Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a broad diagnosis for digestive complaints that include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas and abdominal pain. Often, people diagnosed with IBS are told that it is caused by stress and thus the only solution is to better manage their stress. This is unhelpful advice and neglects the many different root causes of IBS. One of the most common causes of IBS is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Treating SIBO requires a much different approach than stress management.

 

Introducing your Microbiome:

If you are an IBS-sufferer, you should become very familiar with the concept of your microbiome. The microbiome refers to the trillions of different bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms that live on and inside us, predominantly in our guts. The number of organisms in your microbiome far outweighs the number of cells in your body so you can imagine how important your microbiome is.

Your microbiome is a huge player when it comes to digesting our food. There are things that we cannot digest on our own without them.

Our microbiome also plays a role in how we recycle and regulate our hormones. This can make a huge difference in our energy and also our period regulation and PMS symptoms.

Finally, our microbiome is an important part of our immune function and our mood regulation.

A normal, happy microbiome is diverse with several different types of beneficial bacteria/organisms. A large population lives in our large intestine, while a smaller population lives in our small intestines. This a primarily due to space.

When the population becomes too big or there are unwanted guests in our microbiome, we start to have issues.


What is Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth?

As the name would suggest, SIBO is an overgrowth or excess of bacteria that starts living in your small intestine. This is often an overgrowth of normal or good bacteria yet it’s a case of too much of a good thing.

There just isn’t enough space in the small intestine for extra bacteria. These bacteria will over metabolize our foods creating a large amount of gas. This extra gas creates a build-up of pressure leading to significant bloating, abdominal pains, and inconsistencies in your bowel movements. Some people will have constipation, while others will tend towards diarrhea. It depends on what type of bacteria has overgrown.

SIBO can cause inflammation and damage in your gut which can cause all sorts of symptoms such as:

  • Bloating (especially if it’s there first thing in the morning before you eat)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feelings of trapped gas
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Constipation and/or Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety & other mood disorders

 

I think I have SIBO – now what?

The first step is to find an IBS-savvy health practitioner and get tested.

SIBO is diagnosed through a series of breath tests. You ingest a specific sugar and then breathe into a tube that measures the amount of gas you exhale. The sugar can only get broken down by bacteria in your gut and the breakdown releases gas. The more bacteria in your system, the more gas that gets exhaled

Once you confirm that you have SIBO, you can start treating.

 

Kill Excess Bacteria

SIBO is essentially an infection, so step one is killing off the excess bacteria. This can be done through antibiotics, antimicrobial herbs, and/or diet. A combination approach usually works best.

Not everyone who has IBS will have SIBO which is why it’s important to test first before treating. Killing off your good bacteria when you don’t have an overgrowth problem can cause other issues.

 

Heal the Gut

SIBO can cause a lot of damage and inflammation in your gut and it is crucial to repair this to restore good digestion.

Healing is supported by several nutrients & herbs such as L-glutamine, marshmallow, and curcumin. Diet will play a huge role in this step where it is important to eat cooked and easy to digest foods to allow the space for your gut to heal.

Gentle exercise, hydrotherapy, and breathing exercises are also important in healing the gut and often overlooked.

 

Fix the underlying cause to prevent relapse

The above steps are important but without this last step, there is a huge likelihood that your SIBO will relapse.

While SIBO may have caused your IBS, something else had to be responsible for your SIBO.

Common triggers for SIBO include:

  • Infectious diarrhea (a.k.a. traveller’s diarrhea) – you’ll need extra immune support
  • Motility dysfunction (a.k.a. chronic constipation) – you’ll likely need long-term support to keep things moving well
  • Metabolic issues (a.k.a. blood sugar issues) – you’ll need to control sugar in your diet and optimize how your body uses sugar.

 

IBS is complex and stress is not the start and end of your condition. It’s time we start looking at the real root cause of your digestive issues. This does not mean you should start treating your “suspected SIBO” on your own. The process is complicated, so ask for help and get support from a professional.

If you’re looking for more support, grab your copy of my No-Bloat Checklist: Get it here.

 

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Dr. Melissa Bucking, ND

Dr. Melissa Bucking, ND

Dr. Melissa Bucking is a naturopathic doctor serving the Halton region in Ontario. She is passionate about empowering people to take control of their health. Her practice is focused on digestive health including overcoming IBS, heartburn, SIBO, diverticulitis, IBD and anxiety disorders.