Do you have pain, gas, or bloating after meals? Is this problem worse when you have more carbs with your meals? These are the hallmark symptoms of SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Some other common symptoms with SIBO are diarrhea or constipation, depending on which type of bacteria you have; food sensitivities from damaged GI tract; fatigue, anxiety, depression, and brain fog from inflammatory cytokines being released; nausea from a slow stomach emptying; anemia from low ferritin and iron due to malabsorption; acne, interstitial cystitis and MORE!.
I’m seeing this issue more and more in my practice, yet many people still do not know what it is. I had a conversation recently with a woman who said, “Oh yes, I’ve heard of SIBO, and I have all the symptoms, but I dismissed it as another “fad diagnosis,” like candida overgrowth.” After we both had a brief chuckle, then I went on to explain to her exactly what SIBO is, what it does, and its underlying causes. By the end of our conversation, she changed her tune to “Wow. That makes so much sense now that you put it that way. I do think it is something I should address now!”.
SIBO is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines. It is not even necessarily pathogenic or “bad” bacteria. It’s just simply where it doesn’t belong. We all have and NEED bacteria in our large intestines. If you’re not sure why you can read my post on probiotics here to help gain a better understanding of what exactly these bacteria do in our large intestines and why they’re so important.
The problem arises when the bacteria that should be living in and doing their jobs in the large intestines end up in the small intestines. Our bodies were not designed to house bacteria there, and when food enters, these bacteria begin to ferment the food, causing bloating, gas, and other issues. Besides the obvious discomfort that comes with these symptoms, the more insidious problem is the malabsorption issues that arise when SIBO goes untreated and can lead to malnutrition as well as serious damage to the intestinal lining.
Don't miss this next sentence: If you don't find the underlying cause for SIBO, it will just keep coming back over and over. I see this so often in my practice. Clients come to me with years of recurrent SIBO, having often worked with good Drs, yet it keeps coming back.
Why? Because their Dr failed to find the underlying cause, they just keep playing whack-a-mole with the SIBO, and it just keeps coming back. Once they come to me, I work really hard with my clients to diagnose their underlying cause and address it so they're not stuck playing whack-a-mole forever.
This is an incredibly complex topic, as there are many possible underlying causes and many layers to each cause, but let's discuss a few to get you started...
1. Faulty illeocecal valve. This valve is between your large and small intestines. It is supposed to open to allow food to flow from your small to your large intestines, and then it is supposed to close promptly. Sometimes the valve gets stuck wide open and allows a backflow effect from the large to the small (wrong direction!!). Other times it just doesn’t close all the way, causing a slow leak of bacteria in the wrong direction.
2. Delayed migrating motor complex. The migrating motor complex, or the MMC, is often called the “housekeeper wave” and moves things along in the right direction (the right direction being out of the small intestines and into the large!). When the MMC is slow, it doesn’t push the food along as it should, and instead, it sits and ferments in the small intestines, further feeding the bacteria that shouldn’t be there and causing gas, bloating, and pain.
3. Food poisoning such as E.coli, Shigella, C. Diff, can all cause a release of bacterial toxins which, through molecular mimicry, create an auto-antibody to vinculin, which can cause small intestinal nerve damage, thus decreasing the migrating motor complex.
4. Low Hcl, or hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid kills incoming bacteria that are constantly entering through our mouths and noses. If HCL is low (which is VERY common these days, especially if you’ve been on a PPI), it won't be able to kill the bacteria, and they can then set up shop in your small intestines where they don’t belong.
5. Structural issues. Partial obstructions like adhesions and compression or a non-draining pocket like small intestinal diverticula or blind loop syndrome will allow the bacteria to set up shop and hide in their little areas.
Of course, this is even more complex than what causes it, and it MUST be customized to the individual. Do not fall for a one size fits all approach. Treating your SIBO properly must take into account what the underlying cause is for YOU. As you can imagine treating a patient suffering from SIBO stemming mainly from adhesions with hydrochloric acid will not help them in the slightest.
If you want my help navigating and dealing with SIBO, you can find more information on working with me here: Work With Me.
Here are a few options you and your practitioner can consider when it comes to treating SIBO.
1. Antibacterials are crucial to killing bacteria. It does not need to be a pharmaceutical antibiotic, and you can use herbs effectively, but if you are going to use an antibiotic, I highly recommend one that is not systemic so that it only stays in your small intestines and works there ONLY rather than taking one that kills everything everywhere. Traditional antibiotics are similar to trying to kill a mosquito in a forest by setting off a bomb. It's a bit overkill. Unless you use the right one, which is what I coach my clients on. Your treatment protocol should also be different depending on whether it is hydrogen-dominant bacteria, methane dominant, or a combined type.
2. Prokinetics are CRUCIAL as well. This is the step I see most often missed by Drs until I educate my clients on their importance so that they are empowered to discuss this important element with their practitioners. Some options are low-dose erythromycin, low-dose naltrexone, or a variety of herbal pro kinetics like ginger, which won’t be as strong but can work for some. The reason you need prokinetics is that they stimulate the MMC (migrating motor complex). If you don’t have a strong MMC to move the food through, you will just wind up right where you started, with food where it shouldn’t be staying, feeding bacteria that shouldn’t be there.
3. Elemental diet. This is quite the gold standard for treating many forms of SIBO. It’s not easy (it consists of drinking a chalky liquid substance ONLY for a few weeks with no food), but it works incredibly well. It works by starving off the bacteria while simultaneously nourishing the host (you!) with predigested nutrients. There are several prescription options and several over-the-counter options as well.
4. SIBO-specific diets. It will need to be more strict in the beginning but can begin to open up once you begin to heal more fully from SIBO and learn what foods are irritating. Some options are the low FODMAP diet, SCD diet, GAPS, or C-SD. Again it is important to be treated like the individual you are and fully customize your diet to what works for YOU and YOUR microbes and YOUR underlying causes.
5. Bodywork: If a stuck IC valve is your underlying cause, visceral manipulation can be utilized to help close it. Even for those that didn't have a stuck IC valve, bodywork can be helpful in other ways. Craniosacral work, visceral manipulation, osteopathic trigger point therapy, acupuncture, and massage can all be wonderful options for both treating and preventing the recurrence of SIBO.
Remember, SIBO treatment and recurrence prevention needs to be customized to the individual. If someone hands you a "one size fits all" approach, run in the other direction.
But the good news is this: you CAN heal from SIBO! It does NOT need to be a lifelong sentence!
Check out my full YouTube video on SIBO below!
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