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What is SIBO?

The small intestine (or small bowel) is the ‘tube’ that connects the stomach to the large intestine/bowel. It’s around 6m long, and like most of the gastrointestinal tract contains bacteria. However, it’s usually lower in bacteria numbers than the large bowel.

The small bowel has an important role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients, as well as supporting our immune system. It relies on the presence of ‘good’ bacteria to help with those functions.

However, if the bacteria that are normally found in the large bowel (or colon) make their way to the small intestine and begin to overpopulate, it can affect both its structure and function. This small intestine bacterial overgrowth not only affects the absorption of nutrients but can lead to some serious health issues.

For example, when the cells of the small intestinal wall are damaged, ‘leaky gut’ can occur, allowing bad bacteria, toxins and other substances into the bloodstream, potentially causing complications such as food allergies or sensitivities and autoimmune diseases.

What causes SIBO?

The body has a number of built in ‘safety mechanisms’ to help prevent contents of the large bowel or colon from flowing back up to the small intestine. These include a valve, immune system components, bowel muscular activity (pushing the contents down) and gastric (stomach) acid.

The cause of SIBO may be related to one or more of these mechanisms, so it’s often difficult to pinpoint just one source of the problem.

However, there are a number of factors that increase the risk of SIBO:

  • However, there are a number of factors that increase the risk of SIBO:
  • Low stomach acid
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Coeliac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Over consumption of antibiotics (eradicating good bacteria and upsetting the gut microbiome balance)

What are the symptoms of SIBO?

The most common symptoms of SIBO include:

  • Abdominal pain/discomfort
  • Bloating 
  • Diarrhea or Constipation (constipation is usually less common)
  • Flatulence
  • Burping
  • Fatigue

How do you test for and treat SIBO?

The most common test for SIBO is a breath test that measures the amount of hydrogen or methane gas in your breath. Hydrogen and methane are produced when bacteria breaks down carbohydrates and sugars in your gut.

Your healthcare professional will provide the best advice for treating SIBO. This may involve medication and tests to try and identify the root cause. However, diet may play a role too.

  • Try and eat more plant-based, high fibre foods
  • Avoid highly processed and/or sugary foods
  • Refined carbohydrates such as plain white bread or rice – choose wholegrain options
  • Limit or reduce consumption of processed meats
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Regular exercise may also help the digestive process (and it’s good for you in other ways)

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