Is your life interrupted by bouts of diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both? Do you experience pain, bloating, and excessive gas? Perhaps you have chronic acid reflux and burp a lot! These are common symptoms of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, SIBO for short.
The small intestine has relatively few bacteria compared to the colon, which is teeming with trillions of microscopic life! The bacteria in the small intestine are mainly aerobic, oxygen loving, with some able to switch between using oxygen or not using oxygen to make energy. In contrast, the colonic bacteria are strictly anaerobic and ferment carbohydrates to produce short chain fatty acids and important B vitamins and vitamin K2. Short chain fatty acids help with blood sugar control, immune function, and the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. B Vitamins help with the energy producing mechanisms of the cell while Vitamin K2 is important in supporting the placement of calcium in bones. Fortunately, bacteria enjoy a symbiotic relationship with your body. Your gastrointestinal tract offers bacteria a place to live while they provide essential services to keep your body healthy and strong.
These important colonics or anaerobic bacteria “eat” or ferment carbohydrates, especially fiber. Like all fermentation, gas production is a necessary byproduct. If you have ever been ashamed of passing gas, be assured it is a sign of good health! However, when flatulence is constant and accompanied by embarrassing odors, it may give cause to examine what types of carbohydrates you are feeding your bacteria. Also, if it is accompanied by bloating and pain, it may be time to determine if you have an overgrowth of these anaerobic bacteria in your small intestines.
The gas they produce exerts pressure on your small intestines and causes pain. This gas escapes upward pushing through the stomach causing an excessive amount of burping and aiding your stomach acid to reflux into the throat. Over time the bacteria continue to colonize in the small intestines and continue to ferment the carbohydrates you eat causing more and more gaseous byproducts in addition to annoying and painful gastrointestinal symptoms.
There are 5 main causes of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO: 1. CHRONIC STRESS
Chronic stress can stem from a poor relationship, a challenging job and financial struggles to health challenges, environmental toxin exposure, and more. Stress left unmanaged creates havoc in the body. Besides stimulating your fight and flight response which causes a cascade of reactions to help you have energy, this chronic stress mode can induce chronic inflammation, trigger weight gain and cause hormone imbalances. But important to this topic of SIBO is its effect on the production of stomach acid.
The acid in the stomach is essential to digesting nutrients and killing unwanted bacteria. Low stomach acid enables food to pass through to the small intestines partially digested. This food overwhelms the ability of your intestinal enzymes to break it down into small absorbable molecules and as a result the food basically sits in your small intestines and rots. This assault on the lining of your small intestines can decrease the production of enzymes in your gut and cause the tight junctions between cells of the lining of your gut to separate resulting in intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. (1,2)
Stomach acid is also a first filter for killing disease causing or unwanted microbes. Low stomach acid allows these bacteria and other microbes to go through the stomach unharmed and establish colonies in your small intestines producing an unnatural overgrowth compared to what is normal. These bacteria feed on the partially digested food presented to your small
intestines and this fermentation produce gases that expand the small intestines causing pain and bloating.
2. POOR DIET
A diet rich in processed foods and added sugars will feed your “bad” bacteria and allow them to proliferate while decreasing your “good” bacteria creating dysbiosis in your gut. It also causes degradation of the lining of your gut leading to leaky gut. Again this increases the total number of bacteria found in the small intestines and especially those that ferment carbohydrates. Eating sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates can produce and exacerbate SIBO symptoms.
3. LOW VAGUS NERVE TONE
The vagus nerve runs from the brain to all parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Your “gut feelings” are a result of the vagus nerve. That pit in your stomach, nausea, or peaceful sensation all come from the interaction between your gut and brain via the vagus nerve. Various triggers can determine the tone of this nerve allowing it to operate at optimal or “low speed”. This has a direct effect on gut motility or the ability of your intestines to move food through its tract.
Because the vagus nerve originates in the brain, it is affected by inflammation in the brain. Diabetics or those with insulin resistance likely experience slow gut motility due to inflammation caused by high insulin. Brain injuries or tumors can also affect the ability of the vagus nerve to function properly. Slow motility allows food to assault the lining of your small intestine, feed anaerobic bacteria, and contribute to their colonization and growth. As a result, you begin to experience classic SIBO symptoms.
A single traumatic event or the ability of your body to remember that event and get “stuck” in its physiological consequences can lead to SIBO. Events such as a car accident, divorce, or losing a loved one can cause your vagus nerve to decrease its ability to fire properly. Reliving those traumatic events in your mind continues to keep you from properly firing this nerve. (3)
Since gut motility is associated with the vagus nerve, your ability to move food through your gastrointestinal tract slows and you have constipation. You may even experience bouts of diarrhea, but diarrhea is not an indication of good motility, rather it is the absorption of liquid into the gastrointestinal tract. Again, slow motility allows food to assault the lining of your small intestine, feed anaerobic bacteria, and contribute to their colonization and growth.
5. PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS / ILLICIT DRUG USE
Drugs have side effects. Whether you are taking prescription medications, over the counter medications, or using illicit drugs, these all have an effect on the gastrointestinal tract. They may reduce good microbes causing dysbiosis and SIBO, they may destroy the lining of the gut decreasing the ability to produce digestive enzymes leading to SIBO, or they may decrease motility again leading to SIBO. Taking medications for diagnosed health conditions should always be done with an awareness of possible drug-induced gastrointestinal disorders. (4,5)
Importantly, all 5 causes of SIBO can be managed to avoid its occurrence. If you currently have the symptoms associated with SIBO it is possible to rid yourself of this overgrowth and restore your gut to a healthy, well functioning organ that allows you to digest and absorb life giving nutrients to your body.
If you are challenged with SIBO symptoms and would like help in restoring your health, schedule a Free Discovery Call with me to discuss your options using the link below.