. It wasn't. I was working with two naturopaths. And this is why it is important to advocate for yourself. And to get a second opinion if things aren't setting well with you. One naturopath told me that the stone was too large to pass and there was a very small chance of it going away on it's own. She told me I was going to have to have an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) procedure where the gastroenterologist uses a device to go in and pull the stone out of the common bile duct. To someone who doesn't like the hospital, especially during a pandemic, this was not good news.


My other naturopath told me that I would be able to possibly break up the stone and pass it if I took some herbs. Uh, yes please. Sign me up for that! So I diligently took phosphatidylcholine for 8 weeks. Three times a day. I was eating the worst diet: low-fat. Fat tastes good. Eating less than 5g of fat at each meal or snack was no easy task. Trying to allow my body to heal from the surgery while hoping that an herbal treatment would work made for a rotten couple of months.


When I went for my ERCP, the didn't find anything during the ultrasound! The stone had dissolved or gotten small enough that I must have passed it. So, while I still had to go in for the ultrasound, I didn't have to have the ERCP, which was fantastic.


However, I was still having some digestive issues. Knowing they weren't quite right, I opened a dialogue with my naturopath about it. Based on the symptoms I was having and what I knew about autoimmune conditions, I was concerned that I might have Celiac disease. My body hasn't tolerated gluten well for a while and I knew that once you have one autoimmune condition, the likelihood of developing another increases. Since I already had a diagnosis of Hashimoto's and I had had gallbladder disease, I asked to be tested based on research that shows a strong relationship between hypothyroidism, gallbladder disease and Celiac disease. For me, a positive test would not mean anything other than a confirmation since we already have gluten issues in our family.


Once I got the Celiac diagnosis, I cleaned up my eating, ensuring that there wasn't any cross-contamination issues happening. But, still, my symptoms persisted. Symptoms I thought were related originally to Hashimoto's, then I thought were caused by gallbladder disease and then I attributed to Celiac were still persisting. At this point, I was beginning to feel like a bit of a hot mess. And a hypochondriac. But things still weren't right.


Did you know that many people who have been diagnosed with IBS actually have a form of SIBO? SIBO is too much bacteria growing in the wrong place--your small intestine, to be exact. Because Celiac affects the gut and your ability to absorb nutrients, I started to suspect that it was very likely I had more going on. More testing.


So now I begin the long process of trying to eradicate the SIBO while healing my gut. I realize I have the knowledge to help myself more than others might. As a Certified Gluten-Free Practitioner, I have a deeper understanding of autoimmune conditions and their effect on the gut and it's microbiome. As a holistic nutrition practitioner, I have the knowledge and resources to make the changes my body needs.


Always, always ask and advocate for yourself (or a loved one). Especially if you think something is wrong. And don't assume that doctors know about everything. Many are afraid to diagnose autoimmune conditions because their symptoms can be so ambiguous. You need a team. Look for a doctor who specializes in what you are needing. Work with nutrition professionals on the nutrition and dietary changes. My surgeon told me that once they took out the gallbladder, I could eat whatever I want--not true. Ever. Never after any gastrointestinal surgery can people eat whatever they want immediately after surgery.


Quick fix diets are gimmicks. If you are wanting to heal your body, it takes time. We tend to get impatient and want to feel better right now. Or lose weight right now. And when it doesn't happen, we feel like failures. If it is hard, we don't persist. Prioritize your health and the rest will fall into place.


"A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn to glorious success." -Elbert Hubbard






REFERENCES

Kresser, C. (2017, September 19). Leaky Gut, Gluten, and Gallbladder Problems migh Have a Connection. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://chriskresser.com/the-little-known-connection-between-leaky-gut-gluten-intolerance-and-gallbladder-problems/


Niveloni, S., et al. (2002, January 24). Gluten sensitivity in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002927097001147


O'Bryan, T. (2020, April). Certified Gluten Free Practitioner Training. Training presented at the meeting of National Association of Nutrition Professionals, Online.


Volta, U., et al. (2014, January 10). Gut–liver axis: An immune link between celiac disease and primary biliary cirrhosis. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1586/egh.13.5




About Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, NSCA-CPT Kelly Sherman is a nutrition consultant who is passionate about helping others optimize their health and reach their goals through simple nutrition and education. Understanding the "why" is just as important as understanding what to eat. She specializes in sports nutrition, autoimmune disease and gut health. Kelly has a master's degree in holistic nutrition and is a certified gluten-free practitioner. Her background in both fitness and nutrition allows her to marry the best of both worlds to help clients lead a more vibrant life.

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