SIBO is an acronym for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Under normal circumstances, the large intestine, also called the colon, contains the majority of our gut microbiome, while the small intestine houses only a small amount of our gut microbes. When SIBO is present, the small intestine has lost it’s ability to flush out, or rid itself of bacteria and other microbes, resulting in an abnormal overgrowth. In SIBO, the microbes that accumulate in the small intestine are not pathogenic flora, they are actually normal flora. The issue with SIBO is the location of the microbes; not the type of microbes present. These microbes should be residing in the large intestine, not the small intestine (1).
The small intestine is not designed to house a large number of microbes.
The small intestine has the wonderful job of keeping us healthy by digesting our food and absorbing our nutrients. When there is an overgrowth of microbes, multiplying and fermenting in this 23-foot long organ, the small intestine cannot properly do its job. SIBO microbes not only compete with the small intestine for nutrients but can also damage its delicate absorptive inner wall lining. SIBO, therefore, interferes with the small intestine’s function of digestion and absorption of vital minerals, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. This can lead to crucial nutrient deficiencies, as well as leaky gut.
The havoc that SIBO causes doesn’t end there.
In a normal healthy digestive tract, foods rich in fiber, are very beneficial for our overall health. The fiber we ingest move through the small intestine unaffected, ending up as “food” for the microbes in our large intestine. The billions of microbes in our large intestine ferment the fiber, producing gas and short chain fatty acids (SCFA), such as acetate, butyrate, and propionate. SCFAs help reduce inflammation, act as fuel for the cells which line our large intestine, keep the contents of the colon at the correct pH, therefore, preventing pathogenic bacteria growth, and help prevent metabolism disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes (2, 3).
But, in SIBO, the bacteria in the small intestine ferment our dietary fiber before it reaches the large intestine. This creates big problems. The small intestine is not designed to handle excessive gas production like the large intestine is. The small intestine is much narrower, less stretchy, and quite a bit longer than the large intestine. When gas is produced in the small intestine, it has nowhere to go and ends up stretching the sensitive small intestine. This is what causes the common symptoms bloating, gas and abdominal pain, which can be quite severe in people who have SIBO.
HOW CAN SIBO DAMAGE OUR HEALTH?
An overgrowth of microbes in the small intestine is a menace and can cause health problems such as:
- Digestive Issues – SIBO can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and gastric reflux.
- Leaky Gut & Malabsorption of Nutrients – The overgrowth of bacteria and other microbes damage the sensitive inner lining of the small intestine, causing intestinal permeability and malabsorption. Leaky gut and malabsorption of nutrients can contribute to a whole plethora of non-digestive health problems, ranging from anemia to migraines to hypothyroidism (4).
- Chronic Inflammation – SIBO increases chronic inflammation in a couple ways. Some types of organisms that can grow in the small intestine can release pro-inflammatory substances. These pro-inflammatory substances are absorbed into the bloodstream and can increase systemic inflammation. As well, SIBO prevents the production of short chain fatty acids in the large intestine, which are substances that reduce inflammation.
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Have you heard of SIBO? Do you have it, or know someone who does?
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