Up to 45 million people suffer from IBS in the United State alone.
We know by now that our relationship with food isn’t what it should be… and that our lifestyles don’t prioritize our gut microbiome’s health because, frankly, most of us just didn’t learn about it.
Mainstream scientists are only starting to value its central position in whole-body health in recent years.
Unsurprisingly, IBS is just one of the many conditions we’ve been able to give a name to since determining that our digestive issues were related to the functionality of almost every organ system we’ve got.
From heartburn, to gastroenteritis, to ulcers, hemorrhoids, and Crohn’s disease, there are all sorts of ways that the gut can malfunction. Most often, problems arise from the microbiome being in a state of dysbiosis – a bacterial imbalance whereby the positive, beneficial bacteria are crowded out by negative bacteria.
When negative bacteria overwhelms the population of beneficial bacteria, all sorts of things can happen – tears in the epithelial lining of the intestines, trouble absorbing nutrients, allergic reactions, etc.
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. What happens is, when bacteria that belongs elsewhere in the digestive tract instead ends up in the small intestine, you’ve got trouble.
Let’s get deeper into how SIBO happens and what it looks like…
Why SIBO Causes Such a Mess
Our bodies are like a finely-wound Swiss watch. Or like a microchip. Or like a very complex risotto. Anything where it doesn’t belong, and you’ll gum up the whole works.
If you find yourself afflicted with SIBO, you’ll probably notice these symptoms:
- Abdominal pain after eating
- Painful gas
- Feeling full often
That’s why SIBO sufferers often know something is wrong when they’re losing weight, but not trying to – eating is an unpleasant experience.
To understand SIBO, let’s first understand that the small intestine and the large intestine are very different.
The small intestine, which is about 20 feet long, connects the stomach to the large intestine. It has comparatively less bacteria living in it than the stomach or large intestine – about 10,000 bacteria per milliliter of fluid, where the colon (or large intestine) has about 1,000,000,000 bacteria per milliliter of fluid.
As we know, it’s all about the bacterial variety – and different kinds live in the small vs. large intestine.
SIBO happens when bacteria that’s meant to be in the colon is found in the small intestine.
The Small Intestinal Disruption
There are a few theories about why that happens…
Already having digestive disorders increases the likelihood of further bacterial dysbiosis and disruption – if pathogenic bacteria is crowding out the large intestine, it would certainly be easier for bacteria to flow backwards through the valve connecting the small and large intestine.
Using alcohol moderately to excessively can also make you a likelier candidate for SIBO, as one of the body’s preventive mechanisms is secreting gastric acid, and alcohol lowers gastric secretion.
The small intestine has a few important jobs to do…
It’s meant to predigest food and absorb nutrients as it continues to push food towards the large intestine.
It’s also part of the immune system (70% of which is housed in the digestive tract) and contains lymphoid cells that perform regulatory functions and fight infections.
When the small intestines have the right kind of bacteria, nutrients get absorbed, short chain fatty acids can be produced, and vitamins K and folate are created.
The small intestinal bacteria is also responsible for the muscle movement of the intestines, which wiggle food through the tubes and into the colon.
You know your body.
If it isn’t behaving the way that you know it should, consult with your doctor and mention that you think you share symptoms with SIBO sufferers.
Ask about a breath test – the specific kinds of bacteria that build up in the small intestine often release methane and can be identified that way.