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SIBO – The underlying cause of  many chronic conditions!

Although it has been researched for some time, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is the new kid on the block when it comes to causes of irritable bowel syndrome, an extremely common digestive disorder.

But SIBO is not only implicated in IBS–it is now considered to be the underlying cause of conditions such as

–  Restless leg syndrome

–  Fibromyalgia

–  Fatigue and exhaustion

–  Chronic infections

–  and much more!

Normal digestion

Our digestive tract is divided into 2 parts – the small intestine which is responsible for the break down of foods and absorption of nutrients and the large intestine which forms stool, extracts water and produces a few vitamins.

The Large intestine is a hotbed of bacterial action–it is the home of trillions and trillions of bacteria which live inside of us and are part of the normal flora.  Here, they help us do many of the functions we take for granted.

This includes regulating bad organisms, such as yeasts and bad bacteria which can normally be found in small amounts in a healthy gut, but run rampant in those which have had a lot of digestive disturbances.

The small intestine, in contrast, does not normally contain very many bacteria at all.  We’re talking hundreds of thousands per gram of stool in the small intestine vs billions and billions of bacteria in the large intestine.

The body is pretty clear about where it wants these bacteria and regulates this by a “cleansing wave” of muscular contractions which sweep the small intestinal contents and excessive bacteria downwards towards the large intestine.


SIBO = Gas and Bloating 🙁

Let’s now look at what happens when we have a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine:

Normal digestion of starches such as breads, potatoes, grains etc is done mainly by enzymes released by the pancreas.

It breaks the long strands of starch in to more manageable, bite-size chunks.  These chunks of carbs  get then broken down into the absorbable carbohydrate forms by enzymes released by the wall of the small intestine, called brush-border enzymes.

With a bacterial overgrowth, this breakdown of carbs in ineffective because the bacteria damage the brush border of the wall.  The result is that these bacteria then ferment the undigested starches and produce gas.

Both hydrogen gas and methane gas are produced which causes obvious gas and bloating, particularly after meals.


The Damage

The gas is also further damaging to the small intestinal wall, causing a problem with nutrient absorption.

For example, people with SIBO often have an iron deficiency which doesn’t easily get fixed.

Other minerals can also be low, such as zinc which can then cause all the problems associated with low zinc such as chronic infections, skin problems

Once the bacteria are established, common symptoms include:

–  Frequent bloating

–  Constipation or diarrhea

–  Abdominal pain

–  Tiredness

Why doesn’t the body get rid of the bacteria?

The cleansing wave of the small intestine occurs every 90 minutes or so in a healthy person.

In a person with SIBO, this can be seriously impaired, causing the slow-down of digestion and fermentation of food.  This slow-down can be caused by medication such as acid blockers, pain medication, and blood pressure medication.

Also, once the wall of the small intestine is fairly damaged and you can’t absorb all your nutrients, the immune function is also affected.


How do I know if I have SIBO?

You can order a breath test which tests for the presence of gas produced by the bacteria.  It involves following a strict diet for 2 days.

Drinking a test substance is then followed by the collection of breath samples over the course of 3 hours


What can be done?

A great book on the topic is Dr. Mark Pimentel’s book “A New IBS solution”.  He’s one of the researchers in the topic and has some excellent suggestions.  He is a conventional doctor so he mainly recommends specific antibiotics to kill the bacteria along with other drugs to improve the cleansing wave

“Breaking the Vicious Cycle” is another fantastic book if you suspect you have SIBO.  Elaine Gottschall wrote this book many years ago –it is great in terms of explaining the damage that occurs to the brush border and how to repair it with diet.


Naturopathic treatment of SIBO


–  A specific carbohydrate diet

–  Natural antibacterials

–  Healing agents for the small intestine

–  Nutrients which are deficient as a result of poor absorption.

In summary, if you have IBS symptoms and have gotten no relief with previous treatments, consider getting tested for SIBO.  The results of treatment can be quite dramatic.

Visit and take our brief Quiz to see if you are a likely candidate for having SIBO.

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