The digestive tract naturally contains good and bad bacteria. The beneficial bacteria are used by the body to help break down food. Although bacteria are found in the digestive system, the lowest levels of bacteria are found in the small intestine and the highest concentrations of bacteria are located in the colon. When excess bacteria are in the small intestine, it is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.
When food enters the small intestine, digestive juices flood the area to help break down the food so that the nutrients from the food can be absorbed. If there are too many bacteria in the small intestine, the food cannot be broken down properly and nutritional deficiencies can occur, inflammation can occur and immunity can decrease.
What are the Symptoms of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth?
The symptoms of a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine is similar to irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders. These symptoms include: asthma, bloating, depression, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, joint pain, malnutrition, nausea, skin irritations – such as eczema, rosacea, rashes and acne.
If left untreated, SIBO can cause serious issues. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause confusion, weakness, fatigue, memory loss, declining cognitive functions, anemia and tingling in the extremities. The bones can become weak and kidney stones can also develop.
What Underlying Conditions Can Increase the Risk of Developing SIBO?
Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can be caused by a structural defect in the small intestine, injury of the small intestine, diverticulosis, pancreatitis, medications, immune system disorders, celiac disease and aging.
How Can SIBO Be Dealt With?
Typically, antibiotics are used to decrease small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; however, antibiotics destroy the beneficial bacteria in the body as well the bad bacteria in the gut. Furthermore, the American Journal of Gastroenterology reports that patients that are treated with antibiotics can experience a recurrence of SIBO .
Instead of undergoing antibiotic treatment for SIBO that destroys beneficial bacteria, there are herbal remedies that can reduce the bacteria in the small intestine. John Hopkin’s physicians and researchers at the University of Pittsburg found that herbal antimicrobial supplements were as effective as conventional antibiotic treatment. In the study, 104 patients were broken into two groups. One group received antibiotics while the others were given herbal supplements that include oregano, berberine extract, thyme and wormwood. At the conclusion of the trial, 46 percent of those using the herbal supplements had no signs of SIBO while only 34 percent of antibiotic users were symptom free.
In addition to using herbal supplements, you can help relieve the symptoms of SIBO and help heal your body by eating 5 to 6 small meals rather than 3 larger meals. When you overeat, food sits in the stomach longer, causing damage to the upper gastrointestinal tract. Smaller meals allow you to digest your food quicker and decrease the risk of developing SIBO.
Take a probiotic supplement. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth can be corrected with probiotic supplements and a probiotic-rich diet that includes fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut and miso. When looking for a probiotic supplement, look for one that contains lactobacillus, streptococcus and bifidobacterium probiotics.
Begin an elimination diet to help starve the bacteria in the small intestine. Eliminate dairy products, wheat, processed sugars, fruit juices, baked goods, high fructose corn syrup, legumes and sugar substitutes. Enjoy fatty fish like salmon and tuna to increase omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C rich foods including tomatoes, berries and leafy greens and enzyme rich foods like pineapples, mangoes and papayas as they will aid in digestion.
Once you have followed the elimination diet for two weeks, it is time to begin healing the gut with foods. Enjoy a cup of bone broth with each meal to help heal the lining of the stomach. Use coconut oil for cooking to further increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption and include fermented foods to increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Finally, if you suffer from nutritional deficiencies, you may want to consider a vitamin and mineral supplement that contains vitamin B12, vitamin K, iron, zinc and vitamin D. In addition to this taking probiotics and digestive enzymes will provide the digestive tract with the tools to maximize nutrient absorption.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea. Learning how to decrease the symptoms and heal the body using herbs, an elimination diet and limiting stress can help your body heal itself.