Food poisoning is one of the most common causes of an increased risk of developing IBS, and the number one cause of developing post-infectious IBS (PI-IBS).
Food poisoning happens when people consume food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins. Also known as foodborne illness, it can cause a range of symptoms, most commonly stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite.
While many individuals recover after the initial illness, others may not and may go on to develop IBS-like symptoms, which health experts call PI-IBS.
It’s important to note that PI-IBS can develop a long time after the initial infection. Many patients don’t remember the original instance of food poisoning that may have led to IBS.
Whenever I’m contacted by someone who needs help with their IBS symptoms, one of the first questions I ask is, ‘Have you ever had a gut infection like food poisoning?’ If the reply if ‘yes’, and often it is, then I have a pretty good idea what has caused their IBS and can put together an eliminating, rebalancing and healing supplement protocol.
An infection may result in injury to the nerves lining the gut that are responsible for gut motility and sensation. Damage to these nerves may cause an alteration to bowel movements that may lead to PI-IBS.
The symptoms include:
- Altered bowel patterns (constipation, diarrhoea or alternating)
How can we avoid food poisoning?
Certain foods are more likely to cause food poisoning than others, especially if they are improperly stored, prepared or cooked.
Raw and undercooked poultry – chicken, duck and turkey have a high risk of causing food poisoning. This is mainly due to two types of bacteria, Campylobacter and Salmonella, which are commonly found in the guts and feathers of these birds. These bacteria often contaminate fresh poultry meat during the slaughtering process, and they can survive up until cooking kills them. To reduce your risk, ensure poultry meat is cooked through completely, do not wash raw meat, and ensure that raw meat does not come in contact with utensils, kitchen surfaces, chopping boards and other foods, since this can result in cross-contamination.
Oysters – shellfish, including clams, scallops and oysters, can contain harmful bacteria and viruses because of the way they feed. Oysters filter large volumes of water to get their food. So, bacteria and viruses in the water can build up within the oyster. Thorough cooking will destroy these viruses but many people eat shellfish raw or part cook it. So, the shellfish may still contain viruses when eaten.
Rare beef burgers – do not order a beef burger rare; it’s not the same as a steak. It’s made from mincemeat so bacteria can become mixed up in the meat which means you need to order your burgers cooked at least medium to well done.
Sushi – the general rule of thumb for consuming raw seafood is that it should be eaten on the day of purchase. Following this rule will drastically reduce the likelihood of becoming ill from consumption. Only eat sushi from a place you trust, where you know the fish is fresh. Avoid eating fish that has been frozen; if you are unsure about which kinds of fish have been frozen, ask your server for more information. They will be able to tell you which fish on their menu is safe to eat and which ones to avoid if raw.
Sprouts – they may be superfoods but they are also responsible for food poisoning; sprouts grow best in warm, humid conditions, which can also lead to the growth of germs. When they are eaten raw (as they often are, especially in sandwiches and salads), it can lead to food poisoning from Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria. Fortunately, cooking sprouts helps kill any harmful microorganisms and reduces the risk of food poisoning.
Bagged salads – 22% of all food poisoning outbreaks in the last decade have been linked to salads! Prepared salads are risky because there are so many cross-contamination points. Vegetables and leafy greens can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. This can occur across various stages of the supply chain. Contamination can occur from unclean water and dirty runoff, which can leach into the soil that fruits and vegetables are grown in. It can also occur from dirty processing equipment and unhygienic food preparation practices. Leafy greens are especially risky because they are often consumed raw. The inside of the bags are moist, the perfect environment for bacteria to proliferate. To minimise your risk, always wash salad leaves thoroughly before eating. I rinse mine in a solution of water and Milton. Do not purchase bags of salad mix that contain spoiled, mushy leaves and avoid pre-prepared salads that have been left to sit at room temperature.
Other tips to help minimise your risk of food poisoning:
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands with soap and hot water before preparing food. Always wash your hands right after touching raw meat and poultry. Alas, this is not possible if eating in restaurants, where we can’t view hygiene protocols.
- Avoid washing raw meat and poultry: This does not kill the bacteria – it only spreads it to other foods, cooking utensils and kitchen surfaces.
- Avoid cross-contamination: Use separate chopping boards and knives, especially for raw meat and poultry.
- Don’t ignore the use-by date: For health and safety reasons, fresh foods should not be eaten after their use-by date, especially meat, fish and chicken. Check use-by dates on your food regularly and throw it out once they’ve passed, even if the food looks and smells ok.
- Cook meat thoroughly: Make sure ground meat, sausages and poultry are cooked through to the centre. Juices should run clear after cooking.
- Wash fresh produce: Wash leafy greens, vegetables and fruits before eating them, even if they are pre-packaged. Again, you could use Milton solution.
- Keep food at a safe temperature: 40–140°F (5–60°C) is the ideal temperature for the growth of bacteria. Don’t leave leftovers sitting at room temperature. Instead, put them right in the fridge.
My supplement protocol for food poisoning
This natural ‘deep-clean’ of the stomach and gut will help absorb any pathogens, including the bug or parasite responsible for the food poisoning.
Once the cleanse is complete, I recommend taking the restoring, healing supplements in my Perfect Balance Kit.
The Kit contains:
60 Live Bacteria capsules – it is vitally important to get some good bugs back into your system, especially if you’ve had diarrhoea which can ‘wash out’ billions of your friendly gut bacteria. Take one capsule in the morning before breakfast and one in the evening before bed with a glass of cold water (no hot drinks).
60 Digestive Enzymes tablets – help to ensure your food is being properly digested and nutrients absorbed. I recommend these tablets to anyone who gets bloated, especially after food. Take one tablet just before lunch and one just before dinner.
30 high-strength Omega 3 capsules – if you’re not eating oily fish at least three times weekly, I recommend these capsules for their natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Take one of capsule daily with food.
30 odour-controlled Garlic tablets – gentle on the tummy, these natural antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal tablets will help to sterilise your digestive system, preventing any ‘bad’ bugs from getting back into the digestive system and causing a recurrence of any sickness and diarrhoea.
Although it may seem counter-productive if you’ve had diarrhoea, consider having a colon hydrotherapy treatment to help further wash out any potential lingering bugs or parasites. You can find a registered practitioner here and here.