Within a few weeks of the 9/11 attacks in New York when the world was tentatively taking to the airways again, I went to Madagascar to volunteer in humanitarian development work with ADRA for 5 months. That seems so long ago now! It was a fantastic opportunity and experience that I treasure.
However, one of the ‘costs’ of living in remote villages with very limited facilities (think camping) for weeks at a time was that I often got dysentery. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I would just take a few Flagyl pills which seemed to sort it out.
When I arrived back in Australia, though, I had chronic diarrhoea. Actually within the first year of my return (during 2002) I had a few infectious illnesses to contend with including Lyme disease. Through a combination of prayer, hydrotherapy and antibiotics I recovered from Lyme disease in 2003.
But the disrupted gut health continued. It became my new ‘normal’.
Every few years I would have flare ups of fatigue, brain fog and additional gut symptoms and disruptions. With each flare up I would try a range of diagnostics and treatments – both conventional and alternative. I was seriously researching and considering a faecal transplant. I was willing to give anything a shot!
Along the way we found quite a few things including:
- SIBO and dysbiosis (managed with diet, probiotics, supplements and natural antimicrobials)
- FODMAP and other food sensitivities (managed by diet alterations)
- Leaky gut (treated with lots of glutamine and several other things but the intestinal permeability persisted)
- Dientamoeba fragilis (successfully treated with antibiotics after trying a few natural antimicrobials first)
I even saw a gastroenterologist who gave me a colonoscopy and endoscopy and concluded everything was pretty good – except I just needed to retrain my bowel using psyllium husks for 6 months. Thanks to his very high confidence and the benign nature of his prescription I faithfully did it… With absolutely no impact on my symptoms. I haven’t had the heart to give him the feedback or go back for further follow-up.
The most recent health professionals I’ve had looking into my gut was the team at Goulds Natural Medicine in Hobart. I had several telehealth appointments with them over a couple of years, mostly managing symptoms and incrementally tackling the SIBO and leaky gut.
One of the diagnostic tools Goulds use for managing gut health and function is microbiome sequencing with companies such as CosmosID and NirvanaBiome. I’ve done several such microbiome sequencing tests over the years, but the two that I did with CosmosID (the 2nd of which was via NirvanaBiome) identified a pathogen of potential interest.
First, in November 2020, the sample had an inconclusive detection of Cyclospora cayetanensis. Cyclospora is a self-limiting pathogen similar to Cryptosporidium. Given the detect was inconclusive, we didn’t think much of it. (There was another similarly inconclusive detect of another pathogen too. Such results are often thought to be fragments passing through and insignificant.)
But then in April of 2021, there was a repeat similar inconclusive detect of Cyclospora. My health care providers still didn’t think it significant. But I thought it might be significant, and I was willing to try the particular antibiotic used to treat Cyclospora. Even though I had already had way too many courses of antibiotics over the years, I had never tried trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), which is pretty much the only drug to which Cyclospora is susceptible.
So I gave Bactrim a go in May 2021, and from June 2021 until now (7 months later) my gut health has returned to how it was prior to 2001/02 (my time in Madagascar). Thank the Lord!
The transformation has been so complete that I haven’t even bothered to do any further diagnostics for confirmation. If at some future time I do feel so inclined, the tests I would want to run would be intestinal permeability and another microbiome sequencing test. But resolution of my symptoms is conclusive enough for me.
I am very thankful for this protracted saga of ill health for a number of life-defining reasons:
- If it wasn’t for my deteriorated gut health, I most likely wouldn’t have crossed paths with my now wife. Renee is a naturopath, and I first needed her professional help before realising I actually needed her companionship in all areas of life!
- My gut saga has helped refine my character, chipping away at my arrogance and self-sufficiency, and helping me to depend more on God.
- Hopefully my story can help others who struggle with gut issues. There are so many people with gut problems. The causes, histories and symptoms can be quite varied, but the common denominator is the critical importance of nurturing a healthy microbiome.