Could your IBS, constipation, or diarrhea be SIBO?
Do you meet the criteria for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and can’t find relief? Do you look pregnant thanks to a bloated belly? Are chronic diarrhea or constipation your constant companions? If so, you may be a victim of stubborn gut bacteria, also known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Full list of SIBO symptoms and related conditions
While a long list of symptoms accompany SIBO, its trademark symptoms are a chronically bloated, distended belly; gas, which can cause flatulence or belching; and a tendency toward chronic diarrhea, constipation, or both.
How SIBO causes bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea
The entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains bacteria, both good and bad. The small intestine contains bacteria different from that of the large intestine. In the case of SIBO, the small intestine contains too much bacteria, and these bacteria more closely resemble the bacteria of the colon. These bacteria consume sugars and carbohydrates, producing large amounts of gas. Not only does this gas cause bloating, belching, and flatulence, it is also behind chronic cases of constipation and diarrhea (depending on the type of gas produced).
SIBO causes leaky gut
In addition to producing gas, the bacteria create byproducts that irritate and damage the lining of the GI tract. This damage causes intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut,” a condition in which the lining of the intestine becomes damaged and overly porous, allowing undigested foods, infectious bacteria, and other pathogens into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation in the GI tract and throughout the body. And because the bacteria digest foods normally meant for the intestine to absorb, nutrient deficiencies and malabsorption are common side effects with SIBO.
In addition to causing gastric complaints, SIBO is linked with neurological and cognitive symptoms. One of the best known is a condition called restless leg syndrome.
Diagnosing SIBO involves a hydrogen breath test, which has the patient ingesting sugar solutions and giving breath samples over a period of several hours. Although experts debate its validity, clinicians report hydrogen breath test results often correspond with symptoms. Standard medical treatment of SIBO, which includes expensive antibiotics, has a good success rate, but patients can relapse if they do not take preventive measures after treatment. Anecdotal reports show success using herbal antibiotics, although there are no published studies. A medical fast using a nutrition drink for two to three weeks shows a good success rate, as it starves the bacteria. But because no eating is allowed during the fast, many find it too challenging a remedy.
How to manage SIBO
In my practice I combine dietary changes focusing on avoidance of foods that feed the bacteria, with antibacterial herbs and herbs to heal the lining of the digestive tract and reduce its leakiness. Unlike most other physicians treating SIBO out there, I also recommend intravenously administered nutrients to my patients. This treatment bypasses the need to depend on the digestive tract to digest and absorb nutrients in its weakened state. I find using intravenous nutrients offers a tremendous advantage, increasing healing time and getting the patient feeling better more quickly.