Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and What It Means

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth will occur whenever there is a rise in the bacteria found in the small intestine. Most of a person’s gut bacteria is located in the large intestine, while the small intestine normally doesn’t have many bacteria. 

Normal bacteria in the gut supports a healthy immune system, a healthy weight, balanced moods and optimal hormone levels, but whenever there is a small bowel bacterial overgrowth, symptoms and issues may manifest.

Symptoms of SIBO

If you think that you might be suffering from bacterial overgrowth in your gut, consider whether you are experiencing these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Malnutrition
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Causes and Risk Factors of SIBO

Risk factors that may make you more susceptible to SIBO include:

  • Antibiotic use
  • NSAID or steroid use
  • Use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • Narcotics
  • Certain pesticides and herbicides
  • Radiation
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance/Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Gastric bypass or other abdominal surgeries
  • Celiac disease
  • IBD
  • IBS
  • Liver disease

And there are also some foods that can trigger bacterial overgrowth! If you eat too many of these foods, you’ll introduce too much bacteria for your intestines to handle, so moderating the amount that you eat is advisable. If you find that you’re experiencing issues with your bowels, one of the first things that you can try is cutting out these foods:

  • Dairy products
  • Processed carbohydrates
  • Grains and starches
  • Added sugars
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Fruits

Treatment of SIBO

Why is it so important to treat small intestinal bacterial overgrowth?

SIBO typically causes people to have gas and become bloated, so abdominal pain is common and hugely uncomfortable. Not only that, the longer you leave SIBO untreated, the more harm it can cause. This can lead to health conditions and complications with lasting, long-term effects that can lead to further complications down the road.

Diagnosis of SIBO

There are several ways to diagnose small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. The most common ones include:

Indirect testing:
  • SIBO breath test – This is a noninvasive glucose breath test that will measure the levels of hydrogen and methane in your breath after drinking a glucose mixture. 
  • Stool test – your doctor may want to do a stool culture to look for indications like undigested food particles or fat which often accompany SIBO. This test can also inform whether you overgrowth of specific bacterial or fungal strains that will need to be considered in your SIBO treatment.
  • Organic Acids test – this is a noninvasive tests that looks for various metabolites and can indicate nutritional deficiencies common in SIBO.
Direct testing:
  • Endoscopy – This is a more invasive test in which doctors will insert an endoscope down your throat, through your upper digestive tract and into your small intestine where they withdraw a sample of intestinal fluid to test for bacteria growth. 
How do you treat small intestinal bacterial overgrowth?

Some of the best SIBO treatments include:

  • A healthy diet plan rich in phytonutrients
  • Probiotics 
  • Homemade yogurts with specific probiotic strains
  • Fermented foods
  • Avoiding certain carbohydrates 
  • Managing other health conditions
  • Antibiotic or herbal antimicrobial treatments
  • Supplements that help repair the gut lining
It is important that you work with a healthcare provider or team who understands SIBO treatments and who can help direct your SIBO treatments and dietary plans based on your individual needs.
When should you see a doctor for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth?

If you’re experiencing nausea and diarrhea, you are likely experiencing many intestinal problems. You should contact your doctor if you experience:

  • Recurring diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain that lasts for a week or more

  • Rapid weight loss

It’s important to see a doctor if you have these symptoms so that they can determine if it is SIBO or another issue. This is especially important because if you don’t go to the doctor and approach your stomach issues with SIBO treatment in mind, but have something else affecting your body, you may not be targeting the root of the issue and your health may worsen.

If you have severe abdominal pain that you are having trouble managing, seek medical attention immediately.