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What is SIBO? Everything You Need to Know


Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is an imbalance of the bacteria necessary for normal digestion. When the small intestine has too many bacteria, especially the wrong kind, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms like gas and diarrhea. It may also prevent you from properly digesting and absorbing nutrients from food.

Your intestinal microbiome includes trillions of bacteria all living in a delicate balance. If the balance shifts, it can lead to SIBO.

SIBO may be a term you’ve heard in passing, but what does it really mean and how do you treat it?

What causes SIBO?

Your body uses a sophisticated network of chemical and mechanical processes to balance the intestinal microbiome. One or more of these processes must malfunction for SIBO to occur.

Some chemicals that regulate bacteria in the small intestine include gastric acid, bile, enzymes, and immunoglobulins. Different conditions can inhibit these chemical processes, like scarring from abdominal surgery.

Another important cleansing mechanism is emptying food contents from the small intestine into the large intestine. If this mechanism is slowed or compromised, the small intestine bacteria have more time to multiply, and the large intestine bacteria may move upward into the small bowel. This may happen with conditions like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.

Does SIBO impact my nutrition?

Carbohydrates are digested by bacteria in the small intestine and converted into gas and short-chain fatty acids. More bacteria can result in excess gas and other byproducts, which can cause diarrhea. The bacteria also consume proteins, vitamin B12, and bile salts. The result is poor fat digestion and absorption of nutrients, particularly calcium and fat-soluble vitamins.

How is SIBO diagnosed?

If your symptoms and medical history point to SIBO, your doctor may recommend a breath test to confirm it. This simple, non-invasive test detects the presence of gas-producing bacteria in your gut by measuring your breath’s hydrogen and methane levels. If your levels are higher than a certain threshold, it indicates an abundance of bacteria. Other tests that look for complications of SIBO include:

  • Blood tests for vitamin and protein deficiencies.
  • A stool test for excess undigested fats or bile acids
  • Imaging tests

How is SIBO treated?

Antibiotics are typically prescribed as the first line of treatment for bacterial overgrowth. In cases of vitamin and mineral deficiency, nutritional support and supplementation are provided.

It could mean following a strict diet for a short period to manage your symptoms, then using a modified diet plan for a longer period. The diet plans are designed to replenish your nutrition and restore the balance of your gut bacteria.

It’s also important to address the underlying issue that led to the bacterial overgrowth, which can help prevent it from happening again.

What is an effective nutrition plan for managing SIBO?

Some medical professionals suggest following an elimination diet for a short time to bring the symptoms of SIBO into remission. This usually means following a low-carbohydrate or low-FODMAP diet temporarily.

Don’t continue to experience the discomfort of SIBO – schedule an appointment today!

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