By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
You may not think much about your small bowel, but it’s approximately 20-feet long and ideally only has a small number of microbes present. When these numbers are elevated and an overgrowth is present, it can cause a range of health problems.
Our small intestine plays a vital role in the digestion of food, absorption and assimilation of nutrients and contains lymphoid tissue which is an important part of the immune system. The small bowel bacterial content is important for nutrient absorption and assimilation and to help maintain and control pathogenic microbes.
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is defined by an increase in the bacterial content of the small intestine or changes to the types of bacteria present. Most commonly SIBO is caused from an overgrowth of many types of bacteria that are normally present in the large bowel and in some cases fungal (SIFO).
Many factors can cause this overgrowth from GI structural abnormalities and inflammatory bowel disease to certain medications (including the overuse of antibiotics) to lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, excessive carbohydrate consumption or alcohol consumption.
SIBO negatively impacts digestion by damaging the intestinal lining (mucosa) and may cause leaky gut. The excess bacteria damages both the structure and the function of the small bowel. The increased permeability in leaky gut can cause a range of inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune disease, mood disorders, CFS, skin conditions, allergies and digestive conditions.
Most common symptoms include:
Abdominal bloating, abdominal pain/discomfort, diarrhea, flatulence, burping, acid reflux, fatigue, weakness, body aches and malnutrition.
Other symptoms can also include alternating diarrhea with constipation, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes and nutrient deficiencies such as B12 and iron.
Why does SIBO cause these symptoms?
SIBO can compete for nutrients, produce toxic metabolites, and cause direct injury to the intestinal cells in the small intestine, the small intestines primary function is to digest food and absorb the nutrients from the food, and when this becomes impaired with SIBO it causes malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies.
Interestingly many of the symptoms of SIBO and IBS overlap such as diarrhea, cramping, discomfort, bloating, flatulence and alternating constipation with diarrhea, malabsorption and food sensitives. One study indicated that 84 percent of people who had been diagnosed with IBS also had SIBO.
SIBO can be diagnosed with a specialised breath test. Your health practitioner or doctor can order this for you if you suspect you may have SIBO.
SIBO can be treated with specialized antibiotics or with natural products (found to be more effective). Some natural products that can help to irradiate SIBO are berberine-containing herbs, like thyme oil, clove oil, garlic oil, oregano oil, peppermint oil.
It is also important to remember that the cause of SIBO needs to be addressed in the long-term as it can recur after treatment.
Introducing more leafy greens and low-starch fruits like berries to your diet can also help to heal SIBO symptoms. One easy way to consume more greens is by juicing them, like in this green juice recipe.