I have SIBO...but what is it?!

I have SIBO, a Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth! Eek! I have far too many bacteria in my small intestine and it looks like they’ve been the cause of my digestive issues!

I think I first developed SIBO from one of my many cases of food poisoning when I was either in China or Thailand (yes I was unlucky enough to get sick three times while on holiday!) After that my symptoms of constipation, bloating and abdominal pain were present but I never really thought much of it, I just thought I was normal. Then a few years ago I started to pay more attention to my digestive issues and I started to make some major dietary changes (you can read more about my gut health story here).

After working on my digestive issues for the past few years and being diagnosed with IBS, I had reached a place where my symptoms were manageable. I knew what I could eat, I knew how important it was to manage my stress and anxiety levels and I felt pretty healthy overall. But if I stepped outside my modified low FODMAP diet too frequently, or let stress levels get out of control, my IBS symptoms would be back. Sometimes I would bounce right back to feeling good if I addressed the issues and sometimes the symptoms lingered.

Through my work with www.IrritableBowelSyndrome.net and through my studies at uni, I learnt and researched more about SIBO and I figured that I really should take the test just in case it turned out that I had it. And guess what, I do.

So what is it?

We do have bacteria in the small intestine but their levels should be low and the majority of bacteria in the digestive system should be in the large intestine. It is thought that this overgrowth in the small intestine is the cause of IBS in 60-84% of people with IBS!

I liken it to living with an alien in my belly. You know the movie Alien and the classic scene where the baby alien bursts out of the guy’s chest when they’re sitting around eating breakfast? Well it’s not quite that dramatic, but you get the gist, there are unwanted organisms living off me...inside me!

An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine consumes some of the food we eat, they produce gas in the small intestine causing all those lovely digestive symptoms (bloating, pain, diarrhoea, constipation, gas, burping etc), they decrease our ability to absorb nutrients, damage the lining of our intestines leading to undigested food particles entering the blood and they excrete toxins that can cause further damage. 


How is it diagnosed?

The most common way to test for SIBO is a breath test. It's probably a good idea to speak to your doctor, naturopath or nutritionist if you think you may have SIBO, just to make sure that your symptoms aren’t caused by something else and whether a breath test is warranted (they're not cheap).

I ordered my test from www.sibotest.com and completed it at home. I had to stop eating fermented foods and probiotics for a week before the test (there are other timeframes for antibiotics, medication and medical procedures) and then the day before the test I could only consume a limited diet that the sneaky little bacteria wouldn't like. It wasn’t much fun just eating chicken, fish, eggs, clear meat broth, water and one little cup of tea, but it was just for one day and so I got through it (with a little grumbling…I just wanted an orange, a simple little orange!).

The next morning (after fasting for 12 hours) I had to drink a solution of lactulose (which we don’t absorb) and then every 20 minutes for three hours, breathe into a tube to obtain samples of my breath. The bacteria loves the sweet solution and it stirs them up and they create either methane or hydrogen which is captured in the glass vials when I breathed out.

After doing this for three hours, I sent the samples back and within the week I had my results. Positive for SIBO.

What's next?

It is generally treated with antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials and a low carb/low fermentable diet. I’m currently seeing a herbalist and nutritionist and hopefully with herbal antimicrobials, nutritional supplements and the SIBO Bi-phasic diet I'll be able to get rid of them! The treatment should take about 8 weeks but it may take longer and it may come back. I’ll keep you updated as I go!

Want more information?

If you’d like to read more about it check out these sites and podcasts: