We know our bodies coexist with trillions of bacteria that can influence the way our bodies do just about anything, like neurotransmission, energy production, mood, and more. This bacteria is found on our skin, in our mouth and nose, and mostly our gut. What happens if this bacteria starts to take over, or gets out of control? That’s precisely what SIBO is – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Since we now realize bacteria plays such a large role in how well our body functions this begs the question: does SIBO affect mental health?
What is SIBO?
To answer that question, it’s first important to understand what SIBO actually is. SIBO is a condition in which your small intestine becomes overwhelmed with bacteria. This isn’t necessarily because the type of bacteria (i.e. good versus bad), but rather the fact that the overgrowth is there in the first place. The small intestine is very important for the absorption of nutrients, which become extracted from the chyme (partially digested food). Bacteria should be more common in the large intestine, where the last stages take place before elimination. When this becomes out of balance and bacterial overgrowth occurs in the small intestine, it can lead to quite a few uncomfortable symptoms.
Common Symptoms of SIBO
- Stomach Pain (especially after eating)
SIBO and Mental Health
How does overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine affect mental health? First, we know that gut-health has a close relationship with mental health via the gut-brain axis. The gut is always communicating with the brain via hormones, the nervous system, and even through the immune system. Because any negative impact on the gut can impact the brain via the vagus nerve and nervous system, it is possible that SIBO could affect your mental health.
Living with SIBO for an extended period of time can lead to chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Chronic inflammation (in general) is associated with conditions such as obesity and heart disease. It can also contribute to chronically high cortisol. This high cortisol level can further hinder your digestive tract’s ability to function normally.
SIBO can also impact your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients. These nutrients are essential in making hormones and neurotransmitters that are vital to your mental health. You might have an adequate intake of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need – but if you have a bacterial infection in your smaller intestine you may have difficulty absorbing these.
A healthy balance of gut bacteria is important for immune function. Without this balance, your own immunity can be compromised. Not feeling your best physically can certainly impact your ability to feel well mentally.
What To Do If You Have SIBO
It’s important that you work closely with your medical professionals if you think you have SIBO. Tell them what’s going on, and include any plans you might have regarding what you want to do about it. Your doctor may be able to offer to test for SIBO, in which case you can get confirmation of the underlying issue before moving forward with treatment.
However, you don’t need a diagnosis to make the diet changes necessary to start addressing the problem. There are a few things you can do on your own to help combat SIBO.
1 – Eat a low-fibre diet.
While fibre is important in providing bulk to your stool, it takes a while to move through your digestive tract. When fibre moves slowly through the small intestine, the overgrown bacteria feed on this fibre and release hydrogen gas. This leads to further discomfort, bloating, burping, and gas. While dealing with SIBO, stick to low-fibre foods like white rice, potato, and protein.
2 – Add anti-microbial supplements.
While antibiotics may be an option for some struggling with SIBO, anti-microbial supplements can also help reduce the number of overgrown bacteria. In fact, one study found that herbal therapy could be just as effective as antibiotic treatment for SIBO. Antimicrobials you could consider supplementing include garlic, ginger, chinese skullcap, and oregano oil.
3 – De-Stress.
When dealing with digestive issues, it’s important to honour the mind-body connection. Your brain and gut are in constant communication via the vagus nerve. Being under high stress or chronic stress can impact your gastrointestinal tract and hinder it’s ability to function optimally. You don’t need to overhaul your life, but making small changes like practicing meditation or breathing techniques can go a long way.
4- Have patience.
When it comes to SIBO, there is no quick cure. It takes time and dedication to eradicate the overgrowth of bacteria you may have. Be patient with yourself and most important: stay consistent. It can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to heal from SIBO. The overgrowth did not take place overnight, and the same goes for getting rid of it.