I’m sure you’ve heard of IBS.
But have you ever heard of SIBO?
SIBO is actually the leading cause of IBS.
I didn’t know this either. Until SIBO started to ruin my life.
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and comes with many unpleasant side effects, including the production of hydrogen, methane and/or hydrogen Sulphide gas. While many people experience these gasses as symptoms of IBS, they are actually also causing damage to the intestinal wall.
IBS can be brought on by many different factors, although SIBO is a very common undiagnosed cause. In fact, research indicates SIBO is responsible for up to 84% of IBS cases.
What are the symptoms of SIBO?
SIBO can be extremely uncomfortable with common symptoms presenting as fatigue, bloating, excessive gas, acid reflux, abdominal pain, cramping, foggy brain and nausea. These symptoms can also be present when a person is suffering from IBS.
Some of the more severe symptoms of SIBO include chronic diarrhoea or constipation, weight loss, fatigue and malabsorption, joint pain, skin rashes, iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. Some patients even suffer from respiratory symptoms such as asthma.
In 2013, I was experiencing severe heart palpitations, I was feeling exhausted and I had a foggy brain. Although I’d always had an amazing memory, I was struggling to remember even the simplest things like people’s names. I knew something had to be wrong.
Intuitively, I felt the problem was likely to be a hormone imbalance, but my doctors didn’t want to take my opinions seriously, dismissing my assessment and leaving me frustrated and confused.
In an effort to figure out what was going on, I did my own research to set about finding the root cause of the problem. To do this, I insisted on having a full thyroid panel test, including a thorough check of my thyroid antibodies and vitamin D levels. (Vitamin D is a prohormone and is vital for hormone balance). When the results were returned, I could immediately see I had a deficiency.
What causes SIBO?
There are many causes of SIBO. Sometimes, even having a bad case of food poisoning can trigger it. That’s what happened with my case. Or it could be something as innocuous as a food sensitivity that can bring on the symptoms of SIBO or IBS. The condition can also be linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits in many cases.
I continued to educate myself about thyroid health and realised there are many root causes of this condition. A large percentage of people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis have gut dysbiosis in the form of SIBO and eventually I found out that I did too.
Oftentimes these two conditions are inextricably linked, when you have a sluggish thyroid you can have sluggish everything such as low stomach acid and insufficient digestive enzymes. These in turn contribute to SIBO.
For me, it was definitely food poisoning. Since living in Asia, I’ve had several cases of severe food poisoning requiring hospitalisation. This is when my SIBO trouble began and toxins from the food poisoning bacteria had damaged my migrating motor complex (MMC) thus preventing waste moving out of the body correctly.
MMC is responsible for moving intestinal contents along the digestive system through peristalsis (the sequential contractions of the digestive tract muscles). If the peristalsis isn’t effectively working, then the bacteria can be stuck in the small intestine and don’t get swept along into the large intestine, leading to an abnormally large population in the wrong location.
That’s when constipation occurs and bacteria from the large intestine start to colonise the small intestine feeding off sugars and creating gas and bloating.
Those symptoms, along with gastritis and unexplained weight gain around the belly were my signs that something was wrong.
Diets that are too loaded with simple carbohydrates are also a common cause of SIBO as well as medications and a stressful lifestyle. Normal stomach acid levels are required to kill bacteria but those suffering from chronic stress are susceptible to lower levels of stomach acid output (hypochlorhydria). Stomach acid is a natural antibiotic—it kills food borne bugs. This is why people who are on acid blockers are more susceptible to food poisoning and “gastro bugs”!
While unhealthy lifestyles are often to blame, sometimes the reason we are suffering from the uncomfortable symptoms of SIBO/IBS is far beyond our control. Occasionally, the structure of anatomy is to blame. Some people have a malformation of the ileocecal valve or scar tissue/adhesions can form as a result of a previous surgery, thus altering the normal anatomy of the small intestine.
A more curious cause of SIBO can originate from our infancy where the initial colonization of bad bacteria occurred. This is common among patients who were born via caesarean or did not have the opportunity to breastfeed as a baby.
All of these can cause digestive complaints that are often indistinguishable from one another, making SIBO a difficult condition to diagnose.
How do you treat SIBO?
Once a person has been diagnosed, treatment needs to be focused at correcting the underlying causes be they dietary, surgical or medical.
Armed with my test results, I sought out a doctor that I felt would take me seriously and give me the medication I needed. I was successful and my heart palpitations stopped within three days!
The next step in my journey was to find a supportive gastroenterologist, figure out the treatment options/healing diets and find a way forward.
Diet and lifestyle certainly need to be adjusted for the treatment of SIBO but research shows SIBO cannot be cured with dietary changes alone. SIBO requires treatment with pharmaceutical or natural antibiotics known as antimicrobials.
I always prefer to take the natural healing approach as opposed to potentially harmful antibiotics. So I chose to try the Biphasic Diet plan and natural antimicrobials made from antibacterial essential oils such as Myrrh, oregano, thyme and lemon balm. The Biphasic diet lasts for 4-6 months depending on each individual case. It’s a gluten, dairy, sugar free diet and there are carnivore and vegetarian versions of it available.
I was also referred to an excellent naturopath.
I was aware of a functional medicine stool sample test called a GI-MAP and this was available at the specialist I chose. This, along with a lactulose SIBO breath test confirmed that I did have SIBO and gluten sensitivity.
Four months into my treatment I did another SIBO breath test and we could see things had significantly improved yet I still had work to do, I’d lost 6 kilos, felt so much better and I looked better.
We adjusted the antimicrobials and after a further three weeks of this treatment I did another breath test and was thrilled to find out that I had the all clear and no more SIBO. The eczema I’d had for almost five years has gone, as had all those gastrointestinal symptoms, plus my energy levels and sleep quality had significantly improved too.
Changing one’s diet helps to improve the symptoms of SIBO and can actually train your body to heal your gut.
There are four popular diets that have proven to be successful in the treatment of SIBO.
- SIBO Specific
- Low FODMAP’s
Let me help
If my story resonates with you, or if you have been suffering from gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, plus skin rashes or foggy brain there is a high likelihood that you have gut dysbiosis. I know how disheartening it can be and I’m here to help.
I offer a free, 20-minute discovery health coaching call and specialise in gut and thyroid health.
Contact me and let’s chat some more: firstname.lastname@example.org