Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog #33 The Case of the Passing Wind

Forty three year old Carrie sat down and frowned with concentration. “How can I help?” I asked.

“I am a little uncomfortable talking about this,” she hedged looking down at her lap.

“Take your time and start with what you are comfortable with,” I suggested.

Slowly, her story unfolded. Her health was excellent, in general and she did her best to “stay away from doctors”. Her main strategies for avoiding the medical profession were to eat well, exercise and generally take care of herself.

“I am pretty boring,” she confessed. “I don’t drink or smoke. Not even coffee.”

“Sounds good,” I said encouragingly.

Carrie fidgeted but continued her story. She was not one of those people who liked to complain about the little physical quirks of life, she explained. Her mother-in-law talked about her bowels like she was reporting on the weather, which Carrie thought was disgusting. Where she grew up, this was considered uncouth.

Now Carrie found herself in the embarrassing situation of having developed a sudden problem with her bowels. “Maybe I have no patience for the bowel report because mine have always been perfect,” she says with self-depreciation.

She had not changed her diet or habits but for the last month or so she had developed horrific flatulence. “I could burn a hole in the upholstery,” she laughed nervously, her face turning red.

I laughed with her and agreed that would be cause for concern then asked some questions.

Had she been traveling?
Yes, but only a short business trip. She took these several times a year.

Had she been sick? No.

Any history of bowel issues? None. Her bowels had always been reliable.

Had her bowel movements changed, too? Absolutely. They were now more frequent, mostly loose and “clear the room” stinky. Before they were well formed and regular.

I looked at her diet and was happily surprised to find lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. “As much organic as I can get,” she insisted. She avoided dairy products because they did not agree with her. There was little processed food and her weight was good.

Gas is the product of fermentation. The bowels have plenty of partially digested food slug to ferment and the bacteria to do the job. If there are enough of the right kind of good bacteria, there is clean processing and minimum bad gas production. But, if the wrong bacteria and/or excessive yeast get to the food they form all types of gas. One species of bad bacteria, for example, thrives on sulfur and produces methane gas. High levels of methane gas produced by people (and more famously, cows) are thought to be a contributing factor to global climate change. So, reducing personal emissions is another way to go “green”.

Clearly, Carrie had picked up or for other reasons was growing too many unhelpful bacteria. The questions were, which one and why were they growing so well? The most accurate way to measure what is growing in the gut is to have a good lab culture the stool. The test I like also looks at other factors such as digestive enzyme activity and has a marker for general gut immune function. This costs about $200.

After hearing my explanation Carrie was quiet for a minute. “My husband is about to change jobs,” she started hesitantly. “Is there any cheaper way to deal with this?”

I told her we could try to overrun the bad bacteria with good bacteria and then to be sure, we could give her some gut immune support. If the problem was a simple imbalance in an otherwise healthy system a few ecological shifts should make her right as rain. But if she was not better in 2 weeks, we could run the stool test. “That would be great,” she enthused.

The plan was laid out. She would take probiotics (good bacteria) twice per day. I recommended a brand containing 20 billion bugs per capsule that required refrigeration. Then I suggested a gut immune support supplement called Probioplex (2 twice per day).

“The gas may get a little worse for a few days, due to ‘die off’,” I explained. As the bad bacteria “die off” they release toxins which can smell bad and be absorbed into the blood. “But, if it is a simple problem, the system should settle down within a week. If not give me a buzz.”

“Either that or I will have to invest in an industrial grade air purifier and carry it with me everywhere,” Carrie quipped.

Carrie agreed to leave me a message in two weeks. She would report that all was well or request I send her a stool test kit. Two weeks passed and I was going through my e-mails when I saw her name. I clicked on.

“Furniture upholstery is safe and my husband loves you,” it read.

I guess the plan worked.

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