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Is SIBO Turning Your Gut Flora Against You?

If you were to come to one of our Fundamental Foods Nights, you might think you walked into the wrong doctor’s office.

Each month, we have been dealing with wellness, not from a spinal health perspective, but from a gut health perspective. Most people think of me as a chiropractor, and while that is true, my practice takes a holistic view of health (our slogan is “Move Right, Think Right, Eat Right, Live Right”). Good health is more than a straight spine or a nutritious diet: maintaining a healthy gut is a major key to keeping your total health in balance.

On this week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” I want to introduce you to a gastrointestinal disorder that thousands of people have, but few have ever heard of. It may be causing you discomfort this very second, and you didn’t even know it had a name.

SIBO

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is just what it sounds like – too much bacteria in the small intestine.

“Wait, Dr. Steve,” my faithful readers are all saying at once. “You’ve been saying that there are trillions of bacteria growing in my gut and they are critical to good health. How can I have an overgrowth?”

That’s a great question and it gets down to a really important distinction – the difference between healthy gut bacteria and unhealthy gut bacteria. Healthy bacteria are the “worker bees” of your digestive system and immune system. They are critical to the healthy operation of your body. They form a fragile ecosystem that organize into specific functions from mineral absorption to tissue management to waste elimination to communication with the brain. Unhealthy bacteria form toxic colonies that destroy good bacteria and healthy tissues around them.

SIBO is a condition where the bacteria in your gut gets out of control and starts damaging the lining of your intestines. According to siboinfo.com:

“Simply put, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine.  The infection is of bacteria that normally live in the gastrointestinal tract but have abnormally overgrown in a location not meant for so many bacteria.”

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?

  • “The bacteria interfere with our normal digestion and absorption of food and are associated with damage to the lining or membrane of the SI (leaky gut syndrome).
  • “They consume some of our food which over time leads to deficiencies in their favorite nutrients such as iron and B12, causing anemia.
  • “They consume food unable to be absorbed due to SI lining damage, which creates more bacterial overgrowth (a vicious cycle).
  • “After eating our food, they produce gas/ expel flatus, within our SI.  The gas causes abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea or both (the symptoms of IBS).  Excess gas can also cause belching and flatulence.
  • “They decrease proper fat absorption by deconjugating bile leading to deficiencies of vitamins A & D and fatty stools.
  • “Through the damaged lining, larger food particles not able to be fully digested, enter into the body which the immune system reacts to.  This causes food allergies/ sensitivities.
  • “Bacteria themselves can also enter the body/bloodstream.  Immune system reaction to bacteria and their cell walls (endotoxin) causes chronic fatigue and body pain and burdens the liver
  • “Finally, the bacteria excrete acids which in high amounts can cause neurological and cognitive symptoms”

If this list reminds you of our description of histamine overload from a few weeks ago, you’re on the right track. People with food sensitivities, pain in the restroom, and general discomfort after meals need to look seriously at this as well.

The research around SIBO started in the 1940s as a study into Celiac Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Dr. Sidney Haas developed a treatment protocol that included a grain-free diet (his Specific Carbohydrate Diet) that achieved significant results with several patients. At the same time, research into gluten intolerance overshadowed his work, and his findings were lost in gastroenterology circles for decades. But as behavioral scientists began studying linkages between diet and Autism Spectrum disorders, his findings came back into circulation, and were even improved upon by further research.

Treatment Options

This is one of those areas where you need to be cautious.

Research is still developing around this, but the primary course of treatment involves medical antibiotics, which is always a red flag to me. Antibiotics are typically dangerous because they don’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria and can really upset your bodies’ own ecosystem.

Herbal antibiotics are another treatment that is growing in popularity (garlic, oregano, and cinnamon contain natural antibiotics), but research is sparse and dosage is still difficult to pin down.

The other common treatment is elemental formula, in which patients stop eating for two to three weeks and take a pre-formulated powder to nourish their bodies while their intestines heal. This treatment can be effective, but if you’re already underweight (yes, underweight can be just as big a problem as overweight), this one can be dangerous. Plus, it can be expensive and it tastes like concrete.

Personally, I prefer the elimination diet, which is the 28-day detox I recommend to many of my patients, under regular supervision. I’ve seen really good results after several years of prescribing the elimination diet, but it requires some accountability, especially your old cravings begin to overwhelm your mind. Sugar is nine times more addictive than heroine, so when you take it out of your system, your body will let you know how hooked you are.

Now, the elimination diet is just a start to a longer-term program. Basically, your gut is being attacked by your food, and we are removing the weapons so your gut has a chance to stop fighting and heal. After you declare the cease-fire, THEN we can start talking about rebuilding the gut flora with healthy bacteria.

The Reason I Bring This Up

We have spent a great deal of time on gut health issues this year — on purpose — but while some of the conditions may start to sound similar, I want you to be aware of a couple of things:

First, if you are experiencing pain after meals — or even in the middle of the night — you need to take it seriously. Most of the health conditions that ail people start as little bouts of gastrointestinal discomfort. Pain is the body’s conscience — it lets you know when something is out of whack.

The problem is that our bodies are under constant attack from the Standard American Diet and we have grown accustomed to pain and bloating around the gut. I understand what it’s like to love food that doesn’t love me back. As I shared last week, I remember how I abused my body with my favorite foods — and the dire consequences I suffered as a result. I want to save you that grief.

Our bodies are complicated ecosystems, and it is possible to turn little problems into big problems if we self-diagnose and self-medicate. It’s easy in this instant-Google world to pick and choose advice that appeals to us from a wide range of sources, but it’s just as easy to get out of balance in one direction or another. The Atkins Diet had some good ideas, but it also had some really unhealthy ideas. Same with the South Beach Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, and the Baby Food Diet (don’t ask).

You need to be selective about the medical advice you take, too. Most medical professionals are trained to use drugs to treat everything, and while there is a place for that, it won’t help you in the long run. Antibiotics are not your friend, and most chemicals do collateral damage as they are trying to help.

Your best bet is to partner with a holistic healthcare specialist who comes alongside you to help your body operate at peak efficiency, stay balanced, and heal itself. In other words, you want a doctor whose only goal is to help you, “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right.”

Sounds good to me.

Next Steps

If you’re in the Naples area, I would love to meet you and talk about how you’re feeling. If you’re outside of Naples, I encourage you to look for a holistic healthcare practitioner that knows how to help your body heal itself before you go the medical route. If you call my office, we’ll do our best to help you identify the best doctors in your area by giving you some tips on what to look for in a doctor.

And of course, the website siboinfo.com has a wealth of information – more than I have space to cover here.

I know I barely scratched the surface (and I may have opened up a can of worms), but if this has been helpful to you, please share it on Facebook. Have you experienced SIBO personally? Share your observations or questions in the comments section. We have built quite a community there and frankly, sometimes your first-hand experiences are more compelling for people than my research. Seriously.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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