Is an uncomfortably bloated gut becoming your after-dinner norm? If so, you may have SIBO.
Abdominal swelling is a common problem for lots of people, and it’s not unusual to begin the day with a flat belly, only to later go to bed feeling five months pregnant. Not only are the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress difficult to deal with, but they also can be a sign that more significant problems are going on with the bacteria in your digestive system.
For this reason, it’s smart to become familiar with the signs of SIBO so that you can tell if your gut problems are caused by more than just a bad meal. If so, you can take steps to begin combating the problem for good.
Are you one of the millions of people suffering from a digestive disorder like SIBO? This article will help you know for sure.
What is SIBO?
As an acronym for “small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO is a condition defined by having too much bacteria present in the small intestine. While it’s perfectly normal to have bacteria in your digestive tract, the small intestine typically has low concentrations when compared with the colon.
The small intestine is where food mixes with digestive juices so that their nutrients can be absorbed into your bloodstream. It is the first place food travels after it leaves your stomach, and it is typically populated with relatively few bacteria (less than 10,000 per milliliter) compared to the large intestine (which contains upwards of 1,000,000,000 bacteria per ml).
Problems occur when these bacteria levels get mixed, or nerve or muscle damage allows colon bacteria into the small intestine. Filling your guts with bacteria instead means that they will munch on your meals and prevent your body from taking in as many benefits.
A bacterial overgrowth can consequently cause malabsorption of nutrients, which can lead to long-term problems like nutrient deficiencies, gassiness, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, and damage to your stomach lining.
What Causes SIBO?
At this time, SIBO still isn’t well understood. While researchers initially thought that the condition was rare, it’s now clear that far more people suffer from the symptoms than previously thought.
What is known is that there are many ways that SIBO can start in your system. For example, aging, diabetes, defects in the small intestine, and chronic pancreatitis can all cause the condition. Antibiotic medications that alter your internal bacterial can also cause problems, as can a diet filled with sugar, alcohol and lots of refined carbohydrates. This is the most prominent cause of SIBO I see in my functional medicine clinic, but it is also the easiest to treat.
Concerns with SIBO
If you suspect you have SIBO, it’s crucial to get rid of the bacterial overgrowth as quickly as you can.
When left untreated, SIBO can develop into serious health complications that can trigger malnutrition in the form of iron deficiency, calcium deficiency, and vitamin deficiencies. Over time, these deficiencies can lead to feelings of weakness, general exhaustion, confusion, and even long-term damage to the nervous system.
Top Signs That You Have SIBO
Do you have a sense that you might be suffering from SIBO? Suffering from IBS is a good sign that you are.
Chronic gassiness, bloating, and difficulty going to the bathroom regularly are all signs that something is wrong with your digestive system. Though these symptoms are often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), there is also evidence that many people are suffering from misdiagnosed SIBO instead.
Other indicators that you may have too much bacteria in your intestine include the following:
- Frequent abdominal pain and cramping
- Food intolerances for gluten, lactose, fructose, or casein
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Leaky gut disorder
- Chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases
- Rosacea and other forms of skin rashes
7 Strategies to Reduce the Symptoms of SIBO
Are you sick of suffering from the side effects of SIBO? I don’t blame you. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies for restoring your intestines in order to get their bacterial levels back under control.
The best way to reduce your SIBO symptoms and eradicate the condition altogether is to strive to identify its underlying cause. Is your diet responsible for feeding your bacteria growth, or does the problem lie with your new medication or medical diagnosis?
Though every case of SIBO is a little different, below are my recommended strategies for getting the condition under control.
1. Follow the SIBO Diet
Do you want to give your digestive system the right tools for fighting off bacterial overgrowth? Then follow a diet specially designed to keep SIBO in check. The SIBO diet involves cutting out as much simple sugar and processed foods as you can so that they don’t ferment in your stomach and provide easy-feeding options for the bacteria in your small intestine.
Likewise, it’s a good idea to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day so that your system can digest each meal quickly. In fact, overeating is one of the worst things you can do for SIBO because it allows food to sit longer in your stomach and consequently can reduce stomach acid production, one of the contributing factors of SIBO.
2. Take an Antibiotic
While antibiotic use is occasionally the cause of SIBO, a carefully planned treatment plan can also kill off the unwelcome bacteria to help your small intestine rebalance itself.
However, antibiotics often cause more problems than they fix because they inadvertently kill off all of your “good” bacteria which compromises the functioning of your entire digestive system. In fact, studies show that antibiotics aren’t always a practical solution for SIBO because patients experience high recurrence rates of the condition.
3. Try Herbal Remedies
There’s no need to rely solely on antibiotics for your SIBO treatment. In fact, I have seen many of my patients get rid of their SIBO without antibiotics at all. Studies show that herbal remedies like oregano oil, wormwood oil, lemon balm oil, and Indian barberry root extract (among others) can be as effective as antibiotic treatment.
4. Take a Probiotic Supplement
Do you want to give your digestive system a boost so that it can defend itself against bacterial growths naturally? Then filling up on probiotic-rich food and supplements might be the right solution for you. Initial studies show that probiotics can be significantly more effective for treating SIBO than certain antibiotics, especially when paired with a healthy diet.
5. Try a Dietary Supplement
Since SIBO often leads to nutritional deficiencies due to the greedy bacteria your gut is supporting, it’s a good idea to take regular dietary supplements until your system is restored. There is also evidence that keeping your vitamin levels up will help your body fight off SIBO faster, but this research is still in its infancy.
While it’s always best to measure for your specific nutrient deficiencies, some of the best nutrients to begin supplementing include vitamin B12, D, K, iron, and zinc.
6. Essential Oils for SIBO
Like herbal supplements, plant-based essential oils have been found to improve and even eradicate the signs of SIBO. The Alternative Medicine Review found that peppermint oil can provide relief for gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation and diarrhea, and other essential oils like frankincense oil, clove oil, and tarragon oil may also be beneficial.
You can self-medicate by mixing a drop or two of professional-grade essential oils into your water glass before a meal to offset any digestion distress you might otherwise face.
7. Lifestyle Changes for SIBO
The way that you live your life can make a difference in the effectiveness of your digestive system. To offset SIBO symptoms, make it a priority to manage your stress levels through a variety of wellness practices. Meditation, regular exercise, and even acupuncture can help you keep SIBO in check, so experiment until you learn what works for you.
How to Test for SIBO
Curious if SIBO is the cause of your gut problems? There are two primary tests used in functional medicine to find out.
Breath Test: The current gold standard to test for SIBO, is a breath test that looks for elevated levels of hydrogen and methane. Abnormal results indicate a bacterial imbalance in the small intestine.
Organix Dysbiosis Test: This lab test looks for the byproducts of urine or yeast in the small intestine through a urine sample. Only a single urine sample is needed (making the analysis much more manageable to conduct) but it doesn’t always detect the signs of SIBO.
Treating SIBO at The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine
Don’t let the symptoms of SIBO get out of control. At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I will work with you to determine the cause of your digestive issues and help you devise a wellness plan to restore yourself to full functionality.
I am pleased to offer a Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session for all first-time patients. This session can take place over the phone or in person at the clinic. It is an opportunity for you to better understand what services I provide and how they can be of benefit to you.
Please consider scheduling an appointment today! Your best health awaits.
Dr. John Dempster
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine