(Photo Credit: Delphine Hourlay)

According to my own associations with the word “grace”—benevolence, divinity, mystery—this post belongs in this blog. In addition, I can’t help but put this information online: If it helps anyone seeking treatment for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) —this may be your ticket to recovery.

In short, the missing ingredient in my approach to treating SIBO was chia seeds (but please read below the other steps I took– a summarized list is at end of post). I will let you find elsewhere the definition, causes, and treatments for SIBO, a common but rarely-discussed condition of the digestive system.  I just want to post what did work for me so that others can follow if they choose.  

Someday I will be officially credentialed in nutrition. However, my life experiences and choices alone feel like a degree.

As someone who manages serious conditions through nutrition and lifestyle, I completely count our bodies’ ability to use food as medicine as an inner grace—a gift—we are born with. Not all bodies are identical– and much knowledge of healing foods has been lost over the centuries—but food and herbs were (and still are) a primary source of medicine.

Please note I do not eat dairy or wheat to begin with, so I do not mention these as part of my process.  I suspect omitting both–especially wheat–would be wise.

The path began with omitting the foods that hurt. This was hard to distinguish at first, because honestly, many things I ate or drank were culprits. Sugar was the first obvious trigger. I cut out all sugar, including fruit, honey (even raw), and drinking alcohol.

This helped somewhat. Thanks to many bloggers online, I finally learned to omit/reduce carbohydrates: both the obvious processed kind (pasta, crackers) and also the less obvious kind (complex carbs in vegetables such as parsnip and sweet potato, and nuts—yes, even nuts).

SIBO is an imbalance of bacteria, and occasionally I would win a daily battle, but then continue to lose the overall war. Celery juice on an empty stomach, as recommended by Anthony William the “Medical Medium”, worked wonders at first, but then was less helpful, even though I continue to drink (to this day) celery juice every morning. Also, eating raw garlic before bed, several cloves, (actually painful to eat, and of course odorous), worked wonders at first also.  I continued with organic celery juice and garlic, even though by themselves they weren’t the single answer.

I miserably lost weight, was hungry often, and lived on a diet of mostly lighter vegetables and lean meats. Coffee did not seem to make a difference either way, so after a month without, I happily brought it back.

I consulted 5 medical professionals altogether: 2 N.D.’s (naturopathic soctors), a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist, and an M.D (medical doctor). 

By the way I highly recommend the knowledgeable nutritionist Joe Strickland from Better Body Nutrition in Austin, Texas—he can work with you over the phone and is very affordable. He is a clinical nutritionist and uses kinesiology, or nutrition response testing, to gauge what your body needs nutritionally.  Joe found *other* issues with my body (which were accurate), but for the most part my digestion was testing just fine, according to him—this was the one thing that gave me hope.  I consulted Joe for years when I lived in Austin.

PRObiotics—the soil-based kind—were also a part of the answer. Small daily battles got a tiny bit easier. Additional supplements I took were garlic capsules, L-Glutamine and bee propolis (although these two seemed to have no effect). 

Fermented foods (pickles, kim chi) did NOT help—they hurt. Trust your own body! For me, they were no bueno.

I knew PREbiotics were a big part of the answer, and I kept incorporating prebiotic foods into my daily vegetable intake: asparagus, cabbage, onions (yes, despite higher carb content), plus other “lighter” vegetables like zucchini and cucumber.  Yet there was no miracle, still regular pain and dysfunction, if I can gracefully call it that.  

I lost weight, I canceled trips, and I worked full-time in pain.  I was miserable. My gastroenterologist, per my prompting, did prescribe the antibiotic Xifaxan, which I was holding on to as a last resort. However, many reviews report Xifaxan has either terrible side effects or works temporarily.

I was losing hope and was getting close to trying the prescription.

My coworker and friend Macie is someone with whom I talk nutrition often. One hungry morning she showed me her new discovery and explained how to make it: chia seeds with almond milk, and fresh fruit on top. The seeds absorb the liquid and create a pudding consistency—with fruit on top it is a slightly nutty-flavored pudding with a sweet top. It takes several minutes for the pudding to form.

I tried my first bowl of chia seeds at home the next day, out of sheer jealousy and hunger. I wanted to simply fill my belly without pain. I didn’t realize it was the missing ingredient my body needed to recover.  The chia seeds acted like medicine, wholly reorienting the thousands? millions? billions? of cells in my digestive tract.  

It turns out chia seeds are a prebiotic—although they did not appear on any of the prebiotic food lists I initially researched.  Chia seeds are food for the “good” bacteria in our bodies.

I was 80% better within 24 hours of eating chia. More than 2 weeks later—with 2 small bowls of chia seeds daily—I am now about 95% if I mostly stick to most;y meat and vegetables.  I added other foods back into my diet in small doses—always wary—but so far have been doing OK with modest portions of fruit on the chia, occasional gluten-free/egg-free crackers, rice, and sunflower seeds/walnuts.

I am delirious with joy to eat!!  To give the chia a boost, add some flax seeds.  The flax/chia combo is a helpful one.

After a 5-month journey, I am no longer in pain, discomfort, or hunger. That mysterious middle third of my body seems to be working gracefully these days. I am grateful. And glad I did not give up my faith that food can be the medicine—sometimes we just don’t know the right formula.

Here is a condensed list of steps I followed:

  • Omit sugar, all of it: Candy, baked sweets, fruit/juice, honey, alcohol, etc.
  • Omit starch- and carbohydrate-based food products (crackers, bread, pasta) and reduce intake of vegetables comprised of complex carbohydrates (sweet potato, corn)
  • Omit nuts and eggs
  • Omit fermented foods (pickles were OK for me though)
  • Do eat ongoing: lighter prebiotic vegetables (onions OK) and lean meats
  • Do drink fresh celery juice on empty stomach first daily
  • Do eat raw garlic (if you can stomach it) before bed
  • Do eventually add a soil-based probiotic before bed (Garden of Eden brad Primal Defense is my favorite)
  • Do eventually add chia seeds– made with almond milk– 2 small servings (half cup or so) daily — this was the magic food that brought me digestive restoration
  • This chronological list is the formula that worked for me– it took a few months, but listen to your body for your own timeline.  I suspect the omissions are necessary early on– priming/cleansing the body to receive the benefits of chia later.  

It turns out both bananas and cocoa are both prebiotics—so all three—chia seeds, cocoa, and sliced banana (plus almond milk)—make a delicious prebiotic desert.

Be well everyone– please comment or email any thoughts!