SIBO – a simple four-letter acronym that stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth may play a big part in those suffering from IBS symptoms. Recent research is suggesting that up to 80% of those who have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome actually have SIBO as the underlying cause, and better yet – when treated for SIBO, their IBS goes away.
This overgrowth of bacteria can cause many symptoms – constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, belching, indigestion, reflux, nausea, fatigue, headaches, anemia, muscle and joint pain, restless leg syndrome, rosacea, and many others.
What it is? Essentially, the problem is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Many believe that SIBO originates from an issue with the migrating motility complex (MMC) – a large wave of peristalsis that works its way through the small intestine to properly move material and bacteria down the tract. Certain nutrient deficiencies, medications, and neurological damage can impair the MMC. Other contributing factors are low stomach acid and bile production, from commonly prescribed stomach acid lowering drugs and antacids used for heartburn, and liver and gallbladder issues. In a number of cases a faulty ileocecal valve (the sphincter between the small and large intestines) can create a reflux of bacteria from the large intestine into the small intestine. Other causes that may contribute to SIBO are antibiotic and steroid use, constipation, celiac disease, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.
What’s the problem? These bacteria consume vital nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron and folic acid, making them less available for us to absorb, while producing toxic by-products that make us feel awful. They damage the sensitive mucosal lining of our small intestine, increasing intestinal permeability and decreasing our ability to digest and absorb nutrients. When undigested particles of food (and bacteria) cross the leaky gut barrier our immune system takes up arms and prepares to go to battle. This nasty cascade results in systemic inflammatory symptoms such as eczema, asthma, and fibromyalgia.
How do we fix it? It takes some work but SIBO can be turned around! There are special diets that are used, my particular favorites are the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet. To speed the process, natural antibacterial herbs such as oregano oil and garlic can be used in concentrated, therapeutic doses to drastically reduce the amount of overgrowth. A hydrogen and methane breath test is the best method we currently have to measure if levels of bacterial overgrowth are the cause of your IBS symptoms.