SIBO Part I - A Common Gut Infection
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and is a condition that occurs when, as the name implies, too many bacteria are present in the small intestine. Our large intestine is home to the vast majority of the bacteria in our body, but there are smaller amounts of bacteria that live on our skin, in our mouth, small intestine, and other organs. Common symptoms of SIBO include:
- Abdominal pain
- Memory problems
- Neurological symptoms
- Low energy
As you can see there are a wide variety of symptoms when it comes to SIBO. One person may experience diarrhea while another may have constipation. Many patients come into the office having already done a breath test confirming they have SIBO, but this is not necessary nor is it extremely accurate. A SIBO breath test measures the amount of hydrogen or methane – byproducts of bacteria – in your breath after consuming glucose. This simple test tells us straight away that bacteria feed off of sugar (glucose), so as always, diet will become an important part of its treatment.
Good vs Bad Bacteria
Our gut biome has become a very hot topic in the health community with probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented foods emerging as popular ways to try and restore its flora. Bacteria play a huge role in the digestion of our food, the breakdown of the indigestible food we consume, the absorption of nutrients, our immune system function, and many more processes we have yet to discover. “Bad” bacteria are known as pathogens which will cause us to get sick or have symptoms if certain strains in our gut proliferate or if we are exposed to them externally. Common examples of this are E coli and salmonella from our food or Streptococcus pyogenes causing strep throat. There are hundreds of strains of good and bad bacteria in our gut, so any strain of bad bacteria that is allowed to thrive can cause distress, not just ones related to food poisoning.
“Good” bacteria do not cause the body harm, or at least they are not supposed to. They live with us in harmony by aiding in our digestion and immune health as the gut is a very common place for pathogens to reside. The balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut is vital to our health as the good bacteria is needed to keep the bad bacteria in check so the environment in our gut is optimal. We have a large amount of lymph and lymph tissue in our small and large intestine which have dominant roles in maintaining a strong immune system. Bad bacteria are always present in our body. We are constantly being exposed to pathogens so it is up to our good bacteria and lymph tissue to prevent bad bacteria from growing out of control by monitoring the intestines and relaying information to our major immune system organs, the thymus and spleen, about what is going on in the gut. Even our good and supposedly harmless bacteria can cause us issues if they grow too much and distort the balance of the gut biome or end up in places they should not be, like the small intestine.