SIBO (or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) prevalence has been steadily increasing over the past few years. There are a few reasons why this may be including: increasing use of medications (specifically antibiotics and gastric suppression), increasing H. Pylori prevalence, motility disorders, or simply better diagnostic testing. Now that more people are being diagnosed with SIBO than ever before, the demand for information on how you can support your gut and heal SIBO naturally is also on the rise.
This post explains what SIBO is, the options for treating it, and natural ways to fight SIBO. I’ll also share a bit about my personal experience with SIBO and the methods I implemented that worked for me.
What is SIBO?
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth is exactly what it sounds like: proliferation of bacteria in the small intestine. While it’s perfectly normal for higher amounts of bacteria to exist in the large intestine, your small intestine usually has very few bacteria. This is because substances tend to move through rapidly, and also because of the presence of bile. When the presence of bile is diminished and/or motility slows, the small intestine becomes the perfect environment for bacteria to start growing quickly.
SIBO is associated with celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, IBD, nerve damage, and certain surgeries. Symptoms of SIBO include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
What Causes SIBO?
SIBO can develop when the normal bodily mechanisms that control these enteric bacterial populations are disturbed. The two most common issues that contribute to SIBO are lowered gastric acid secretion (due to H. Pylori or medication) and small intestine mobility issues (due to a structural issue in the small intestine). Disturbances like these increase your risk for SIBO.
How I Ended Up With SIBO
A few years ago, I developed an ulcer and it really devastated me. As a nutrition professional I was embarrassed, even though it wasn’t avoidable. Food is my life. While I dedicated myself to healing I knew that relationship would be compromised.
I felt amazing when the stomach pain and reflux disappeared, but it wouldn’t last. A few months later, I started experiencing of painful bloating, constipation, and also increased sensitivities to food. Then I found out I had SIBO.
I let myself feel down for about 5 minutes, but then I knew I needed to pull up my bootstraps and figure this out (more on that later).
What I would eventually learn is that my predicament was not that uncommon. The type of bacteria that most commonly causes stomach ulcers (H. pylori) attacks the stomach lining. H. Pylori also makes an enzyme called urease, which neutralizes the stomach acid. Low stomach acid in turn allows bacteria in the small intestine to grow out of control.
And so my healing journey began again.
Treatment Options for SIBO
The main conventional treatment for SIBO is an antibiotic, but some question if this is the right choice for them. There’s no question that antibiotics reduce the bacteria in number. However, antibiotics do not address the underlying cause.
There are studies that show that dietary changes (like limiting sugars) could also help reduce bacterial overgrowth and diminish overgrowth. You could opt for one option over the other, or both in conjunction. It is up to you to choose the treatment plan that feels right for you.
Whether you decide to talk to your doctor about antibiotics or prefer to treat SIBO naturally on your own, always discuss your plans for treatment with your medical professionals.
How to Heal SIBO Naturally
As a nutrition professional I take a food-first approach whenever possible, so that’s how I chose to deal with SIBO. I’m also sharing a couple of supplements that have been researched and shown to help directly in fighting SIBO. These are the methods I implemented to help me heal from SIBO naturally.
- A Low-Carb Diet. One of the most effective ways to speed up the eradication of bacteria is to cut off its food supply. SIBO bacteria eat sugar, and sugar comes from carbohydrates. Avoid grains, beans, legumes, root vegetables, corn, and rice. Also any sweeteners at all including sugar, honey, corn syrup, and maple syrup. Focus your diet on foods high in protein and fat that you know digest well for you. This may include eggs, fish, poultry, red meat, almonds, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, etc. Some people have a lot of success implementing this strategy with the FODMAP diet, which is another diet that eliminates specific types of sugars.
- Lemon, Ginger, and Turmeric Shots – All three of these ingredients have benefits for digestion. Mixing the juice of a lemon, ginger juice, and powdered turmeric provides powerful support for the gut. Ginger has anti-microbrial properties and also supports motility. The curcumin in turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and will support the reduction of inflammation in the GI tract. You can often find these store bought, but just be sure there is no added fruit juice or sweetener.
- Lots of Water – If you want to heal from SIBO, you’ve got to stay hydrated! Hydration is crucial for healthy elimination. It also supports your detox pathways, and you’ll come to rely on this during the die-off period in which the dying bacteria begin releasing toxins.
- Oil of Oregano – One study from 2014 concluded that herbal remedies that contain high levels of carvacrol and thymol are effective tools in treating SIBO. Oil of oregano is high in both and also has anti-microbial properties. This is one of the supplements most professionals recommend to help you overcome SIBO.
- Digestive Enzymes – Digestive enzymes mimic the enzymes made in our mouth and pancreas to help digest our food. By enhancing digestion and breaking down food adequately, you can ensure you’re not supplying any extra fuel to the starving bacteria in the small intestine.
When it comes to healing SIBO naturally, I have to warn you that it gets worse before it gets better. The die-off period is brutal. Don’t be surprised if you feel tired and irritable during this phase.
The bacteria actually release gas during die -off, so it’s normal to be bloated (even more so) at this time. You may also experience headaches, intense cravings, fever, brain fog, and increased inflammation.
As difficult as it can be, you have to push through if you want to heal from SIBO. I recommend using a meditation or mindfulness practice to get through the toughest moments.
How Long Does it Take to Recover From SIBO?
Now you know how to get rid of SIBO – but you may also be wondering how long it will take to heal. Generally with a significant diet change, it may take anywhere from 2-6 weeks. The more committed you are to staying on track and sticking with your diet, the faster your healing process will likely be.
Keep in mind that the steps shared here help with healing and recovery. If you want to ensure that SIBO doesn’t occur again, you need to address the underlying cause. It’s important to figure out what caused you to develop SIBO in the first place so you can ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The Next Steps
Healing from SIBO can take its toll mentally, physically, and emotionally. Implement changes as soon as you can and stay committed to them. Start practicing the tips shared in this post, you’ll be on your way to healing from SIBO naturally.
Looking for support and accountability on your gut healing journey? Ask me about my consulting plans and rates today.