The more and more I talk to people about my former gut issues (IBS) and the healing process through diets like GAPS and Paleo, the more I realize that SO MANY people have digestive problems. The more alarming thing is that it takes me admitting to some very personal things about my IBS before someone is comfortable enough to admit to problems of their own. Moreover, they disclose that they have not sought any help for their problems. Now I am not talking about 1 or 2 people, I am talking about close to 75% of the people I talk to about this stuff and the symptoms range from constipation, diarrhea, both constipation and diarrhea, bloating, GERD, etc.
Of course the syndrome in my title is something I made up but I feel it speaks to the issue of many individuals undiagnosed with gut issues simply because they are terribly embarrassed. I mean who wants to admit that they spend 4 hours a day in the bathroom like I did or that they have to down a bottle a day of beano just so they don't evacuate the building with their gas. Poop and gas jokes are very common and no one wants to be the butt (sorry for the pun) of those jokes.
So with that said, here are my hacks:
1) Do you think this is a problem/syndrome or am I just hyper focused on this issue because of my past issues?
2) What can we do as a society to make it more "comfortable" to admit to gut health issues?
3) Do you think Paleo/GAPS/etc would be more recognized or accepted if people would admit to their gut health issues? Meaning more admission's turns into more search for a cure/remedy which ultimately turns into more success stories with these Paleo type diets??
I think a large majority of people do not even recognize that they have gut issues because they have no experience with proper digestion. Some people know something is wrong and try to hide the embarrassment, but I think most aren't consciously hiding anything. They just can't/won't believe it at a fundamental level.
This was true for me all through my teen years. I was always underweight, always had bouts of diarrhea, and for the most part this did not faze me in the least. I ignored it. My mother was worried I had some untreated digestive issue and even suggested I give up wheat for a while as an experiment. I ignored her. (go mom, you were right, sorry for ignoring you for five years)
It took my weight dropping down to under 140lbs (I'm 6'3" and male) before I finally capitulated and accepted I actually had an issue.
The thing that prevented me from admitting it, for the longest time, was my inability to conceive of things being any other way. I think many if not most people with untreated/undiagnosed IBS are similarly trapped; crapping and cramping is just the way life is, until eventually it gets bad enough or annoying enough that they capitulate. It's not that society is ashamed of poop - believe me, guys are definitively not - it's that society's normal is probably itself not healthy, and so it's impossible to have the conversation. Think 1984 and word destruction. If you can't conceive of it, you can't talk about it, and that's where we stand on this issue.
1) 7-15% IBS prevalence in western countries. source
65-84% of IBS patients present with small intestine bacterial overgrowth source
30%-85% IBS patients have SIBO source
Only about 25% of individuals with IBS seek medical care for treatment source
2) Emphasize that there is reason for their symptoms: the gut-disturbing properties of modern dietaries. Talk about specifics like lectins, FODMAPs, the probable importance of gut-flora or the generally the importance of microbes in health and disease.
3) I think when it comes to gut issues people probably think there's no specific cause and gut symptoms are just their body being 'weak'. Noone wants to talk about how they are 'weak'. But if you point out that there are probably specific causes of gut-problems, then its more OK to talk about because the thought is more like 'Ok, something did this to me, something outside of me is responsible', rather than 'My body is naturally terrible and i don't want others to know that'.
So I don't think getting someone to admit they have gut issues would be productive unless you also, alongside, pointed out ideas about what might specifically be causing their gut issues.
I'm not sure if my digestive issues led to an eating disorder in the same vein as anorexia (i.e. I didn't want to eat because I felt like crap afterward) or if my eating disorder led to digestive issues. Similar to an earlier post, it took me getting down to 130# at 6' tall before I realized I had real problems. With Paleo and the introduction of probiotics, I'm no longer anoxeic and am at a "healthy" weight of 175# but still deal with digestive issues from time to time, usually in the form of constipation. Yeah. It sucks spending so much time in the bathroom, and it can certainly be emarrassing.
Apologies in advance for the long answer but you've hit a sore spot with me!
Your experience seems similar to mine since I 'came out' about my gut issues about 12 months ago. Almost everyone I speak to - friends, family, work colleagues - either has gut problems of their own or has a close friend or relative with them. Like you, I've found that being frank and open about my problems makes other people less inhibited about sharing their's. My thoughts on your questions:
1) Yes, I believe this is a huge problem. 'IBS'has a high reported prevalence (see free3337's link). The actual number of people with gut issues is probably much higher than this as many people never seek medical help for their symptoms. I think cultural taboos, a lack of education and awareness, and plain embarassment are often to blame. Also, 'IBS' has a huge stigma attached to it due, in part, to decades of trivialisation by certain sections of the Medical community. This is changing but I still feel that IBS has an image problem. (Rant warning...) I get the impression it's often seen as something which affects middle-aged, middle-class, female hypochondriacs. (I find the cliched image of a woman with her hands on her abdomen which appears on nearly every mainstream IBS article, website and book cover really irritating and discouraging, but perhaps that's just me!). Many people don't want to be given the IBS label, and simply put up with the discomfort.
2) I don't know what society can do to make people more comfortable about discussing these issues. It's a vicious circle: nobody discusses these issues because nobody discusses these issues. On a personal level, I'm trying to be more open about my own problems in the hope that other people will follow suit.
3) Probably. I think that many people (myself included) have never experienced healthy digestion, and don't realise they have issues, so don't even think to look for relief with diets such as Paleo, GAPS etc. I also think there's a disconnect between what's 'normal' (average for the population) and what's 'healthy'. There's also a reluctance on the part of many people with less severe symptoms to make radical lifestyle changes. So many social situations revolve around the sharing of food, and making radical dietary changes can be very socially isolating. I was practically forced into Paleo by my rapidly deteriorating health - it was an act of desperation. I know people who would problably benefit massively from a change to a Paleo-type diet but who won't even consider making the change.