How a Healthy Diet Made Me Sick

My young daughter once said to me, “Mom, you eat leaves and sticks.” Looking down at my composed salad it seemed that her observation wasn’t too far from the truth.

For decades I have made a point of consuming whole, healthy foods. But my belief that a diet based on vegetables, lean meats, complex carbohydrates and little or no processed foods would insure my health was shattered when I discovered that my dietary choices were actually making me sick.

After twenty years of trial and error in an effort to address a chronic condition that, in the absence of more severe symptoms, was dismissed by all of my physicians, it was a hydrogen breath test that finally pointed to my diet and a severe disruption in my microbiome as the culprits.

The root of my health problem is most likely the just below normal activity of my thyroid, a condition known as being hypothyroid, but in the absence of symptoms like weight gain it’s something that was never a cause for concern. Over several decades, hypothyroidism and the slower motility or gut action that accompanies it had allowed for bacteria that belongs in the large intestine to overgrow in to the small intestine creating a condition now known as Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO).

Other factors like being treated for teenage acne with broad- spectrum oral antibiotics which I was are also known to contribute to SIBO in adults. While many suffers of SIBO have severe, debilitating symptoms that escalate into conditions like Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, my symptom was confined primarily to chronic halitosis.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the cause of the halitosis let alone the solution to what had been described as “that dirty smell.” After an adult tonsillectomy, dozens of tests for acid and hormone imbalances, testing for the presence of ketones, careful monitoring of pH levels and years of flawless oral hygiene, I was no closer to identifying the root cause of “the smell.”

Although the hydrogen test was inconclusive, ironically, it warranted treatment for SIBO with Rifaximin, a new type of antibiotic that isn’t absorbed into the blood stream and is designed specifically to kill the community of bad bugs that in addition to archaea could also include different types of yeast in my small intestine. As these invaders go about their business of feeding on all of the healthy foods that I’ve been sending their way, they produce odorous gasses and the condition that I’ve been struggling with for decades.

Some of my favorite foods — aromatics like garlic and onions, yogurt, milk, whole grain wheat, raw vegetables and fruits like avocados and even apples — have joined a long list of foods that I’ve had to avoid during treatment and may have to avoid in the future to stay healthy.

While I’m resigned to forgoing any foods that contribute to the problem, I’m saddened that for years I’ve unknowingly made my condition worse by feeding the bad bugs all of my favorite foods.

Like anything that relies on balance, curing SIBO is tricky because there’s no one size fits all-treatment. While I’ve already seen an improvement after taking Rifaximin and modifying my diet, I’m hopeful that a combination of Western and natural therapies will bring my digestive track back in to balance and eliminate “that dirty smell” forever.