Generally, bacteria are beneficial and essential to a healthy small bowel, performing important functions in the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. In the case of SIBO, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, too much bacteria is not a good thing. SIBO is an increase in the number of bacteria, and/or changes in the types of bacteria found in the small bowel. A single type of bacteria does generally not cause SIBO, but rather an overgrowth of types of bacteria normally found there.
SIBO can negatively affect the structure and function of the small bowel, interfering with food digestion and absorption of nutrients, such as certain B vitamins, by damaging the cells lining the small bowel (the mucosa). This damage can be one of the major causes of irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut.
SIBO can be under-diagnosed and many doctors don’t realize how common SIBO is.
Common symptoms of SIBO can include:
- Abdominal pain/discomfort
- Bloating/abdominal distention
- Heartburn (reflux or GERD)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
A common test to diagnose SIBO is a breath test that measures the levels of hydrogen and methane gas (produced by bacteria). Elevated levels of either are an indication of increased levels of bacteria in the small intestine.
The goal in treatment for SIBO is to control the symptoms of the bacterial overgrowth, as it may not be possible to completely “cure” the disease.
Antibiotics are one treatment helpful in controlling excess bacteria, but there are some alternatives in the approach to care, including:
- A diet low in carbohydrates (bacteria use carbs as their energy source and ferment them to gas)
- Eliminating sugar and sweeteners, other than honey
- Probiotics (found in yogurt and some dairy products) to increase the level of “good” bacteria
- Digestive enzymes (to help break food down)
- Herbal antimicrobials (such as cinnamon, oregano, goldenseal and garlic)
- Colonic hydrotherapy (to increase gut motility)
Any treatment should be tailored to each individual to maximize success. In the meantime, it starts with paying attention to your stomach and what it’s telling you.
Here at the Nardella Clinic, we’ll help guide you in your treatment options and provide solutions that will work for you.