What Is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth?

What is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and why it might be responsible for your IBS.

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Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth [image source: mirror.co.uk]

Do you suffer from bloating, abdominal pain or cramps, constipation, diarrhea, constant burping, flatulence, food intolerances or heartburn?

If you do, it’s likely you have been told you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) with no known cure.  Doctors often prescribe a modified diet and recommend reducing stress as a way of managing this condition.

But what if there was a reason that IBS was developing in the first place, and that treatment of it could eliminate the symptoms completely?

A condition known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is commonly responsible for IBS like symptoms.  In studies conducted with people suffering IBS, up to 80% of them tested positive for SIBO.

What Causes SIBO?

SIBO is caused when normal bacteria enters the small intestine in large numbers, causing havoc. The small intestine isn’t supposed to have large amounts of bacteria living in it, so this is why it can become so problematic once it’s there.  They can:

  • Damage the villi and microvilli, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Create gas as a bi product of their fermentation of starches, causing bloating, pain and further damage to the microvilli.
  • Intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut’ can be caused by SIBO, where partially digested food particles are absorbed and cause an immune reaction and inflammation.
  • The motility (movement) of the small intestine can be slowed down or impaired, causing further fermentation and SIBO.

How Do You Get SIBO? 

Often there is no simple answer, but it can be from a multitude of reasons, such as:

  • Food poisoning
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Gastrointestinal infection and upset
  • Overconsumption of simple carbohydrates
  • Stress
  • Use of antibiotics
  • Acid blockers
  • Fungus overgrowth
  • Surgical interventions and operations to the abdomen
  • A dysfunctional ileocecal valve
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Poor colonisation of gut micro biome at birth due to Caesarean birth or lack of breast-feeding

Are There Other Conditions Associated With SIBO?

There are a number of conditions, which are associated with SIBO.  If you suffer from one of these conditions, you may also have SIBO:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Acid reflux
  • Coeliac disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic constipation
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (eg. Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis)
  • Diabetes
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Acne rosacea
  • Hyperthyrodism
  • Scleroderma
  • Chronic Prostatitis
  • Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Joint pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Iron and B12 deficiency
  • Asthma

How Do You Get Tested For SIBO?

SIBO is diagnosed through a lactulose breath test, which measures the hydrogen and/or methane that comes off your breath after drinking the solution. The breath test is easy to take, and can be done at home. SIBO Test is a testing facility in Australia that have a free quiz that you can take on their website to see if you may have SIBO.

How Do You Treat SIBO?

SIBO is treated with a two-phase approach: diet to starve the bacteria and prevent them from multiplying, and treatment to kill the bacteria.  This is done with antibiotics, herbal supplements, or both.

The SIBO diet is initially restrictive, cutting out all gluten, dairy, grains, sugars (including fruit initially), fermentable fibres, alcohol, and processed food, and then slowly reintroduces foods once the bacteria numbers have been reduced.

Life After SIBO

Once SIBO has been treated, many people see the complete eradication of their digestive symptoms. They also feel healthier, may have lost weight, and are often able to eat foods again which previously caused discomfort.

To find a practitioner near you who specialises in the treatment of SIBO, head to Sibo Test to find out more. And always consult your physician for further information before seeking treatment.