“I hate my digestive system!”
These words rang out with regularity in my one-bedroom apartment when I was in my twenties. Okay, they didn’t really “ring out.” I thought them more than anything. But I was often frustrated with feeling so bad after eating.
I became even more frustrated when I went on a healthy eating kick, and it didn’t get much better. Learning to properly combine my food eliminated the constant digestive discomfort, but I still experienced it ten days (for at least two eating periods each day) out of every thirty.
In my thirties, I learned that the bloating and pain were at their worst during certain times of the month. In fact, some months those were the only times I felt miserable. I concluded that hormonal activity was somehow making my system more sensitive.
At age forty, eating any fruit other than bananas started making me nauseated. I remedied this somewhat with digestive enzymes, but lately, almost ten years later, my reaction to almost any food I could eat has been uncomfortable at the least, often inconvenient when the reaction happened lower down, and sometimes downright painful.
I’ve known for some time that I have a super-sensitive digestive system. I also learned a couple of years ago that hitting perimenopause can make this worse for women. Or, women who never had trouble eating anything can all of a sudden be hit with it.
Either way, my findings verified my theory that the issue could be related to hormones. The medical community calls it “Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” IBS for short because our society has become too lazy and too busy to speak in full words, to the extent that kids today have to ask their parents what KFC and DQ stand for. (By the way, if you have IBS, eating at either of those two places is not recommended. 😉 )
Because my super-sensitive digestive system has become super super-sensitive during the past few months, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. I’m going to share them before you even ask.
IBS is a bunch of BS. What I mean is, the medical community has labeled as a “syndrome” making it sound like you’re sick if you have it.
You’re not. I’m not. Just as people with ADHD don’t have a disorder, people who experience the symptoms referred to as IBS are not unhealthy.
Our guts are simply more sensitive to the digestive process. They feel the gas more intensely. Or maybe even, produce more gas.
Don’t get me wrong. IBS can become a problem if you ignore it and do nothing to alleviate the symptoms. If it gives you diarrhea, for example, you can get dehydrated or deficient in nutrients. If eating gluten makes your stomach hurt, you’re going to have a hard time focusing on work after you have a sandwich for lunch on the job.
Here’s another thing about IBS not being a medical problem: six times more women are diagnosed with it than men. A huge reason is that our ovaries and uterus are tucked in right amidst our gut and colon. Can you say, “Conflict of interest?”
I’ve decided to rename Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’m calling it “FDS”, for “Female Digestive Sensitivity.” If you’re a guy with digestive issues that result simply from being a Highly Sensitive Person, call it “MDS.”
You don’t have to experience symptoms every day to have it. As I mentioned above, my whacked-out hormones somehow make my sensitive gut even more sensitive than usual. Some days, I can get away with eating broccoli. Other days, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night feeling like it’s turned into a rock in my stomach.
Increasing fiber is TERRIBLE advice for people with IBS, especially those with the diarrhea kind. But for any kind, the harsh fiber found in vegetables is sometimes – or often – painful to allow to go through the gut except in small quantities.
I can still be a vegan! When I started reading up on the carbohydrates and foods that are problematic for people with IBS, I said, good grief, can I no longer be vegan? But after thinking about it for a while I realized that if I eliminated the cabbage family veggies from my diet and dialed back on the sweeter/softer greens and sprouted mung beans, I could still get plenty of healthy food in my diet without going back to eating meat.
Xylose isomerase! Because of the IBS, I also have fructose malabsorption. People who don’t have it can absorb twenty-five to fifty grams of fructose in one sitting. People who do have it may only be able to absorb ONE gram of fructose in one sitting! And not more than twenty-four grams. Bye-bye, fruit-based diets!
The exception is if the food you’re eating contains more glucose, because the fructose will stick to the glucose and get absorbed along with it. Glucose is the form of sugar that the body needs, so it is always all automatically absorbed in the small intestine.
Bananas have twice as much glucose as fructose, which is one reason many people with fructose malabsorption don’t feel badly after eating a banana or two.
But other fruits high in fructose, such as mangoes, pears, apples?
Ouch, ouch, burp, feel like puking.
Then there are the fruits containing sorbitol, namely the stone fruits such as peaches. The sorbitol may not be well-absorbed, either.
The result of fructose malabsorption? The offending sugars pass into the colon, pulling water along with them and being happily consumed by the bacteria in your colon. The by-product of the bacterial waste produces gas, and the extra water causes diarrhea.
I’ve been experiencing all this lately for many of my fruit smoothies and fruit snacks. For a despairing few hours I thought I was going to have to give up all fruits except bananas and berries.
But a blessed article on fructose malabsorption told me about xylose isomerase. This is an enzyme which converts fructose into glucose as it’s passing down through your system.
So I went to Amazon and put in the search box, “xylose isomerase,” and found the Eat Anything RX supplement. Long story short, it works, and I can eat whatever fruit I want again.
And add another $43 a month to our food bill. This supplement is NOT cheap. *SIGH*.
I’m not destroying my intestines.
The gut pain that sensitive people often experience is not indicative of food creating tiny tears in the lining of your gut – though is sure sometimes feels like it! It’s the sensitive nerves in the gut complaining about the pressure from the gas.
Except for fructose, a low FODMAP diet doesn’t matter one whit to me. When my digestive system decides to go whacko, I’m going to be miserable anywhere between several hours to several days, no matter what I eat – or don’t eat.
Hold on. I’ve lost some of you on the FODMAP thing. Those letters stand for the elements or characteristics of food that cause people with IBS – I mean, FDS – the most trouble. Not all of them are a problem for everyone with a sensitive digestive system, but at least some of them cause trouble on a regular basis.
The letters stand for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.
Foods high in oligosaccharides (the compounds fructans – not to be confused with fructose – and galactans) include chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, asparagus, cabbage, onions, wheat, rye, and watermelon. Foods containing disaccharides include table sugar, beetroot, and non-fermented dairy products; and those containing monosaccharides include anything containing fructose, glucose, or galactose.
The polyols are those sugars ending in “ol”: xylitol, sorbitol (found in the stone fruits such as peaches), and malitol.
Experts recommend going on a low FODMAP diet for a few days to a couple of weeks, then reintroducing the different types of FODMAP foods, one at a time, to see which ones cause you a problem.
For me? FODMAPs don’t matter. Any kind of food causes me pain or discomfort when my digestive system goes haywire. Or rather, when my hormones go haywire. Even the eternally benign white rice.
My accidental weight loss plan
And now you know how I’ve managed to stay so thin my entire adulthood, even as I creep closer to the half-century mark when most women have gained a noticeable amount of weight for no apparent reason.
Say, now, I think I’ve discovered the perfect weight-loss plan. Develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I mean, Female Digestive Sensitivity 😉 .
First steps to a happier digestive system
#1. Learn to properly combine your food. Don’t consume meats and starches with the same meal, eat fruit a half hour before or at least an hour after consuming anything else. Don’t eat dairy products with anything except vegetables. A little bit of cheese with fruit might be okay.
If you begin to properly combine your food, you might find that your IBS magically disappears.
#2. Reduce the overall stress in your life, and don’t eat when you’re angry, afraid, or sad to the extent that adrenaline is racing through you.
#3. Ladies, take a magnesium supplement (chelated or angstrom) and/or use Progestelle (find it on Amazon). I use both products. Both help to keep your hormones better balance, which will reduce your overall P.M.S. and perimenopausal symptoms, including the digestive ick.
#4. Experiment and find out what works for you.
#5. If you love fruit, but eating it is causing you trouble, try the Eat Anything RX supplement, or Fructaid (which is slightly cheaper).