If you’ve been following nutritional health advice lately, no doubt you’ve heard about the importance of probiotics and prebiotics for gut health. After all, health starts with the gut, and a healthy microbiome is crucial to vibrant health. You’ve probably also heard that we should be decreasing our antibiotic use while increasing our intake of fermented foods, possibly taking probiotics, and eating lots of inulin and resistant starch prebiotics to feed our gut bacteria and keep them happy.
For the majority of the population, this is solid, sound advice. However, if you have SIBO, which stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth, all these wonderful practices can actually make you feel horrible. It can be really frustrating to realize that the steps that are making your friends, spouse, and kids feel incredible is making you feel worse and worse, but there is a reason and you can do something about it.
When SIBO is present, practitioners recommend decreasing fruits and vegetables, decreasing fermented foods and probiotics, and possibly increasing antibiotics (including natural ones). Pretty much, you should be doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing!
One quick note: Please keep in mind that this article is for informational purposes only and is based on the opinions of the authors. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment – a full disclaimer can be found here. Okay, let’s jump in!
What is SIBO?
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is exactly what it sounds like: there are more bacteria in your small intestines than should be there. Many people think these are “bad” bacteria, and sometimes they can be, but more often it is the beneficial bacteria from the large intestines that have migrated into the wrong section of your digestive tract. Essentially, it’s usually the good guys being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The immediate problem with this is your small intestine is, unsurprisingly, very small in diameter, and the gas released from the bacteria that your roomy large intestine can handle causes extreme pain and bloating when it fills up your small intestine.
The indirect problem with this is that it causes inflammation which can stretch apart the cells of small intestine, eventually causing leaky gut. Leaky gut is considered by many experts to be a root cause of many common health issues: autoimmune issues, allergies, skin problems, depression and anxiety issues, hormone imbalances, food allergies, digestive issues, and more. Even the New York Times is talking about it these days.
The most obvious symptoms of SIBO are:
- Painful gas, especially after eating fruits and veggies, fermented foods, prebiotics, or probiotics
However, there are also some symptoms that can be caused by or even lead to SIBO, sort of like a vicious circular cycle:
- Leaky gut
- Skin issues such as acne, eczema – One study found that SIBO is 10 times more prevalent in individuals with acne rosacea vs. individuals without acne
- Hormone imbalances (thyroid, cortisol, sex hormones)
- Diarrhea – most common with hydrogen-dominant SIBO
- Constipation – most common with methane-dominant SIBO
- Other digestive issues, such as alternating between diarrhea and constipation
- Cognitive/emotional issues (anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory issues)
- Immune system dysfunction (autoimmune or allergies)
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Nutritional deficiencies, particularly Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Histamine intolerance
- Weight gain – ” In one study, mice were given methane-producing archaea and it caused an increase in body fat. In human studies, it was shown that subjects with higher methane levels in their breath tests had higher BMIs.” (The SIBO Solution)
With so many symptoms that can indicate that you might have SIBO, it can be frustrating to try and self-diagnose. Furthermore, there are many other things which aren’t SIBO-related that can cause the above symptoms, so it’s important to get testing done to be sure. Luckily there are some pretty straight forward tests that you can do to know for sure.
Is there a SIBO Test?
There are two main types of SIBO, hydrogen, and methane, which have their own specific tests. Furthermore, you can have both types of SIBO at the same time caused by two different types of organisms that require two different types of protocols. Hydrogen gas is released from bacteria in the small intestines, while methane gas is released from a different kind of organism called archaea. If you’ve never heard of them before, archaea were once thought to be bacteria, but it turns out they’re part of a different kingdom of organisms. It’s important to get both tests done to see which organisms you are starting with before moving forward with a SIBO protocol.
There are two main types of SIBO, hydrogen, and methane. Hydrogen SIBO occurs when hydrogen gas is released from bacteria in the small intestines, while the methane form happens when a different kind of organism – archaea – produce methane. It’s important to test for both because they require slightly different protocols. It is possible to have both at the same time.”
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