How Successful are Naturopath's at Treating Digestive Issues?
August 11, 2013 1:01 PM   Subscribe

I am going to be seeing a Naturopathic doctor for my digestive issues which have plagued me for 4 months now. (Chronic abdominal pain and diahrea)

I believe these symptoms were brought on by my tetracycline treatment for acne which my dermatologist allowed to go on for 18 months. He actually begged me to continue the tetracycline treatment when I told him about my digestive issues.

My father and mother took tetracycline for 5 - 6 years with no trouble, so they think I'm being a hypocondriac.

The G.I. and my family doctor both just told me to eat more fiber and diagnosed me with IBS and said there was not much they could do to help me.

This caused me to have a panic attack multiple times and I ended up in the psych ward of my local hospital.

I feel IBS is an unhelpful diagnosis. IBS can be many things (bacterial overgrowth for one). It is a diagnosis of exclusion.

The Naturopath agrees and wants to work with me to get to the root of my digestive issues.

I know naturopathic medicine can be controversial, and I don't to waste money, but I feel that it is worth a shot as the mainstream medical establishment can no longer help me.

Does anyone think this has a good chance of helping me out?
posted by Jack V to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
Best answer: As naturopathy has no peer reviewed research demonstrating its efficacy in curing any disease, I would say that it has little chance of helping you out, aside from a placebo effect.

However, I would say: maybe you should ask for a referral to another gastrointestinal specialist. It's certainly possible that there is something going on that your GP has little experience diagnosing. That sounds like a good approach if you are still frustrated with your diagnosis.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2013 [37 favorites]

Sock puppet said what I was going to say.
posted by fullerenedream at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2013

"...the mainstream medical establishment can no longer help me."

Two doctors and an over-eager dermatologist hardly constitute the medical establishment. Please seek a second opinion with a gastro-expert, as sock puppet suggests.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:15 PM on August 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

I know someone who had similar symptoms that fixed the problem by taking probiotics.

Good luck.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:23 PM on August 11, 2013

Fiber made my IBS worse. Testing from both ends revealed.... NOTHING! Idiopathic IBS. Avoiding the odd thing that obviously causes me distress (dear avocados, I miss you) has been the only thing to help. But I wouldn't have known that I don't have a known cause for IBS without all of the testing by the gastroenterologist.

To my knowledge, the only naturalish-thing that has some anecdotal evidence to help IBS is some kind of enteric coated peppermint oil pills. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help, but any insoluble fiber often defeats the purpose. And adding the fiber slowly is good to avoid massive gas pain. But avoiding fiber and cooking the heck out of all veggies helped me until everything settled down. The last two years of eating low carb have been the most peaceful tummy years in general.
posted by monopas at 1:38 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: I just hope I'll be able to maintain a relationship with my girlfriend and work with my symptoms cause they can get bad. I've got to get on high quality probiotics and work it from there.
posted by Jack V at 1:42 PM on August 11, 2013

I can't offer any helpful advice for your tummy but there is an excellent article from The Economist a couple of years ago that answers your question perfectly. In short, no. But if you really believe in naturopathy it may have a placebo effect.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have small intentional bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which it sounds like maybe you do from your symptoms, then you need to see a gastro. The treatment there is more antibiotics (which probably caused it in the first place). You need these antibiotics to get this to go away. See a gastro.
posted by mrfuga0 at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2013

Best answer: Your gastrointestinal microflora is probably out-of-whack. If you try probiotics, lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has been known to be effective. Make sure to not combine it with something acidic — it needs to survive your stomach and make it to your intestines.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:18 PM on August 11, 2013

You could also have gallstones, a simple ultrasound can check for them.
posted by meepmeow at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: My family doctor is resisting sending me to a gastro, but I guess I got to push more.
posted by Jack V at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the helpful advice.

I am seeing a social worker in a couple weeks to help me deal with the overwhelming anxiety this is causing me. Perhaps that could relieve some of my symptoms too.

If I have SIBO, I hope they can find it and treat it. Would be the happiest day of my life
posted by Jack V at 3:04 PM on August 11, 2013

I hope you find relief soon. It's very hard to function when your stomach hurts constantly. I am currently waiting to see a gastro for similar symptoms, but in the meantime have had very remarkable symptom relief by strictly following the FODMAP diet, and adding in kefir. Kefir might be something the naturopathic practitioner may recommend for you anyway. I wish you all the best in your search for health.
posted by Revie1 at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2013

This sounds pretty similar to something that I went through. About a year after major surgery I started having mysterious constant debilitating abdominal pain. I went to my gp, my obgyn, a different gp, a well regarded gi doctor, a nutritionist, a homeopath and finally, a therapist. No one could find a cause for my pain nor could they treat it. Everyone had a different diagnosis though, internal scar tissue maybe, anti-depressants, IBS, etc. One male doctor (who was not an ob) suggested menstrual cramps. Please. None of the mainstream doctors made the pain go away or could help me feel better despite their efforts. And they did try in their way, with pills and talk of pain treatment centers.

When I started getting mouth ulcers I finally noticed that my symptoms co-incided with those of wheat intolerance. Back to the doctors I went and I was told - well that could be it - though an upper GI test did not show evidence of celiac. The body can do or reject all sorts of things after a major trauma like surgery. Fine. I lived without wheat for a while, which sort of helped but not entirely, and then I went to an acupuncturist.

Now, I don't care what anyone has to say about double-blind, peer review, science based what have you. The acupuncture worked. I was pain free. I could even eat a damn bagel. I wasn't crying in the shower every morning.

The point to my story - is do what you have to do. Believe in yourself and your own symptoms. You know you better than any damn doctor. When western style doctors can't help you - that doesn't have to be the end of your treatment. And unfortunately sometimes you just have to keep looking for a long time before you stumble on something that works.

Oh - and demand to go to a GI! That is ridiculous that your doctor won't give you a referral. WTH?
posted by rdnnyc at 4:32 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Now, I don't care what anyone has to say about double-blind, peer review, science based what have you. The acupuncture worked. I was pain free. I could even eat a damn bagel. I wasn't crying in the shower every morning.

The point to my story - is do what you have to do. Believe in yourself and your own symptoms. You know you better than any damn doctor. When western style doctors can't help you - that doesn't have to be the end of your treatment.

OP, please ignore this. This is bad advice. It is a classic case of someone being fooled by the placebo effect, and additionally recommends a know-nothing approach that is uniquely helpful in connecting your wallet to quack therapies and uniquely useless in actually resolving any medical issue. Go see a GI specialist. If you want needles placed in your dermis, get a tattoo.

Naturopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, homeopaths, and assorted other "alternative medicine" practitioners cannot help you. They cannot help you because for their "treatments" to work something magic or supernatural would have to occur. What they can do is take money from uninformed consumers.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:22 PM on August 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh, hi. I'm popping back in to also say: I'm glad that you gave my answer best answer, and are willing to keep working with trained medical professionals. I completely feel for you because I, too, went through a period where I was suffering with what appeared to be (was?) IBS. It was horrible - every time I ate, I had severe diarrhea within 5-20 minutes of finishing my meal. I had horrible shooting pains. Lettuce became the worst thing, ever. I was convinced it was caused by a super amoeba no one was catching. My doctor said "no, sorry." I, too, was very frustrated.

Then I quit smoking (for unrelated reasons). I have never, not once, had an IBS-style attack since.

Of course, at the time I was smoking, I was convinced that there was no way it contributed to it, because I had been smoking regularly, and the same amount, for the last ten years. The doctor once told me that cigarettes might trigger or worsen IBS symptoms. Oh, no, I pooh-poohed. I've been smoking for years and this whole deal is brand new.

Anyway: I guess my body was telling me it was time to quit.

It's really easy for people to attribute causality incorrectly when they're sick. Unfortunately, naturopaths (and other similar practitioners) are willing to capitalize on that for cash. You know your body, which means that you know that this condition is a serious deal and something you need to get treated. But go to people who are actually trained to treat these conditions, and keep in mind that the body is kind of weird, and what is causing this might surprise you.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 7:22 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You definitely need to see a gastroenterologist. Push for a referral. Depending on your insurance, you may not actually need a referral, so if your doc won't give you one, see if you can find someone to recommend one for you, or just pick one off your insurance's list. My stomach got really out of whack last year, mostly from stress, and it took a specialist to get me fixed back up.
posted by radioamy at 7:44 PM on August 11, 2013

Check out the book The New IBS Solution, which outlines a treatment for SIBO and seemed to provide so many unanswered questions for me. In my experience, a naturopath didn't hurt my situation and helped walk me through an elimination diet. If you decide to see one, though, I'd recommend seeing one AS WELL AS as GI doc, who is actually in a place to test, diagnose, and potentially treat a more serious underlying issue. I also recommend the FODMAP diet to keep symptoms at bay. of course, IANAD but can sympathize.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 8:10 PM on August 11, 2013

Anti-anxiety medications have reduced my gastro problems by 75%. Even if anxiety is not the primary cause, it sure exacerbates the problem, so consider coming at it from that angle too.

(PS: I'm sure you've thought of this, but just in case: are you lactose or gluten intolerant? I am the former, and I'm completely avoiding dairy to see if it helps.)
posted by desjardins at 8:26 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a naturopath will likely tell you need to do elimination diet with common food allergens one by one - starting with dairy, then soy, gluten, citrus.
posted by victory_laser at 12:49 AM on August 12, 2013

You need a gastroenterologist with experience with functional bowel disease and, if you're not seeing one, a therapist. I'm kind of shocked that your GP is being stubborn about giving you a referral.

You've posted a number of times about your anxiety about your health, and I'd be concerned that an alternative medicine practitioner would just make your anxiety about your health worse. See a doctor, a real one, who will listen to you. Be willing to seek out evidence-based treatment and get better. Don't fling up your hands and say you're 'unfixable'; this is black and white thinking that is characteristic of anxiety and depression.
posted by nerdfish at 4:54 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check your MeMail
posted by citygirl at 7:40 AM on August 12, 2013

SO depressing when people dis alternative methods with sweeping statements. Hundreds of years of practice shouldn't be so easily dismissed. Some people turn to things like naturopathy and acupuncture after they've exhausted all other options and find, lo and behold, these approaches really do work for them.

I've been to acupuncture for tennis elbow. Successful. I've been for nerve pain in my neck. Successful. Mr Origami has been going for digestive issues. Without sharing TMI, his general constitution changed for the better within days. Probiotics have also helped tremendously. Another friend swears by active enzymes.

Bottom line, keep an open mind and look at all of your options. Consider looking for a Community Acupuncture clinic in your area. Typical price is $30/session after the initial intake appointment.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2013

Best answer: Gosh, I feel for you. I don't exclude any type of treatment but there are many things that could cause your symptoms. I assume that you have had the upper and lower GI series and nothing showed up b/c the symptoms you discuss turned out to be colon cancer for my husband. I had much of the same symptoms and it turns out that after antibiotics I developed a lactose intolerance which aggravated my stomach with the same symptoms. I figured it out but did not understand why my doctor blew me off until I found the reasons using Web MD...and then voila...turns out I was right beause the antibiotics upset my system. So bottom line, get a doctor who talks to you and listens...and keep are not a hypochondriac..
posted by OhSusannah at 7:31 PM on August 12, 2013

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