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You’ve probably heard of IBS, but have you heard of SIBO? SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is a commonly underdiagnosed gastrointestinal health condition that may well be at the root cause of 50 – 85% of IBS cases, and yet most people have never even heard of it. In fact, many of the primary symptoms of SIBO are exactly the same as the main symptoms of IBS.

If you suffer from, or know of anyone struggling with typical IBS symptoms, then you need to read this:

7 common signs of SIBO

1. Abdominal bloating
2. Gas (flatulence / belching)
3. Abdominal pain, discomfort or cramps
4. Constipation, diarrhoea (or a mixture of both)
5. Heartburn
6. Nausea
7. Headaches, joint / muscle pain, fatigue, acne rosacea

What is SIBO?
SIBO happens when the bacteria that normally live in the large intestine, migrate and multiply in the small intestine. A SIBO diagnosis is made when testing shows that there are abnormally high levels of bacteria living in the small intestine.

The bacteria ferment food as it passes through the small intestine. This causes excessive gas, pain, cramping and changes in bowel habits such as constipation and diarrhoea; all typical symptoms of IBS. Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can also cause problems with digestion and absorption.

The standard way to test for SIBO is via a breath test to measure levels of hydrogen or methane gases. Excess levels of either of these gases indicate a problem with SIBO.

What to do if you suspect SIBO?
The first port of call with any of the above symptoms, as always, is a trip to your GP. If you’ve already tried that and aren’t getting anywhere, get in touch with a nutritional therapist or functional medicine practitioner who is familiar with SIBO testing and natural SIBO treatment.

A functional medicine approach to eradicating SIBO involves a combination of dietary change & herbal anti-microbial supplements:

Low carbohydrate diet
Since bacteria use carbohydrates as their preferred food, which they ferment to produce gas, a low carbohydrate diet is generally recommended until the SIBO is eradicated.

Herbal anti-microbial supplement
A combination of herbal anti-microbials is recommended in addition. A 2014 human clinical study found herbal therapy to be as effective as standard antibiotic therapy for eradicating SIBO1. Recommended natural anti-microbials include berberine, grapefruit seed, garlic, oregano & caprylic acid.

SIBO is commonly underdiagnosed and likely to be much more prevalent than we are currently aware of. If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms, get in touch with your GP or a functional medicine practitioner to find out if SIBO may be affecting your health.

1. Mullin GE, Chedid V et al. Herbal therapy is equivalent to rifaximin for the treatment of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Global Advances in Health & Medicine. 2014 May; 3(3): 16-24. Published online 2014 May 1. Doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2014.019

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