What Is SIBO?SIBO is characterized by an overload of bacteria—beyond the normal, healthy count—in the small intestine. The small intestine is where food mixes with digestive juices and good bacteria, and the resulting nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. But when you have SIBO, as food passes through the small intestine, the bacterial overload interferes with healthy digestion and absorption processes. Results? Malabsorption, especially of essential fat-soluble vitamins and iron. Next stop on that train—malnutrition. Serious damage to the stomach lining is another predictable risk. Increasing the risk of malabsorption, and adding insult to injury, SIBO bacteria don’t just keep you from breaking down and absorbing your food. They also take it for themselves, before your small intestine can even get to work on it. It’s like the schoolyard bully who pushes you down, then steals your sandwich.
When the bully isn’t stoppedSIBO, left untreated, can cause serious health complications. It’s vital to get rid of the bacterial overgrowth as soon as possible. Consider the malabsorption problem. SIBO means you get less nutrition from just about everything you consume. That includes essential nutrients, which aren’t called essential just to make them sound important. They are, in fact, absolutely essential to life itself. We’re not talking about a sudden collapse of every moving part of your body. We’re talking about gradually starving them—and yourself. And each step down that road opens a new door to every additional disease in the book—or to making current health problems worse. Whatever the pace, it’s a dangerous, downhill trajectory.
How do you know if you have SIBO, not IBS?The markers for SIBO are similar to those of the many other gastrointestinal disorders, including IBS. And when SIBO symptoms appear, it’s frequently when IBS is already in place as an underlying condition. So teasing them apart is difficult. Common to both IBS and SIBO are:
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
How do you get SIBO?Any illness or disease that kicks the immune system into play puts you at risk for SIBO. Factors include a lack of necessary stomach acid, damage to the intestine by toxins like alcohol, or a slowdown in transferring materials from the small intestine to the colon. Backflow, or reflux, from the colon into the small intestine can also introduce harmful bacteria. Other underlying conditions that predispose SIBO include:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Diverticulosis, a structural defect in the intestine
- Intestinal lymphoma
- Celiac disease
How do we treat SIBO?I’m not a fan of antibiotics; they’re overprescribed for problems they can’t fix (like viruses) or in situations where your own immune system is about to kick in and take care of the problem. In this case, bacteria are the problem, so antibiotics are the best solution. Your doctor will decide the regimen. Just make sure she or he understands that antibiotics wipe out most of your immune system’s good bacteria along with the bad, leaving you vulnerable to countless health threats, gastrointestinal and otherwise. Which leads me to the vitally important second leg of the anti-SIBO intervention: probiotics. It’s essential that your doctor immediately get you on heavy-duty probiotics to replace the good bacteria the antibiotic takes out. An excellent place to start is with a high-quality probiotic supplement. Look for a formulation with at least these strains of good bacteria:
- Lactobacillus salivarius: quells gas and stop the growth of bad bacteria
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: resistant to the digestive process, this strain can help prevent vaginal infections and support healthy cholesterol
- Lactobacillus casei: helps kill bad bacteria and may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Lactobacillus plantarum: reduces gas and the symptoms of IBS
- Lactobacillus fermentum: helps prevent urinary tract infections and protect against food-borne infections
- Bifidobacterium longum: helps support the immune system and reduce inflammation
- Yogurt (plain, organic, full-fat)
- Dark chocolate (the higher the cacao content the better)
- Micro-algae like chlorella or spirulina
- Miso soup
- Kombucha tea
- Lemon balm
Hang in thereBe aware that SIBO is a stubborn, ornery, chronic disease. Antibiotics aren’t a silver bullet—relapse rates are high. But a full cure is possible, with patience, perseverance, and a diet rich in healing foods and avoidance of unhealthy foods. The Mediterranean diet and a Paleo diet both work wonders for overall health. A healthy diet is the most important step you can take to get your gut back in balance, and get SIBO out of your life. Take good care.
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