Despite its name, the small intestine is actually a whopping 20 feet of very important business. Working alongside your stomach and large intestine, the small intestine has the important job of digesting food and absorbing nutrients to keep us in good health. As if that wasn’t significant enough, this “little” guy is also a key contributor to a healthy immune system.
The small intestine plays host to modest amounts of specific beneficial microorganisms that help protect our bodies against bad (pathogenic) bacteria and yeast. These good bacteria also do their part to produce vitamins and nutrients like vitamin K and folate. They are the keepers of the small intestine, ensuring that it continues to do its thing, muscling waves of food through the gut.
What is SIBO?
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO occurs when there is a significant increase of bacteria in the area. Most often SIBO is caused by an overgrowth of the wrong types of bacteria that actually belong in the colon (the large intestine).
SIBO is like a bad tenant. It invites all its rowdy friends in for a party and damages the cell lining of the small bowel, especially something called our migrating motor complexes (MMC) which are responsible for proper intestinal “housekeeping” and micro-motility. In addition, SIBO can lead to leaky gut, allowing large protein molecules to move through the intestinal barrier and escape into the bloodstream. As you can imagine, this causes a number of problems, including general inflammation, immune reactions that cause food allergies, and autoimmune diseases.
The havoc this bacterial overgrowth wreaks also contributes to poor digestion, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, reflux, extra gas, and malabsorption. Patients with SIBO may suffer from nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron, vitamin B12, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as unintended weight loss.
How do you know if you have SIBO?
SIBO is considered an underdiagnosed condition as many people do not seek medical care for their symptoms. And if they do, they are often told it is simply IBS and just to live with it.
Common SIBO symptoms include:
- Bloating and abdominal swelling
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Gas and belching
- Weakness and fatigue
In more severe cases, patients experience weight loss and nutrient deficiency-related symptoms.
Are you at risk for SIBO?
While the elderly may be the most vulnerable to developing SIBO as its prevalence rises with age, there are multiple other risk factors that can increase your chances, no matter how old you are. These include:
- History of antibiotic use
- History of gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”, food poisoning, traveller’s diarrhea)
- Gastric acid suppression or low stomach acid (due to stress, medications, lifestyle factors)
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Prior bowel surgery
- Diabetes Types I & II
Studies also indicate that moderate alcohol consumption — that’s one drink a day for the ladies and two for men — not only promotes the overgrowth of certain types of bacteria, but it can also impair vital functions resulting in small bowel injury and decreased muscle contractions.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or think you might be at risk, then I encourage you to make an appointment to assess your symptoms and get tested. Specialized testing can be accomplished through a breath test. This breath test measures your hydrogen and methane gas levels produced by the bacterial metabolism and can be a very helpful indicator to determine if you are suffering from SIBO.
How can you treat SIBO?
Despite multiple courses of antibiotics being a risk factor, antibiotics (conventional or as herbal anti-bacterials) are still most often used to treat SIBO. However, studies show that SIBO returns in nearly half of all patients within only a year if treated only conventionally.
Successful treatment of SIBO must be handled just like any other health condition – not with a temporary solution, but by addressing the underlying cause! Intestinal bacteria can be influenced by numerous factors beyond what we eat and how much. Environmental effects, drugs, alcohol, and lifestyle factors such as stress can all be contributing factors to poor gut health. Therefore, the treatment must be unique to the individual.
Once you have identified the cause, treat SIBO symptoms through a healthy diet, nutritional supplements and positive lifestyle changes that help return the body to balance.
Nutritional tips for dealing with SIBO (on top of antibacterial treatment):
- Eat no more than three meals a day – this means no snacking! Giving our body 4-5 hours between meals improves our intestinal motility. More often than not, motility becomes an issue with people suffering from SIBO.
- With guidance, try an elimination diet for two weeks to get your body back on track by reducing inflammation and bacteria overgrowth.
Do any of the above symptoms or risk factors sound familiar? Do you think you might be suffering from SIBO? We can help! Please contact us, and we’ll get to the bottom of what’s going on and create a plan of action to bring your body back to good health.
To your best health!
Dr. Alexandra Verge, ND