Bacteria are found on every external surface of the body, including the entire gastrointestinal tract. You’re probably no stranger to probiotics and their endless health benefits, and you may even be purposefully increasing your intake of fermented foods as a result. But what if I was to tell you that probiotics might be making your digestion symptoms worse?
The diversity and quantity of bacteria in each part of the digestive system vary greatly. For instance, you can easily find over 1 billion bacteria per millilitre in the colon, and only 10,000 bacteria per millilitre in the small intestine. In addition, the bacteria in the small intestine function differently from those in the rest of the digestive tract.
In the small intestine, the bacteria are responsible for aiding digestion and helping absorb vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in the foods we ate. These same bacteria also help support immune function. However, in many people who experience IBS-like symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation/diarrhea, and abdominal cramping, the number of bacteria in the small intestine increases significantly. The bacteria that typically colonize the digestive tract (most commonly the colon or large intestine (1)) overgrow in a location not intended for so many bacteria, and as a result, begin to produce symptoms. We call this condition Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. And as you can imagine, adding more bacteria (like probiotics) to the mix may produce undesirable outcomes.
What Are Some Symptoms of SIBO?
When SIBO occurs, it interferes with normal digestive processes. The vitamin, minerals, and nutrients which are normally absorbed by the intestinal cells become diminished, while some strains of bacteria actually consume the nutrients for themselves, ultimately fueling their growth.
As a result, we often see nutrient deficiencies such as iron and b12 in this patient population. Gas becomes a byproduct of the fermentation of sugars and proteins, and bloating results. The most characteristic symptoms of SIBO patients include:
• Abdominal Discomfort, Cramping, and Pain
• Vitamin Deficiencies
• Unexpected Weight Loss
• Abdominal Distention/Bloating
Long-term concerns of untreated bacterial overgrowth include damage to the intestinal lining, resulting in increased intestinal permeability, often termed “leaky gut syndrome”. This condition predisposes a person to autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions to foods they previously were not allergic to, and overall inflammation (2). Furthermore, bacterial endotoxins burden our liver and immune system, increasing incidences of chronic fatigue.
What Causes SIBO?
Any disease or illness that affects the body’s defences put a person at risk for SIBO. The actual causes are complex, but major of people with SIBO have developed an issue with the intestinal anatomy or musculature. Infectious gastroenteritis, bowel strictures or surgery, nerve damage, appendicitis, and birth control use are among some of the predisposing factors to SIBO development.
Various research studies have discovered that the following conditions may also increase the risks for SIBO:
• Crohn’s Disease
• Type I or Type II Diabetes
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Previous Surgery of the Bowel/Intestines
• Celiac Disease
• Conditions of the Liver, Pancreas, and Others
• Low Stomach Acid
• Regular and Heavy Alcohol Consumption
Can SIBO be treated?
First and foremost, a diagnosis should be made using a 3 hr Lactulose Breath Test. Treating SIBO normally requires the use of specific antibiotics and/or antimicrobial therapy to eradicate the overgrowth, along with identifying co-morbidities that may have caused its development in the first place. In cases where patients were treated, but their underlying condition was ignored, many experienced a reoccurrence of SIBO within a year or less (3).
Since there can be a variety of underlying causes, it is essential to develop treatments which are tailored specifically for each individual.
Click Here to learn more about Dr. Courtney Holmberg ND’s approach to SIBO management. If you suspect you might have SIBO or have experienced any of the symptoms we discussed, contact Dr. Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule a consultation today!