We each have 1000-2000 trillion organisms living inside our bodies- thats 10-20 times the number of mammalian cells in the human body! We need these microflora for the development of our immune system, the absorption and synthesis of nutrients, and for protection against pathogenic microorganisms. In the gastrointestinal tract, the microflora is lowest in the stomach and gradually increases toward the colon. Overgrowth of these usually helpful bacteria however, can cause a host of symptoms but the main symptoms are those of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) including:
- Gas and bloating (belching, flatulence)
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation, Diarrhea, or both
What is SIBO?
SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Simply put, it is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine of bacteria that normally live in the gastrointestinal tract but have abnormally overgrown.
This overgrowth creates a vicious cycle:
- Damage to the small intestinal lining from the overgrowth of bacteria decreases the amount of nutrients (food) absorbed through the small intestinal lining, which you may have heard of as “Leaky Gut Syndrome”. Due to poor absorption of food and fats, deficiencies in nutrients like iron, B12, vitamin A and vitamin D develop.
- As the bacteria consumes the food unable to be absorbed, they produce gas, which causes abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Through the damaged lining, larger food particles not able to be fully digested are able to enter the body and cause immune system reactions.
- The overgrown bacteria consumes the unabsorbed food, which creates more bacterial overgrowth, and more damage to the intestinal lining.
Breath testing is available to measure the hydrogen and methane gas produced by bacteria in the small intestine. Both hydrogen and methane are only produced by bacteria, not humans. Abnormally high levels of these gases indicate bacterial overgrowth.
The main goal of any treatment plan for SIBO is to reduce the number of bacteria, repair the damaged gut, and prevent relapse. Strategies for this usually include antibiotics, herbal antibiotics, and dietary modification. The damaged small intestine lining heals on it’s own when the bacteria population is reduced, and is enhanced by diet and additional nutritional supplements.
Some keys to preventing SIBO are having good food hygiene (eating when calm, chewing well, etc.), having adequate stomach acid, removing proton pump inhibitors and antacids (which reduce stomach acid and promote SIBO), and enhance the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.
Schedule an appointment with your Naturopathic Physician to identify if overgrowth of normal bacteria in your gut is the cause of your gastrointestinal distress. For help finding a doctor in your area who specializes in SIBO, I recommend contacting the manufacturer of the Breath Test Machine, Quin Tron, and ask for the names of physicians that order SIBO tests from them.