What is SIBO and How to Treat It

SIBO, otherwise known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, can occur when there is excess bacteria in the small intestine, according to the John Hopkins Medicine website. It often occurs due to lack of bowel movement of the small intestine.

While the body’s gut flora has 10 times more bacteria than the body even has cells, most of this bacteria should reside in the colon. When too much bacteria occurs in the small intestine, even though it is considered good bacteria, it can lead to digestive and systemic symptoms when it’s in the wrong place. And due to the fact that it can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, nutritional deficiencies can also occur.

SIBO can be tricky to diagnose because it has similar symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) such as bloating or flatulence, cramping or abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, acid reflux, and even nausea and fatigue. In extreme cases, patients may experience weight loss or develop an iron deficiency.

SIBO can also be a problem because not all doctors understand how to diagnose or treat it. There can be multiple causes, multiple ways to treat it and a lot of diets and supplements that claim to cure it. All this adds up to a lot of confusion, and likely frustration for the patient with SIBO.

The good news is that with more research developing, SIBO is becoming more widely known and better understood. Up until recently, the cause of SIBO was a mystery; however, it is now known that SIBO is a result of a decrease in the migrating motor complex, which is designed to filter gut bacteria down into the large intestines where most of it is supposed to live. When the process fails and the bacteria doesn’t get all the way down into the large intestine and instead starts to overgrow into the small intestines, SIBO can develop and even lead to other diagnoses including “leaky gut syndrome.” It’s also important to note that the gut controls about 80 percent of the body’s immune system and can manage mood and even genetic expression. Therefore when gut function is down, the whole body can feel the effects.

With the proper approach using the core elements of functional medicine (managing stress, relationships, exercise and movement, nutrition, sleep and relaxation) the pain and discomfort of SIBO can mitigated. As a patient experiencing SIBO, it’s a good idea to compile one’s health history and get any diagnostic testing that a doctor may order.

Upon diagnosis, functional medicine doctors like Dr. Ballehr will utilize the core elements of functional medicine to help the patient find his or her own individualized solution. In this case, nutrition is the first area she will assess to formulate a program to ease and eliminate each patient’s unique symptoms. She may ask patients with SIBO to keep a food log of what they are eating throughout the day (or night) and when they are eating. This can help her understand what type of foods may be problematic to the patients. For example, there are certain foods high in FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-,Di-, Monosaccharides and Polyols) that actually serve to “feed” gut bacteria and causes it multiply.

Prior to changing up one’s diet or trying any supplements or medications that claim to offer a cure, Dr. Ballehr is available to offer complete concierge-style consultation that is convenient, customized and designed to find a solution for each patient’s individual needs. To find out more about Dr. Ballehr’s approach to functional medicine, read more on the blog or call today for a consultation.

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