Elemental Diet


If you have ventured into the world of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) treatment, you may have come across the elemental diet.  The elemental diet is usually the last stab at treatment when pharmaceutical and herbal treatment plans have not reduced gas levels sufficiently to bring about a reduction in symptoms and healing.  Basically, the elemental diet is not a first-line of therapy, though.  Elemental diets have been shown to be highly effective for IBD (irritable bowel disease — think Crohn’s and Colitis.  Current preliminary studies/reports are demonstrating that the elemental diet can improve IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), SIBO [1], and RA (rheumatoid arthritis).

After attempting to reduce my methane gas levels with multiple rounds of therapeutic treatments including both pharmaceuticals and herbals, I researched and took a number of courses on the elemental diet.  Basically, I wanted to know as much about this “diet” as I could by learning from SIBO experts like Dr Allison Siebecker and Dr Michael Ruscio.

I am happy to inform you that I successfully completed 14 days of the elemental diet and have noticed a reduction in symptoms including fewer food intolerances.  Yippee!  Of course, I am often asked if I would do it again — hell, yeah!  Was it hard?  Oh, my, yes — I craved “real” food to chew and taste.

What Is the Elemental Diet?

A true elemental diet is an easily digestible and drinkable form of your macronutrients — fats (fatty acids), carbohydrates (monosaccrides-glucose) and proteins (amino acids).  According to Dr Allison Siebecker, “Elemental diets have been studied for the treatment of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and found to be effective when taken in place of meals for 2 weeks.” [2]  Dr Ruscio emphasized that the elemental diet is similar to a modified fast, but is different because the elemental diet has calories and nutrients being ingested.  The elemental diet has the nutrients fully broken down into the macro and micro elements, so your body doesn’t have to for its daily repair and function.  For example, protein in its most elemental form is an amino acid (we need 8 essential amino acids), and glucose is the carbohydrate energy used by your body’s cells without any fibre.  In fact, it is this low- to no-fibre content that makes this diet helpful for healing digestive tract inflammation often part of the bloating and distention of SIBO.

Anecdotical evidence provided by Dr Siebecker during the SIBO Symposium in 2015 pointed out that severe gas levels could be reduced up to 148 ppm (parts per million) in one 2-week course of the elemental diet. [3]  That’s impressive and much more effective than some of the other treatment options that can take a lot longer in duration.  I don’t know, for sure, if mine dropped because I chose not to test.

My First Elemental Diet Experience

Here are my supplies from my first homemade elemental diet:

Firstly, I chose to do Dr Siebecker’s homemade elemental diet which meant accessing crazy supplies like amino acids.  All of the other nutrients were easily accessible.  In the end, I did not use the dextrose for my carbs.  Instead I used locally sourced honey — it tasted better.

Secondly, I had to pick a two-week period without many commitments.  I did attend my regular barre classes and walked my dogs for my daily movement — no energy problems at all.

Thirdly, I had to just do it.  I tracked my body weight, body fat percentage, water percentage, muscle percentage, and bone weight using my handy dandy digital scale.  Prior to starting, I had done 24- and 36-hour long fasts, so I didn’t expect hunger to be an issue.  I did take the amino acids separately from the honey and MCT/coconut oil.  I used the honey and MCT to satiate my appetite when I “felt” hungry.  Day one was interesting.  The amino acids taste awful!  Now I understood why Dr Siebecker suggested using Crystal Light to flavour the disgusting taste.  Initially I was opposed to using Crystal Light, but hey, I had to get this stuff down and it was for only 2 weeks of my life.  By day 14, I just wanted to eat real food with texture and aroma.  I definitely counted down the days until I was done.  When I hit day 10, I discovered that I had miscalculated amount of the amino acids I needed.  This meant I needed to re-calculate my macros and adjust the remaining amino acids to make it to the last day.

Lastly, I did complete the full 2-weeks of the elemental diet!

Metrics Analyzed

I did lose weight –a gradual decline of ten pounds over the 14 days.  Was that 10 merely water weight?  Nope.  My body’s hydration increased and my body fat went down.  My water percentage increased by 2.5% and my body fat decreased by 2.7% during this diet.  My muscle and bone stayed consistent.

I have put on some weight since doing the elemental diet, but only a few pounds.  An interesting aside, Dr Pimentel recently said in an interview (he has ground-breaking research on hydrogen sulphide and methane SIBO that is hitting the literature in 2018) that SIBO patients tend to carry 15-20 extra pounds and have a BMI (body mass index) higher by 2 points.

In conclusion, the elemental diet dietarily meet my body’s needs and helped with reducing SIBO symptoms and improved some of my food intolerances.

Will There Be A Next Time?

Yes, I am planning to squeeze in another round before the end of the summer.  However, this time I will be doing a semi-elemental diet formula (Elemental Heal created by Dr Ruscio). I’ve tried it already and it is much more palatable than the homemade version. Another good note is although it is only available in vanilla flavour, there will soon be chocolate!

Dr Ruscio explores the semi-elemental diet and its various versions of using it in his book, Healthy Gut Healthy You.

Conclusion

A liquid elemental diet is effective in reducing SIBO symptoms of bloating and distention.  I don’t know if my methane gas levels went down, because I chose not to test again due to the cost.

According to Dr Ruscio, elemental and semi-elemental diets can work well to improve your overall gut health and healing, particularly if you aren’t responding to other treatment protocols.

With any dietary intervention, please do not undertake this diet without advise and/or supervision from your healthcare professional.  I completed mine with my naturopath’s blessing.

If you want to learn more, you can check out Dr Siebecker’s webpages on Elemental Formulas — https://www.siboinfo.com/elemental-formula.html.

Are you bloated?  Have you been diagnosed with IBS?  Then take a moment to reach out to get help.  Drop me a note  and let’s do a free Discovery Chat to figure out how we can work together to make your gut happier and improve your overall health.


RESOURCES:

[1] Mark Pimentel, “14 day elemental diet is highly effective in normalizing lactulose breath test.” Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 2004 Jan;49(1):73-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14992438

[2] Allison Siebecker ND, “Homemade Elemental Diet,” www.siboinfo.com

[3] Allison Siebecker ND, “Homemade Elemental Diet,” SIBO Symposium June 6-7, 2015 in Portland, OR.


About Brenda

As a nutrition consultant and educator, I aim to support you in achieving health and vitality through natural wholesome foods and lifestyle transformation. Ready to change yourself from the inside out? Then contact Brenda today.