How’s your gut health? A simple “gut check” is one of the most comprehensive ways to assess your overall well-being. Growing research points to the importance of the microbiome in a wide range of functions, from your immune system, to your weight, to your mental health and more.
The term microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and other living microorganisms that exist in your gut. It’s a complex world, with hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. Those microorganisms are the foundation of the gut-brain axis, the two-way communication network between your brain and your gut.
Maintaining the microbiome requires a delicate balance of bacteria. The “good” bacteria helps digest food, absorbs nutrients, helps produce vitamins and hormones, and protects against “bad” bacteria. A myriad of factors can impact this balance. High-fiber foods are beneficial – gut bacteria breaks down fiber to digest it, a process which stimulates the production of more bacteria. A varied, nutrient-rich diet is important for a diverse biome, something that isn’t typically possible if you eat a lot of processed food. Stress, alcohol, and many medications may also alter the composition of the microbiome.
Digestive concerns addressed by Naturopathic Doctors:
- Gas & Bloating
- Constipation, Diarrhea & IBS
- Abdominal Pain
- Food Allergies & Sensitivities
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance)
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Gall Bladder Disorders
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is an undiagnosed condition caused by an excess of bacteria in the small intestine. The results of this bacteria overgrowth can be profound and lead to intestinal damage and nutritional deficiency. However, despite the far-reaching implications, many conventional practitioners miss the signs of SIBO. This is partly because the medical profession’s knowledge of the causes and treatment of SIBO is relatively new.
What Is Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth?
Bacteria play an important role in your large intestine, where they break down carbohydrates and help absorb nutrients. These processes produce a lot of gas, but the large intestine is designed to (mostly) accommodate gas production.
However, issues arise when gas-producing bacteria enter the small intestine, leading to bloating, diarrhea, and constipation – and sometimes, all three!
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of SIBO.
SIBO-D happens when bacteria produce hydrogen, leading to bloating and diarrhea.
SIBO-C is triggered by methane gas that slows down the transit time of waste products, leading to constipation.
Researchers are learning more about a third kind of SIBO, linked to excess levels of hydrogen sulfide, a gas you might recognize for its “rotten eggs” smell.
Many people experience a mix of the above, including alternating diarrhea and constipation.
Other symptoms of SIBO include:
- Excessive burping
- Acid reflux after meals
- Bad-smelling gas
- Gurgling noises in your stomach
- Cramping and other discomforts
SIBO can also trigger seemingly unrelated symptoms such as joint pain, mood issues, food sensitivities, memory problems, and weight gain.
The impact of SIBO on your health
The symptoms of SIBO aren’t just annoying and uncomfortable – they can also impact your overall well-being. Bacteria in the small intestine can damage the intestinal walls and interfere with nutrient absorption. People with SIBO-D are at risk of low levels of essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron. And SIBO-C is often associated with weight gain.
What Causes SIBO?
Digestion is a complex process, and when something goes wrong, the effects can multiply in unexpected ways. SIBO is often the result of multiple factors and it’s not always possible to pinpoint a specific trigger.
Many medical conditions create the conditions that lead to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome – by some estimates, almost 80% of people with IBS also have SIBO
- Lyme Disease
One of the most common triggers for SIBO is bacterial gastroenteritis, more commonly referred to as food poisoning. Your body’s response to food poisoning can slow digestive motility, and in effect the movement of bacteria.
Stress is also a common contributor to SIBO, in part because stress can also affect motility and trigger digestive upset.
Despite its complex possible causes, SIBO can be surprisingly easy to diagnose. The preferred diagnostic tool is a breath test that measures the hydrogen and methane gas in your breath. After following a specific diet or fasting for a day or two beforehand, you’ll drink a mix of lactulose/glucose and water in the morning and at regular intervals breathe into tubes that measure these gas levels produced as the mixture moves through the intestine.
Blood and stool tests that measure nutritional deficiencies and digestive function are sometimes also needed.
The best treatment for SIBO follows a three-pronged model designed to get to the root of the bacteria overgrowth and stop further growth. Be wary of any simple solution that merely masks the symptoms.