SIBO: Symptoms & How To Treat Bacterial Overgrowth
SIBO is a digestive condition that many people suffer from, yet very few people understand or know about it. If gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, acid reflux and bowel irregularity are all part of your daily routine, it’s a clear sign that your digestive system is out of balance— and SIBO could be to blame. Yuri Elkhaim discusses what it is and how you can treat it below.
What Is SIBO?
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO is a digestive condition that’s often categorized with other disorders that affect the entire GI tract, such as candida, dysbiosis or leaky gut. But SIBO differs from other gut imbalances because it only affects the small intestine.
In optimal conditions, the small intestine should only contain very few (and specific) strains of gut bacteria. The primary function of our small intestine is to absorb vitamins and minerals, while our large intestine and colon contains bacteria that further facilitate the digestive process, and help us eliminate the waste we don’t need.
Now, the body has a delicate system in place to keep the contents of the small and large intestine separate from one another with valves, muscular contractions and various digestive fluids. But under certain circumstances (which aren’t yet fully understood), the bacteria from the colon can end up in the small intestine, where it doesn’t belong. This is when small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO can result.
SIBO is harmful to health for many reasons, and natural remedies for SIBO treatment should be incorporated when diagnosed. Since the small intestine is where the body absorbs nutrients that are essential to health, having bacteria in it that don’t belong there can interfere with the body’s ability to uptake essential nutrients from the food we eat. This can result in severe nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities and weight loss. If left untreated, SIBO can also lead to autoimmune conditions and permanent cellular damage.
Signs You Have SIBO
So, how do you know if you have SIBO?
SIBO shares many symptoms with several other digestive disorders, which can make it hard to diagnose. And unfortunately, many digestive symptoms get categorized as the basket term IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, which is a vague diagnosis at best.
But if you suffer from any of the symptoms below, it’s worth exploring whether or not SIBO may be the culprit— and if you should incorporate natural solutions for SIBO treatment through your diet and lifestyle.
Aside from the symptoms previously mentioned, such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and acid reflux, here are other common symptoms of SIBO:
- Unexplained dramatic weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea, not related to a specific food
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Developing new food sensitivities
- The inability to gain weight, despite increasing caloric intake
- Sensitive to carbohydrates
Testing For SIBO
While SIBO is a condition that sounds like it takes a lot of guesswork to figure out, there are a few accurate ways to test for SIBO. The most common test administered for SIBO today is the hydrogen breath test. The hydrogen breath test measures the amount of hydrogen and methane in your breath. These are two gases that are produced by bacteria when carbohydrates are being fermented.
You see, in normal circumstances, the carbohydrates you eat aren’t supposed to be fermented by bacteria in your small intestine. Instead, the nutrients the carbohydrates contain get absorbed in your small intestine and move through the rest of your GI tract, where they are eventually fermented by the bacteria in your colon.
But in the case of SIBO, the bacteria that ferments these carbohydrates in the colon have migrated to your small intestine. Therefore, the hydrogen and methane that’s produced during fermentation begins to happen in your small intestine rather than your colon— and when you breathe, these gases are expelled through your breath.
The best way to begin SIBO treatment is by improving the health of your gut. Naturally, the best ways to improve the health of both your small and large intestine is by replenishing your levels of good bacteria. Eliminating specific foods that can encourage the growth of bad bacteria is also a critical step for SIBO treatment.
Here are the most common and effective natural ways to promote SIBO treatment.
- Take a Probiotic Supplement Each Day
A high quality probiotic supplement can offer your body a therapeutic dose of friendly bacteria. Taking a probiotic supplement daily will help repopulate the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system, and help eliminate the bad bacteria that are present in your small intestine.
- Eat Fermented Foods
You can also double up on friendly bacteria by including fermented foods in your diet, which naturally contain cultures of probiotics. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, coconut milk kefir and coconut yogurt are all excellent food sources of friendly bacteria that can help reduce the symptoms of SIBO.
- Follow a SIBO Friendly Diet
Probiotic supplements and fermented foods are two important components of a SIBO friendly diet. However, eliminating starchy carbohydrates such as bread, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes from your diet can also help treat SIBO. This is because the bad bacteria in your small intestine feed off of these carbs specifically.
SIBO friendly diets that can help eliminate bad bacteria also include the GAPS diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the Low FODMAP diet. There are several resources online and in print books that provide in-depth information, protocols and recipes about these three diets.
- Vitamin and Mineral Therapy
As you begin to improve your gut health, a necessary part of SIBO treatment is replenishing the nutrients that may not be absorbed in your small intestine while bacterial overgrowth is present. These nutrients include vitamins A, D, E, K, calcium, magnesium and the B vitamins.
These vitamins and minerals can be obtained from vegetables, healthy fats such as avocado, wild fish and leafy greens. Supplementing with a whole food vitamin or mineral may also be helpful.
- Herbal Medicine
Specific herbs, capsules and tinctures have also been studied for their ability to provide effective SIBO treatment. Blends of herbs such as skullcap, licorice root, lemon balm, dill seed and berberine have been used together in SIBO treatment, and have been shown to be just as effective as using antibiotics.
As you can see, SIBO treatment begins by supporting the health of your entire digestive system. While SIBO may not be a well understood condition at present time, the best way to begin eliminating the painful symptoms of SIBO is to incorporate natural gut healing remedies. By supporting the health of your entire gut microbiome, you’ll also prevent the irreversible damage that can occur from having a compromised digestive system.