What is SIBO?

Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth.

Never heard of it?  Me neither until just a few months ago; and more recently yesterday, when I was diagnosed with it.  So what exactly is SIBO?  And what do you do if you think you might have SIBO?  Read on…

Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine.  Certain bacteria that normally live elsewhere in the gastrointestinal tract have abnormally overgrown in the small intestine which is not meant for so many bacteria (1).  So it’s not about good or bad bacteria – it’s about too much bacteria in the wrong spot.

These bacteria consume the carbohydrates from the food we eat and ferment them (I know gross right).  This fermentation of carbs leads to gas, bloating, abdominal pain and unpleasant bowel movements.

The bacteria prevent us from absorbing nutrients properly, they create inflammation in the small intestine that can lead to intestinal permeability (or ‘leaky gut’), and this leaky gut can lead to allergies and food sensitivities.

What are the symptoms of SIBO?  And how are they different from IBS?

The symptoms of SIBO are many – including wind, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, food sensitivities, acne… the list goes on here.

Symptoms often overlap with those of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and a large percentage of IBS sufferers test positive for SIBO.

So how is SIBO diagnosed?

The small intestine is a tricky place to reach, but luckily there are now breath tests that can help patients reach a diagnosis.  Breath testing measures the hydrogen & methane  gas produced by bacteria in the Small Intestine (2).

In preparation for the test, you must follow a 2 day low-FODMAP diet to eliminate fermentable carbs from your system.  On the day of the test you drink a sugar solution of glucose or lactulose, followed by breath tests every 20 minutes for 2 or 3 hours.  The gases measured in the tests can be used to indicate a positive SIBO diagnosis.

What to do if you think you have SIBO?

If you think you have SIBO, IBS, or are experiencing the symptoms listed above, visit your GP who will be able to give you a referral for a breath test if needed.

How do I recover from SIBO?

It’s important to work with a doctor who is knowledgable in gastrointestinal health, as diet alone will not get rid of SIBO.  The key steps to eliminating SIBO are:

  • Remove the bacteria – generally done with antibiotics, but sometimes herbal antimicrobials are just as effective
  • Repair the gut – via diet and appropriate supplementation
  • Prevent relapse – using diet

Have you had experience in recovering from SIBO?  What was useful for you?


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