Three and one-half years ago I started skeptically experimenting with alternative health ideas to fix my gut. I feel a little “out there,”–yes, I do– but I can’t argue with success that exceeds Miralax, Metamucil, and Smooth Move Tea. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of my slow-to-stop gut story if you feel so inclined. Okay. Here we go. Welcome to The Fites Medical Funnies, where nothing is intended to be used for medical advice and any appealing ideas should be run by your favorite healthcare practitioner. Because yoga and gargling could be dangerous.
Alone Time First Thing in the Morning
The gut makes a large movement when we wake up in the morning, before we’ve even eaten anything. I’ve found that if my gut is going to eliminate, it’s going to do so early in the morning when I’m sitting alone quietly. If I hear my husband get up to shower, if I shower, or if I decide to start breakfast early, the game is over for the day. Rarely, if I get some time in the afternoon to sit and check email or something and the kids are quietly playing in the basement or outside–and Mars aligns with the moon– then, my gut may relax enough to move.
This tells me my gut can work and bring about normal defecation. This also tells me that my sympathetic tone is VERY strong and easily over-rides the parasympathetic control of my gut. The sympathetic nervous system is what gets the body geared up and ready to go. It is described as the system that kicks in “when you’re running from an ax-murderer.” Your parasympathetic control is the “rest and digest” control system. I’d say, in general, my sympathetic control system predominates my life.
Bottom-line: The parasympathetic nervous system promotes defecation. My sympathetic tone responds quickly to any perceived task, even if it’s as simple as saying “good-bye” to my husband in the morning or changing into clothes for the day. (Yeah. I know. I’m working on it.) Getting up before everybody in the house wakes up and sitting quietly promotes movement of my gut. It’s almost a necessity in the equation.
Ileocecal Valve Massage, Gargling, and Gagging
Hey. This may be whacko at its finest, but it’s cheap, safe, and easy to do. About seven months ago, I started thinking about something called small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) hard. If a person has SIBO, constipation can be an outcome, particularly if the “bacteria” make extra methane. I suspect I have a mild case of SIBO but have never tested myself for SIBO because 1) it’s one more test 2) nobody in my area tests for methane predominant SIBO that I know of 3) there’s no good treatment for it 4) I’d already tried the treatment for it a few years ago (and it helped a little with bloating but not for long) and 5) my symptoms were/are not that significant to me (and my constipation has been life-long and I feel it led to my SIBO rather than SIBO causing it).
But, I thought, if I have SIBO, the only way I’m going to get that better is if my ileocecal valve (a “valve” which separates the small intestine from the large intestine) is opening and closing the way it should. AND if my vagal tone (parasympathetic tone) to the gut is promoting sweeping forward and peristaltic motions as it should be. With my long-term history of constipation, I figured this indicated that my gut does not sweep forward like it ought to, allowing bacteria to migrate up inappropriately through the ICV to the small intestine, leading to my middle-aged SIBO symptoms. To get my gut moving forward better and to stop the retrograde flow of bacteria, I felt I needed to work on my ICV and my vagal tone.
Mmm. Yes. You following this crazy? So, with some internet research, I decided to rub my ICV. (It’s in the right lower quadrant, kind of above the hipbone but over a bit toward the belly button.) This usually ended up being about 2-3 times a day: when waking up in the morning, when going to bed at night, and during the day if I could steal a second to lay flat. I noticed that my ICV was actually quite tender, like a sore muscle or “trigger point.” I also noticed that my gut started gurgling and growling after massaging the ICV. Just for the heck of it, I then, after massaging my ICV continued to massage the colon around. Really. You can find this all on the internet.
Okay, if rubbing ICVs and colons is not cutting edge enough for you, I proceeded to work on vagal tone. When I brushed my teeth, I would stimulate the gag response five times and call that enough. I would also then gargle water at the end. When I showered, I’d also gargle and try to gargle periodically through the day, for example when I’d use the bathroom. Gargling and gagging stimulate the vagus nerve.
I’ve been doing this for quite some time now, and I get no immediate response. None. But I’ve kept doing them at least once a day for about six months. My SIBO does seems much improved, and my gut is moving a lot better. This could be so many things, but these are easy things to do and try. I have nothing to lose in trying these things. Obviously, you shouldn’t throw up your food or hurt yourself gagging. Duh.
Bottom-line: These are simple things to try. My ICV is rarely sore anymore, but it does seem when the bloating flares again, it is more sore. Whatever. I’m going to keep this routine going longer.
I have a very weak core due to having a pretty large umbilical hernia and diastasis recti from having four kids. During the summer, I thought, “I’m going to fix this hernia.” and I tried a program called MuTu at the recommendation of a friend. I liked it a lot, and my core definitely got stronger. Could this have contributed to GI improvement? Maybe so. Don’t know. I haven’t done the exercises for three months now, and my gut kept on working. I have exercised plenty in the past (and continue to do so), so I don’t feel like exercise in general moves my gut.
Over the last four years, I’ve observed that my food intolerances and gut do better when I’m less stressed. I’m a pretty intense person, and I walk around looking for stuff to do, even if it’s just folding a blanket nicely on the couch.
If my vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system are going to function optimally to help me get off of all supplements for my gut, then I’m going to have to do some major brain rearranging. My brain has to stop sometimes and/or I have to learn that I don’t need to always listen to my busy brain.
In light of this, I have a good friend who teaches therapeutic, problem-focused type yoga. It was time to sign up for some individual work. Like with acupuncture, when I quietly worked with her on breathing, stretching, awareness of body and thoughts, meditation and learned some of the techniques she taught, my tummy would sit there and rumble during the class. It’s like my gut is singing, “Hel-loh-oh. I like this stuff.”
Bottom-line: I’ve been doing this yoga/meditation/self-awareness jazz for about four months. The last two of those four months were completely normal bowel movements. Is it the acupuncture? The K2? The butyrate? The resistant starch? The gargling? The yoga. The mediation? Who cares! I’ll take it.
Loving My Body’s Limitations
So I read about this woman who cured her autoimmune disease by choosing to love it. Yes, my brain sang “Hoakie.” (Singing loudly is supposed to stimulate the vagus, too.) But I’m in a place where I’ve tried it all, and I’m totally game to try something that’s free, painless, and completely safe! So for a time, I would lay in bed as I woke up or went to sleep or at my yoga lessons, and I’d tell my colon it was doing a good job. That it had a hard job digesting and moving all that food under the conditions I gave it. That we, the rest of the body, would do whatever it took to help the colon do its job better. And even if it never did its job any differently, we loved it as a part of this wonderful body. We told it thank you. We told it good job. We quit telling it sucked. It was broken. It was harming the rest of the body. It needed fixed. It was ugly and gross and dysbiotic.
Did it work? Well, not directly. But whatever. I tried it for a month.
Bottom-line: Worked for some other chic but not for me. But it still was a very nice thing to do for my colon. And why not be nice? I think it was worth a try.
What do I eat? My diet is usually pretty clean, and I’ve tailored it over the last three and 1/2 years with an elimination diet to where I feel the best. I started with GAPS diet and have branched my diet out (or unbranched it, in the case of some GAPS allowed foods I avoid eating). I try to avoid completely adhering to dogma now (for example, never eating legumes or dairy or sugar or grains for the theory of it) and instead prefer to use close scrutiny (which usually leaves me avoiding legumes, dairy, most grains, and sugar for the reality of it! :-) ). I eat lots of vegetables, both cooked and uncooked–all kinds. I eat meat about once a day, sometimes twice–to satiety. I eat a lot of seafood, and also lamb, beef, and pork. I eat fruit about once a day, about 1-2 servings unless it’s summer and something I love is in season. My gut now likes nuts and moves fine and actually very well on them, but my headaches don’t like them. So I have to go easy on nuts and seeds, even though I seem to think that things like hemp, seed-based granola bars, etc promote gut movement for me. Potatoes and rice seem to go well for me, especially when eaten cooked and cooled, and I make a point to try to eat either cold rice, cold potatoes, or green banana daily for resistant starch.
Besides the rice, I don’t eat many grains. My gut always slows for a few days after I try to re-introduce gluten, so I keep it off the menu. As far as dairy, I don’t eat it much, but for a time, I seemed to be doing fine with sheep and goat cheese and my homemade yogurt from a local Jersey cow. I don’t eat eggs unless they’re long-cooked in something, and even then I use extreme caution.
I’ve played around with carbohydrate levels, fat levels, protein levels, calories, raw foods, all cooked foods. Baby, I’ve tried it. I seek out the freshest, most stable fats I can find to use, usually fresh olive oil and drippings from cooking meats that I save. I usually eat organic, but it’s not usually a deal-breaker.
There is NO doubt in my mind that my diet change plays a HUGE role in relieving my constipation. And I think a good elimination diet is nothing short of miraculous. I know my gut would not be moving if I hadn’t watched, listened, and felt closely.
I’m in a good place now, and it has taken three and 1/2 years. Maybe doing it my way took longer, but when I tried to ask for help, of both conventional and alternative providers, it cost a lot of money and didn’t make my gut work much better. So this is where I am. Don’t use my story as medical advice.
If you’re still reading, I think you must have a vested interest in constipation. Good luck to you. If my symptoms flare up again, I’m not worried. There’s a few more tricks out there to try when I’m no longer nursing. But no matter what, my gut can now move with the simple help of magnesium. This ought to save me from a colectomy, and for that, anyone can be truly grateful.