Digestive health has received increasing attention in the last decade. People are more aware of what foods to eat to aid digestion, the importance of prebiotics and probiotics, and their role in preventing stomach problems. Also, they consider the effects of processed foods and excessive sugars on gut health. One topic that is now coming to the forefront is bacterial overgrowth syndrome or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Scientists reveal why stomach problems could be a sign of bacterial overgrowth.
What is bacterial overgrowth or sibo?
Bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, is precisely what it sounds like. It is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine due to a variety of reasons. Very often, this bacteria is not the bacteria that should be found in the small intestine. They are migrants from the large intestine or colon. In some cases, it is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine that can lead to stomach problems.
This overgrowth can occur because your small intestine is not moving through the waste as fast as it should. This causes debris to stay in one place too long, allowing excess bacteria to form.
Your small intestine is what connects your stomach to the large intestine or colon. It is about 20 feet long and contains far fewer, and varied types of bacteria, by comparison than the large intestine. Its function is to help digest food and create and extract nutrients. The bacteria that are present there are designed to protect against bad bacteria and yeast.
They are also designed to support muscular walls, which create the gentle waves of spasms that carry food to the next destination. When this doesn't happen, it causes stomach problems.
SYMPTOMS OF BACTERIAL GROWTH
The initial symptoms of bacterial overgrowth consist of:
- Pain in the abdomen area
- Extreme tiredness or fatigue
- Change in bowel movement towards diarrhea or constipation
- Swelling or distention in the abdominal region.
- Belching and gas
- When it starts to get worse, you will absorb fewer nutrients, which can lead to anemia or other signs of nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
WHAT CAUSES BACTERIAL GROWTH?
Identifying the cause of bacterial overgrowth can be complex. Our small intestine has several protections to prevent this from happening. We have stomach acid, mucus that lines the intestines, valves that work one way to let waste out and flex muscle activity in the wall. For bacterial overgrowth to occur, at least one of these must be defective.
SOME OF THE CAUSES MAY BE:
- A decrease in stomach acid.
- IBS diagnosis: irritable bowel movement
- A long history of celiac disease.
- History of Crohn's disease.
- Previous bowel surgery
- Antibiotics are used multiple times for long periods
- Previous bowel surgery
- Major damage or failure of the liver, pancreas, or kidney failure.
- Chronic diseases such as lupus, diabetes, HIV,
- Older age
- Poor intestinal structure
- Certain medications, such as narcotics and proton pump inhibitors.
- Moderate to high alcohol use
- Long-term use of birth control pills.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF BACTERIAL GROWTH
Diagnosing bacterial overgrowth can be difficult because many people do not report their symptoms; clinicians do not know the frequency of occurrence and the test is not accurate.
For a doctor to diagnose bacterial overgrowth, the patient must breathe into a tube that measures the levels of hydrogen and methane gas. Unfortunately, this test is not very accurate and results in false negatives, or shows you don't have it when you actually do. In some cases, the doctor may take a sample from the small intestine and culture the fluid. This is particularly helpful in determining which bacteria are overgrowing. When doctors feel that the cause is related to the structure of the intestines, they order an X-ray.
After a positive result, and depending on the high levels of bacteria, you will be given antibiotics. Rifaxim is the most common. Antibiotic treatment still results in nearly 50% of all patients having a recurrence within a year. Therefore, it requires multiple treatments. Some doctors are testing a drug that helps the small intestine move waste by creating more muscle contractions.
Many specialists believe that antibiotics are only treating the symptoms and not the cause. They feel that it is important to get to the root of the problem in order to fully treat it.
ADDITIONAL WAYS OF TREATMENT OF STOMACH PROBLEMS
Most stomach problems are resolved through diet, probiotics, and certain lifestyle changes.
Some of those lifestyle changes may include staying away from sugary or highly processed foods and drinks. This includes sugary medicines, in syrup.
Try to identify which foods are creating the reaction, and then remove them from your diet for three days and slowly add one at a time. It's important to do it that way because it could be the food, or it could be how one food interacts with another.
Some doctors strongly recommend "low FODMAP" diets. FODMAP, oddly enough, is the acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are types of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that our bodies don't absorb well. These are present in a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc. This diet is recommended for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux / GERD, and other digestive disorders.
Some of the foods allowed on a diet include lactose-free milk, hard cheeses, specific fruits and vegetables, certain beans and legumes, gluten-free bread and pasta, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.
An individual who is prescribed this diet begins on a 3-8 week elimination diet of his usual foods. Then they gradually start the LowFODMAP diet to see if they tolerate it or if they have any interactions. It is not a long-term method due to diet restriction. It helps both the doctor and the patient know which foods are triggering digestive symptoms.
PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS
Taking prebiotics and probiotics are generally recommended for bacterial overgrowth. While it is possible to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to ingest your prebiotics, there are also supplements available. It is recommended to check with your doctor if probiotics are allowed.
There may be certain probiotics that exasperate the problem because it is the bacteria that are already covered in weeds. The ingestion of fermented foods, certain yogurts or kefir are good natural sources.