Dr Nirala Jacobi
We are very honoured to host Dr Nirala Jacobi, BHSc, ND (USA), at the ATMS Functional GI Symposium in Sydney on 15 September 2019. Dr Jacobi is considered one of Australia’s leading experts in the treatment of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a common cause of IBS.
Dr Jacobi is the medical director for SIBOtest, an online testing service for practitioners. She is so passionate about educating practitioners she founded “The SIBO Doctor”, an online professional education platform for functional digestive disorders.
We asked Dr Jacobi to take some time out of her busy schedule, so we could get some insights into her passions and find out a bit more about her before the Symposium. Here’s what she had to say…
How did you get into your area of expertise and why do you stay?
Back in 2011, I attended the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians Conference and heard a talk about SIBO by Drs Siebecker and Sandberg-Lewis. I was stunned that as a naturopath I had never heard of this condition. Like many of us in this profession, the gut was my go-to place to start treatment plans and I thought I understood it pretty well. Now that I’ve specialised in SIBO for the past 9 years, I can tell you that I knew woefully little back then – even though I had been in practice for over 10 years. My specialty in SIBO then expanded into Functional Gastroenterology and the microbiome, and now I teach practitioners about these topics. Why did I stay? Well, when you get really good at something, it’s so much more fun, interesting, and rewarding because you can see that you’re helping those who’ve been written off by conventional, and sometimes alternative medicine.
What has been the main focus or outcomes of your research/work over the past year?
I’ve focussed mainly on SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth and its underlying causes. I’ve also researched and developed specific diets that can be used in the treatment of SIBO and Histamine intolerance. I have also developed a free questionnaire practitioners’ can use in clinic to help find the underlying cause of SIBO in their patients.
How has the research and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders changed in the past 5 years?
The theme of Gut Health is huge in the public’s mind – so on one hand this is a time of vindication for our profession – we’ve preached on the virtues of gut health for decades, now we finally see a huge level of interest. But on the other hand, we also see the dissemination of false information and wrong advice from amateur practitioners or “healed” patients. We need to continue to position ourselves as experts in this field and this has been my mission with teaching practitioners about functional digestive disorders. In terms of research, I think the most profound change has come with the Human Microbiome Project – we could finally begin to understand the “dark matter” of the microbiome – anaerobic organisms that don’t culture out, but are easily assessed with more modern technology, like PCR testing. This is truly revolutionary and will have profound implications in terms of treatment options for functional digestive disorders.
What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years in your particular field?
I think we will see the technology of testing evolve into “pill cams” – breath testing for SIBO as well as stool testing may become obsolete with this swallowable pill that takes samples as it travels through the gut. I also think we will have a better understanding of the underlying drivers that predispose someone to SIBO. Mucosal immunity will be another big area of intervention.
What is the number one way we, as natural medicine practitioners, can make a difference for our clients?
To stay up to date with developing science around the microbiome. Stay true to the inherent wisdom of naturopathic medicine. For example, how the body processes toxins, or the physiology of circulation will not change and as naturopaths we really understand how to impact the body’s elimination channels without being disease specific.
What’s the questions you get asked the most often in your field, and how do you answer it?
“How do you know all these things?” Answer: “Years of study, an interest in the topic, and no children.”
Tell us who inspires you / or who your professional idol is and why?
Inspiring women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Brené Brown who use their huge platform of social influence to effect change. Young people like Greta Thunberg who fights for climate change and Emma Gonzalez who fights to change the gun laws in the US. I’m inspired by people who take a stand and take action.