Dealing with a bloated gut shouldn’t be part of daily life. If you’re starting to think that it’s not normal to feel five months pregnant a few hours after eating, you might be living with an undiagnosed digestive problem like SIBO.
There’s no shame in acknowledging that you deal with digestive issues. In fact, it puts you in the company of 70 million other Americans who are struggling to get their systems under control again.
Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to restore your gut health and reduce unpleasant bloating. The first step? Determining whether the source of your stomach problems is an overgrowth of bacteria.
What is SIBO?
SIBO is an acronym for ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.’ The condition is caused by excessive amounts of microbes in the small intestine. Bacteria are a normal part of a healthy digestive tract, and they vary in type and concentration depending on the region in question.
Some digestive bacteria (like probiotics) are beneficial for your body. However, certain bacteria types that are perfectly fine in one place can wreak havoc in another. For instance, if you get too much ‘colon bacteria’ in your small intestine, you’re likely to experience the symptoms of SIBO.
SIBO and the Small Intestine
The bacteria that causes SIBO is typically found in your colon. It is rarely a problem at low concentrations or in other places in the body – except the small intestine.
The small intestine is the largest section of the digestive tract, and it is the region where food mixes with digestive juices to aid the absorption of crucial minerals into your bloodstream.
There are proportionally fewer bacteria in your small intestine than your colon (about 10,000 per milliliter of fluid compared to over 1,000,000,000 per ml). These small intestine bacteria are essential for fending off “bad” bacteria, maintaining healthy immune functioning, improving nutrient absorption levels, and aiding vitamin K production.
It’s well understood that problems like SIBO occur when the bacteria in the large and small intestine get mixed or out of balance. Exactly why this happens, though, is a harder question to answer.
What Causes SIBO?
Despite its prevalence, the causes of SIBO aren’t well understood. Research shows that more people are dealing with the condition than previously thought, but the triggers for SIBO can vary significantly from one person to another.
What is known is that SIBO can start in your system for many reasons, from general aging to small intestine defects, diabetes and pancreatitis. Taking antibiotic medications also disrupts your digestive bacteria, potentially triggering the condition.
It’s also possible that physical obstructions in the gut like surgery scars or Crohn’s disease can cause SIBO. However, one of the most significant triggers for the condition is regularly eating foods filled with simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and yeasts or alcohol.
Concerns with SIBO
Is there reason to be concerned if you suspect you have SIBO? The longer you let the condition go untreated, the worse its impacts will be. An overgrowth of bacteria can cause nutrient malabsorption, leading to digestive ailments like gas, bloating, damage to your stomach lining, and even IBS. Iron, calcium, and general vitamin deficiencies are common, and they can lead to feelings of exhaustion, general weakness, mental confusion, and occasionally long-term neural damage.
Because SIBO can damage your intestinal lining, it occasionally allows food particles to travel into your bloodstream and other body parts, potentially triggering an immune response that can develop into food allergies.
IS SIBO Contagious?
The mere mention of a bacterial infection is often all it takes for people to give you plenty of space. Fortunately, SIBO isn’t contagious, and there isn’t evidence that exposure to individual bacterial strands increases your risk of developing the condition. Rather, it’s caused by a complex combination of lifestyle factors that can’t be spread from one person to another.
Does SIBO Trigger Other Health Problems?
The evidence is mounting that SIBO is linked to a variety of health conditions, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Rosacea, and others. For reasons still unknown, SIBO is a common symptom in people with hypothyroidism, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cirrhosis of the liver.
It’s no coincidence that the main symptoms of SIBO are the same for IBS. In fact, evidence of SIBO has been found in over 80% of IBS patients, causing some scientists to theorize that it is an underlying cause of the disorder.
While it’s still unknown what percentage of the general population has SIBO, some studies put the number as high as 20%. What’s not in question, however, is that the condition is underdiagnosed. That’s because SIBO is relatively unknown, and people rarely seek medical care for their symptoms.
Complicating things further, SIBO diagnostic tests are known for producing false negatives, preventing many instances of the condition from getting counted.
12 Signs That You Have SIBO
Are you dealing with SIBO without realizing it? Any evidence of the following symptoms is a sign that you may well be.
- Chronic gassiness
- Bloating (especially a few hours after meals)
- Difficulty going to the bathroom regularly
- Signs of vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Frequent abdominal pain and cramping
- Sudden food intolerances like gluten, lactose, or fructose
- Leaky gut disorder
- Chronic illnesses like diabetes or an autoimmune disease
- Skin rashes like rosacea
- Inexplicable weight loss (in extreme cases)
How to Diagnose SIBO
Due to the complications of the condition, no single test is perfectly suited for diagnosing SIBO. Not only is the small intestine challenging to access, but standard stool samples are a better indicator of colon health (the large intestine) than the small one.
A standard SIBO test is the hydrogen breath test. This test measures the amount of hydrogen and methane gas produced by bacteria in your digestive system. If you have SIBO, these gases can be detected in your breath at specific concentrations over the course of several hours after you consume a sugar solution.
A similar test is a lactulose breath test. Bacteria (not humans) can digest lactulose, and when they do so, they create a gas. If a lactulose breath test detects this gas, you likely have SIBO.
Breath tests are far from perfect because they allow room for interpretation. Doctors can differ in whether they diagnose results as positive or negative, as the symptoms of SIBO often fall on a spectrum without a clear designation of where it begins. For this reason, it’s usually best to undergo multiple tests to get a clearer picture of your internal bacterial levels.
7 Strategies To Reduce SIBO Symptoms
While SIBO research is still bringing up more questions than answers about the condition, there is a lot you can do to get the bacteria overgrowth back under control and alleviate its symptoms for good.
1. Follow the SIBO Diet
One of the biggest triggers for a bacterial overgrowth in your digestive system is a diet filled with easily digestible foods. This includes simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and all forms of alcohol. Following a SIBO diet cuts these compounds out of your diet so that you aren’t filling up your stomach with foods that feed your internal bacteria more efficiently than they feed you.
The SIBO diet’s goal is to feed the person but starve the bacteria; usually by limiting carbohydrates and filling up on insoluble fiber.
Foods that help fight SIBO include:
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Fibrous vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole fruits (Because of its fiber content, fresh fruit won’t ferment in your stomach before you digest it).
A full guide can be found at SiboInfo.com.
Overeating is one of the worst things that you can do for SIBO because excessive food levels limit stomach acid production, consequently creating a more hospitable environment for bacteria in the small intestine.
It’s also smart to stick to smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three big ones. This allows your system to more efficiently process each meal so that you don’t get a buildup that feeds your internal microbes.
Following a SIBO diet can reduce the condition’s symptoms for many people. However, if your problems are due to Leaky Gut or other intestinal issues, changing your meals won’t be enough.
2. Try a Dietary Supplement
SIBO often leads to nutritional deficiencies because your gut bacteria digest a large percentage of your food. This means it’s a smart idea to take a daily multivitamin with vitamin B12, D, K, zinc, and iron until the condition gets back under control. Some research suggests that high vitamin levels will also help you fight off or reduce your chance of developing SIBO, but these claims aren’t validated yet.
3. Take an Antibiotic
An intense antibiotic regimen is often the cause of SIBO in the first place, but a careful treatment plan can also restore your levels to normal. This is because antibiotics can kill off unwelcome bacteria to rebalance out your small intestine.
Antibiotics like Rifaximin and Neomycin work against SIBO by attacking a bacterial overgrowth head on and, and it is the top treatment approach recommended by doctors if dietary changes aren’t making a difference.
However, antibiotics kill off bacteria indiscriminately, meaning that your beneficial bacterial levels will be reduced in the process as well. Studies show that antibiotics aren’t always a practical solution for treating SIBO because the regimen leads to a high reoccurrence rate of the condition. While antibiotics can achieve up to 91% success in eradicating SIBO, most people eventually develop the condition again unless they treat the root cause of the bacterial overgrowth in the first place.
4. Take a Probiotic Supplement
It’s often possible to treat SIBO by boosting your body’s beneficial bacterial levels through probiotic supplements. Initial studies show that taking probiotics is more effective at reducing the reoccurrence of SIBO than taking antibiotics alone, especially when paired with a SIBO diet.
5. Try Herbal Remedies
Many plants have natural antibacterial properties, which means that herbal remedies are often used for treating SIBO. Research shows that oral treatments of wormwood extract, oregano oil, Indian barberry root extract, and lemon balm oil can cut down some of the bacterial overgrowths that trigger SIBO.
6. Experiment with Essential Oils for Digestion
Similar in benefits to herbal remedies, essential oils can also improve SIBO symptoms and even permanently eradicate the condition. According to the Alternative Medicine Review,
7. Make Positive Lifestyle Changes
One of the best ways to make a difference in the functioning of your digestive system is to set up a lifestyle tailored towards keeping it healthy. Managing your stress levels, getting plenty of exercise, and taking part in wellness practices like meditation and acupuncture can all reduce your risk of a SIBO flare up.
Say Goodbye to Stomach Problems – Permanently
Permanently recovering from SIBO requires more than popping a pill. By taking the time to change your diet and lifestyle to accommodate the beneficial bacteria in your system better, you can keep this condition out of your life for good.