I feel like I could write 1000 pages on the subject of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and I feel like I have so much authority on it. But I won’t and I don’t. I have a history and the experiences of living many years with IBS and perhaps SIBO. And what is SIBO you ask? Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
I was first diagnosed with IBS when I was nine years old. However the treatment for it and the information available back in the early 70’s was few and far between. It took many roller coaster years of constant self treating interspersed with natural therapies to arrive where I am today and most of that time was like being told to switch on the light in a dark room but there’s no light switch.
IBS aka Spastic Colon, spastic-coliits. The word spastic is derived from the latin via the greek “spastikos”, meaning drawing in or tugging. The Symptoms of IBS and SIBO can often be the same. Here’s an outline of both.
Symptoms of IBS:
Abdominal cramping, pain, discomfort, spasms, contractions, distension, bloating.
Excess gases – belching/flatulence.
Changes of bowel movement – diarrhea, constipation or alternating between the two.
**As well as these symptoms SIBO also can present the following –
Malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies – which leads to anemia, B12, fatty stools.
Food intolerances, gluten and fructose.
Joint pain, Headaches, Nausea, Skin Problems, Depression, Head Fog, Fatigue, Asthma
What causes IBS/SIBO –
Here’s a paraphrase of an article from Bodyecology.com. Full article here.
Firstly there are the theories that have circulated the world of traditional and alternative medicine since the early 70’s.
- Depression and Anxiety – while no physical evidence can be found of IBS, emotional stress hormones can shut down the digestive system and therefore upset the gut and small intestines, but stress alone cannot cause IBS.
- Serotonin Imbalance – The bowels are highly dependent on serotonin for neural communication. 90% of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut. Researchers have found that too much Serotonin will contribute to diarrhea, while too little Serotonin will produce constipation, however Serotonin is not always the cause of IBS but short term control has bought some relief to some IBS sufferers.
- Gut Infection – History showed that people with food poisoning were often diagnosed with IBS, so physicians and doctors took to using antibiotic therapy. In some cases this therapy has worked, at least, short term. Therefore IBS could be the result of a gut infection.
- Bacterial Overgrowth – SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) IBS may be related to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. IBS symptoms can be helped when treated with a restricted diet which removes sugars, wheat, gluten and dairy from the diet. Both IBS and bacterial overgrowth show symptoms of gas and bloating, which if treated through diet can dissipate.
I always get to this part and go “Huh, which came first. The chicken or the egg?” In this case the bacterial overgrowth or the IBS? Frankly that question just does my head in! And I’ve lived with one or the other for most of my life. But there is some good news. You can treat both IBS and SIBO with the same approach.
NB: Don’t get confused here with candidiasis. Candida is a yeast that can become out of control if your gut lining and eco system is disrupted badly either by overuse of antibiotics, poor diet and other conditions that have weakened your immune system. Candida can exist along with SIBO.
Diagnosing SIBO can be hit and miss, although today there are more doctors who are interested in and training themselves to recognise these problems, even from 5 years ago when I was in the height of a severe bowel infection.
Three forms of testing:
Colonoscopy/gastroscopy – If you decide on a colonoscopy they can only see down to the first 2 feet of your bowel leaving the other 18 feet as a deep dark mystery.
Breath Testing – The other form of testing which is done through a breath test using Hydrogen/methane is not 100% accurate as it has a hit rate anywhere between 20 and 75% leaving too many patients undiagnosed.
Bowel Stool Analysis – You will find some doctors who are connected with labs that specialise in this form of testing. Very helpful test, especially if there is any suspicion of parasites.
So how to treat it –
Whether it’s IBS/SIBO and/or Candida – the good news is the same treatment should hit all of them on the head at the same time. A bit like “killing 3 birds with the one stone (or diet in this case).”
Doctors are now treating SIBO with a low dose antibiotic therapy. While this might work short term, it’s not a great option for a long term solution as it won’t promote a strong and healthy ecosystem of the gut, which then leaves you vulnerable to things like candida and more bacterial overgrowth as well as antibiotic resistance.
Usually the conditions that have led to SIBO and IBS are the best place to start treatment.
1.Low stomach acid – stomach acids are there for several reasons. They help break down foods for easier digestion, they produce enzymes and help with nutrient absorption as well as preventing infections and killing off unwanted bacteria.
2.Disrupted Bowel Contractions – the bowel is a muscle that like any other muscle moves and contracts to perform a vital function, in this case to sweep the bowel clear of any debris and bacteria. It’s called MMC (Migrating Motor Complex or cleansing waves). If this becomes impaired in any way it can lead to the bowel not being able to empty at all or emptying too much. In my experience exercise is a vital component to repair the MMC.
3.Antibiotics and the Birth Control Pill – Long term use of both or either of these can disrupt the gut flora causing an imbalance and an ecosystem that is vulnerable to bacterial overgrowth. If you are on the Birth control pill it is best to take a break every few months to give your gut a chance to recover. There are other more natural alternatives to antibiotics but they will take a bit more diligence and time then just popping a tablet once or twice a day.
4.Standard diets – diets that are mainly made up of simple carbohydrates, sugars, breads, foods from the freezer section, the tinned section and the boxed section will all lead to one thing. Illness! And a gut flora that will be depleted and overgrown with hazardous bacteria and fungus. The best aisles to stick to in the supermarket are the ones that run around the outside. They are the ones that have the fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken and fish in them. Pick very sparingly from the aisles that run through the middle as the nutritional value in these aisles are way below 0.
Fortunately you can treat most of the above conditions with diet and some support supplements to help your gut flora to improve and restore.
1.Assist the low stomach acids with digestive enzymes, probiotics in food form or liquids. Body Ecology has a great range of support products, culture starters and probiotic drinks.
2.You can make your own cultured veggies, or fermented smoothies. But be careful here that you don’t introduce them to soon. A gut that is overgrown with bad bacteria won’t cope with more bacteria even if it is good. You need to introduce the good bacteria slowly and in small amounts.
3.Elimination diet – You can use several diets to achieve this.
Body Ecology Diet, The Gaps Diet, The Fodmap Diet.
No one diet works for everyone and no one set of eating rules works for everyone. What is true though is the elimination of sugars (fructose,glucose,sucrose), gluten and dairy is essential for restoring your gut flora to a happy balance. Do this and add the probiotics, and digestive enzymes and you should be on your way to a happy tummy or at least a comfortable one.
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Do you have any of these sneaky conditions? Many people have them but try to ignore them. Next time your tummy feels bloated, ask yourself, is this a regular occurrence. Catch these problems in the early days and it will save you many years of good health.