Are you bloated, gassy, and experiencing stomach issues on a daily basis? Do you feel like you’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, you might have a common condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth — SIBO for short.
While it might sound like a mouthful, SIBO is a common digestive condition that affects up to 40% of adults. But not everyone knows about it. In fact, SIBO is significantly underdiagnosed. That’s why over the next few weeks, we’re going to cover the most pressing SIBO questions. So, put on your detective hat, and let’s get to the bottom of this gut-wrenching issue.
SIBO — small intestinal bacterial overgrowth — is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine that can cause lots of digestive symptoms. You want a healthy bacterial population in your large intestine — known as the microbiome or gut bacteria. But the small intestine is a different story. A healthy small intestine is relatively free of bacteria — both good and bad.
You may be thinking ‘yeah, but SIBO is probably pretty rare right?’ Not so much. It’s estimated that SIBO may affect as much as 40% of the general population. And if you’ve never heard of it or feel like you don’t know much about it, you’re not alone. But if you have an underlying digestive condition, your chances of having SIBO go up.
? People with celiac disease have a 50% prevalence of SIBO
Clients who ultimately test positive for SIBO come into my practice with what they describe as “stomach issues”. In fact, SIBO symptoms are hard to distinguish from many other digestive upsets and problems — including IBS. Specifically, people with SIBO struggle with some or all of the following:
? Stomach pain and/or cramping
? Gas and bloating
? Abdominal distension
? Elimination issues like diarrhea or constipation
? Unintentional weight loss
Let’s take a quick journey into the small intestine. This important organ is where your food goes after it leaves your stomach. Here, digestive juices and enzymes break down your food into tiny molecules that can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are extracted and sent off to fuel your body, while waste products are left behind to be eliminated.
When you have uninvited bacteria hanging around, this process is disrupted. In fact, these bacteria steal the nutrients from your food. And instead of leaving a tip, they produce gassy by-products that trigger digestive symptoms.
Normally, the small intestine stays relatively free of bacteria. But sometimes an underlying issue can cause bacteria to enter the small intestine and multiply there. These issues include:
? An inadequate supply of stomach acid. Stomach acid does more than just break down food. It also kills off unwanted bacteria. But when you’re low on stomach acid (or taking antacids or Proton-pump inhibitors), bacteria can slip through the cracks and make it all the way to the small intestine.
? Slow transit time. Ideally, your digestive system should keep the food moving along as you digest and absorb the nutrients. But if the muscle contractions that move food along (known as peristalsis) are sluggish, food can end up spending too much time in the small intestine, allowing bacteria to feed and grow.
? Excessive use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can’t distinguish between beneficial and harmful bacteria. And sometimes when they kill off too much good bacteria, the bad bacteria can grow out of control and migrate up into the small intestine.
? Abdominal surgery or structural issues. Scar tissue and physical abnormalities in the small intestine can make it more difficult to move food through efficiently. And if what remains of your dinner hangs out in the small intestine for too long, it can encourage bacterial growth.
? Medical conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and diabetes can also slow the movement of food through the small intestine, giving bacteria the chance to grow.
Like most health conditions, some people are more likely to get SIBO than others. And there are some additional risk factors to be aware of:
Older people are more likely to get SIBO because stomach acid production tends to decrease as we age. And people who are later-in-life are more likely to be on medications that can affect the time it takes for food to move through the digestive process.
Immune compromised people are at higher risk of developing SIBO. Your immune system plays a role in keeping SIBO at bay. But people with immune deficiency disorders have a weakened ability to fight off bacteria. When the body’s defense system is compromised, it can increase the risk of developing SIBO.
There are certain digestive conditions that can slow down intestinal transit time, increasing the risk of SIBO. So if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatitis, or another digestive condition, you may be at higher risk for developing SIBO.
Fortunately, SIBO is pretty easy to diagnose. The bacteria in the small intestine produce gassy by-products that show up in your breath. So SIBO can be detected by a non-invasive breath test.
A SIBO test takes about three hours. Your breath is tested periodically to track what’s happening with your digestion during that time window. Some SIBO tests can even be performed at home!
First off, don’t panic. SIBO produces troublesome symptoms, but it is treatable. Your first step is to find a practitioner who is experienced in dealing with digestive issues like SIBO. They’ll find out about your symptoms and medical history and likely order a SIBO test.
Once you’ve got a SIBO diagnosis, your practitioner will work with you on dietary changes and possibly medications that can help get that bacteria back under control. These are things I do every day. If you need help, you can book a consultation here.
While you’re working toward getting a SIBO diagnosis and treatment, there are things you can do right now to start feeling better. I’ve taken my favorite resources for IBS and SIBO and put them in a free guide just for you.