Nearly everybody these days knows about the importance of having a healthy microbiome. That means that you should have enough friendly bacteria to prevent potentially harmful bacteria from flourishing in the gut and causing imbalance or disease.
But what relatively few people know is exactly where in the gut the overwhelming majority of bacteria should colonize.
Do you know where?
Is it the stomach?
Is it the solid organs that lie within the confines of the digestive system: liver, pancreas, gallbladder?
No. No. And no.
How about the small intestine?
The answer should be the large intestine (colon).
But for the millions of people in the United States that have SIBO, there’s far too much bacteria in the wrong place.
What is SIBO?
SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
It’s a condition in which there’s not enough bacteria in the large intestine and too much in the small intestine.
Normally, less than 10,000 microorganisms/mL are found in the upper small intestine.
But if you have SIBO, the bacterial population in your small intestine exceeds one million or even 10 million microscopic critters per milliliter.
How pervasive is SIBO?
According to this research study, approximately 15% of older adults have the condition. Just like type 2 diabetes, SIBO is thought to be heavily underdiagnosed in the US.
What are Symptoms of SIBO?
The condition can cause abdominal distension, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
If you have SIBO, not only will you likely experience the unpleasant symptoms listed above, you also will have difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.
The consequences of chronic malabsorption include autoimmune disorders; skin conditions such as eczema; opiate addiction; heartburn or acid reflux caused by reduced stomach acid; food allergies; inflammation of the pancreas; pain caused by diverticulitis; and mood imbalances caused by poor neurotransmitter activation and communication.
What Causes SIBO?
Normally, the majority of bacteria in the gut migrates to the large intestine via a process called the MMC, which stands for “migrating myoelectric complex.” The MMC (also called migrating motor complex) is a series of waves in the gut guided by electrical impulses.
These impulses are responsible for good housekeeping, literally sweeping unwanted bacteria from the upper GI tract down into the lower GI tract (the large intestines).
But for those that have SIBO, the MMC doesn’t function properly. It’s as if there’s a janitor and sanitation worker strike and all the trash (metabolic byproducts and aerobic bacteria) in the small intestine accumulates.
How to Prevent SIBO
The MMC goes to work in between meals and while you’re sleeping. In light of this, one of the best things you can do to keep your MMC working at an optimal level is avoid snacking.
If you’re eating every few hours, you’re not giving your MMC a chance to properly sweep the bacteria down the GI tract.
Another way to increase MMC function is intermittent fasting. Not consuming any calories for 16 hours or more every day has been shown to confer numerous health benefits.
In addition, getting chiropractic adjustments may help by improving vagus nerve function. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and travels farther than any other nerve. One of the functions of the vagus nerve is regulating autonomic nervous system function. This parasympathetic branch of the nervous system controls digestion. Improve vagus nerve function, improve digestion, so the theory goes.
What about fiber and probiotics? Do they help SIBO? On the contrary, eating more fiber, resistant starches (prebiotic fiber) and taking a probiotic supplement with FOS, a prebiotic commonly added to probiotics, can backfire.
That’s because people with too much bacteria in the small intestine have trouble digesting fiber. If you have SIBO, boosting fiber intake can make bloating and gas much worse.
How is SIBO Diagnosed?
Not too long ago, SIBO diagnosis was done via stool analysis.
But these days, it’s much easier to detect. All you have to do is breath.
Excess bacteria releases methane gas, which can be detected via a breath test. However, sometimes a breath test is inconclusive; more invasive diagnostic testing is required (fluid from your small intestine is drawn and analyzed).
But even if your mainstream medical doctor diagnoses you with SIBO, then what? Will you be able to overcome the condition on your own, without any guidance? To kill off the excess bacteria in your gut, your physician may suggest taking a course of antibiotics. But the consequences of taking antibiotics is that it also kills your beneficial bacteria.
Thus, if you are diagnosed with SIBO, or are undiagnosed with chronic digestive complaints, skin problems and other health concerns, arguably, the best thing to do is to work with a functional medicine doctor or diagnostic health professional who can help you reverse it.