Pop question: What do bloating, gas, anxiety, malabsorption, skin breakouts, allergies, ADD/ADHD, a slow metabolism and sugar cravings all have in common?
Answer: They are all side effects of “SIBO.”
The good news? You don’t have to struggle.
Beyond popping Tums, taking anti-anxiety pills, investing in zit fighting creams from Rodan & Fields, allergy shots, Ritalin and restrictive diets…there may be more to your current health struggles than meets the eye.
If you have SIBO (or another underlying gut issue for that matter)—and treat it—you may be amazed at how your health improves (in more ways than one).
Here’s all you need to know about SIBO, plus 5 steps for treating SIBO naturally and a bonus 7-Day Meal Plan.
SIBO 101: WHAT IS IT?
SIBO, or “small intestine bacterial overgrowth,” is a buzz word in health world right now, like “leaky gut” or “gut health.”
But what is it?
SIBO is a gut pathology (condition) characterized by the overgrowth of bacteria, either too many or the wrong (unhealthy) types, in the small intestine and colon.
Although your gut is home to trillions of bacteria (10 times the amount of cells in your body), when we have TOO much bacteria, or more unhealthy bacteria than healthy bacteria, then over this wreaks havoc on the health and balance of our overall gut flora over time.
These bacteria end up competing with the way your gut (and digestion) should operate—as they ingest many of the nutrients you eat (instead of your body and cells that need them). In addition, SIBO bacteria can mimic a garbage landfill in your gut—taking up residence, fermenting and rotting in your intestines, leading to the signs and symptoms associated with too much bacteria.
In short, since your gut is the “gateway to health” (for instance: 80% of your immune boosting and fighting cells are produced in your gut, 90% of your seritonin—feel good brain chemicals—are produced in your gut), when you gut flora becomes “imbalanced” or “out of sorts” than other body systems take a hit.
Enter: Bloating, constipation, poor digestion, allergies, pimples, brain fog, anxiety, low mood, obsessive compulsive thinking, blood sugar imbalances, and (for some), chronic diseases (autoimmune conditions, cancer, Alzheimer’s
The gut is connected to every single body system.
SIBO: HOW DO YOU GET IT?
SIBO doesn’t happen overnight.
Gut bacterial overgrowth can be an accumulation of multiple stressors or factors over the years, including:
- Low stomach acid (induced by stress, eating on the go, not chewing your food well, poor quality foods)
- Consuming artificial sweeteners, additives, diet foods, packaged foods and hydrogenated oils
- Consuming foods you’re intolerant to (and not recognizing your intolerances)
- Poor liver or gallbladder function (i.e. your toxin elimination organs) from a low-fat diet, excessive alcohol consumption or frequent eating out
- Not drinking enough water
- Not eating enough fat in our diet
- Lack of fiber (especially cooked veggies) in our diet
- High-sugar or coffee intake (coffee is the most cross-contaminating food with gluten)
- Stress—physical, emotional or mental (you carry stress in your gut)
- Long-term prescription medication use (including birth control pills) or NSAID use
- Disordered eating and eating disorders (that take a toll on your gut and your stress levels)
- Pathogens from traveling abroad (drinking foreign water or eating foreign foods)
- Poor sleep hygiene (sleeping less than 6 hours or broken sleep, which contributes to stress and a dtysfunctioning GI system over time)
- Exercise habits (sedentary or excessive)
For the modern-day Average Jane or Joe, it’s tough to pinpoint just one cause, and typically SIBO is attributed to multiple.
SIBO: HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE IT?
To date, the most popular method for confirming whether or not you have SIBO is using an at-home Breath Test.
After eating a 24-hour prep diet (consisting primarily of low-sugar and low-starch: proteins, Jasmine white rice, broths), breath testing is completed over the course of 2 to 3 hours, at home, during which you consume a lactulose or glucose substrate, then breath into a test tube every 20-30 minutes. The breath test captures the levels of hydrogen and methane gas you exhale in the tube—induced in your body after you’ve consume the sugary substance (lactulose or glucose substrate). If you do have SIBO, this substrate makes the SIBO “happy,” and concordantly test results will reveal a spike, or abnormal peak in methane or hydrogen gas levels during the test.
However, it’s important to realize that, while breath testing is the primary mode of testing to date, it is still not always 100-percent accurate—sometimes “missing” SIBO diagnosises, often due to skewed test results or conditions when patients conduct the test at home.
So how else can you know if you have it?
By asking this question: How do I feel?
Aside from breath testing, patient report and personal experience is equally valuable in the tricky diagnosis and treatment of SIBO.
The first step to assessment—beyond breath testing—is to consider your personal symptoms that may make you a candidate for SIBO (And note: these symptoms often go FAR BEYOND just gut health. In fact, 1 in 2 people with SIBO don’t experience gut issues at all, but other symptoms like a slow metabolism, anxiety or allergies).
Common SIBO symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain/discomfort
- Bloating and abdominal distention
- Low stomach acid (GERD, bloating shortly after eating)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (can be both cause and effect)
- In more severe cases, there may be weight loss and symptoms related to vitamin deficiencies.
- GI discomfort when eating carbs and sugars (hydrogen dominant SIBO)
- Continual “return” of yeast infections and Candida
- Gas and belching
However, if you DON’T have one of these, it doesn’t mean you’re in the “clear.”
In fact, sometimes, SIBO affected individuals don’t have gut symptoms at all!
NEWSFLASH: SIBO IS NOT ALWAYS FELT IN THE GUT
Other common (less known) symptoms of SIBO include inflammatory conditions like:
- Acne & skin breakouts
- Anxiety & mental health struggles
- Difficulty concentrating/focusing
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Hormone imbalances (PMS, PCOS, infertility)
- Low energy
- Nutrient deficiencies (anemia, low Vitamin D, B-12 deficiency, etc.)
- Thyroid imbalances
- Unwanted weight gain & inflammation
- Unwanted weight loss
If your health symptoms don’t seem to improve—no matter how “clean” you eat, or how many probiotics you take, or how much “gut healing” you do, it may be warranted to do some digging into SIBO testing and treatment.
SIBO: WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
If you and your healthcare practitioner do believe some of your signs and symptoms add up to SIBO, one of the clinical gold-standards I use in practice is to treat the gut for SIBO (naturally)—and if symptoms improve, then more than likely, you can connect the dots for yourself.
Since protocols for healing SIBO, focused on healing the gut, are safe and have very little side effects, typically the “worst” things you will experience include: Not feeling better (especially if you didn’t have SIBO to begin with), or a healing reaction, such as looser stools initially as your body gets rid of unwanted pathogens and gut bacteria that may be present (if you DO have SIBO).
HOW TO HEAL (NOT JUST MANAGE) SIBO
Many clients in my practice come to me saying, “But I already eat clean, low sugar, take a probiotic, eat yogurt, drink lemon water and have a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day, won’t this help?!”
Treating and healing from SIBO goes far beyond just taking a probiotic or sipping apple cider vinegar with meals.
While “clean eating,” probiotics and natural digestive boosting agents (lemon, apple cider vinegar) do a body good, if and when you have SIBO, you often have to go a step beyond a basic digestive wellness or gut maintenance protocol.
To get started, you can’t go wrong by partnering with a healthcare practitioner who is skilled in testing and treating SIBO—someone to help you gain clarity and understanding into the underlying issue.
Do you really have SIBO or is it something else?
Ironically, while SIBO is becoming a more commonly known condition and term, many GI doctors do not have training or look for SIBO. Hence why many people often take SIBO into their own hands. Working with a functional medicine practitioner, naturopath or nutritionist is often times the route many people end up taking to get to the bottom of their gut-related symptoms.
Although you can Google search all you want for help and healing as well, someone who can help guide you and customize a treatment protocol for YOU will save you time and money in the long run (no more shooting darts in the dark).
In the mean time, as you look for support, here are 5 more game-changing steps to treat SIBO—naturally:
5 STEPS FOR TREATING SIBO NATURALLY
- Nourishing Thyself
Nutrition is king when it comes to SIBO treatment, and it may sound boring, but you cannot go wrong with real food—particularly proteins, healthy fats, veggies, some fruits and starch, and of course, water. If it didn’t grow in the ground, walk the earth or swim in the sea, then it’s not real food (i.e. Quest Bars, Halo Top, Crystal Light).
In my practice, I coach my clients to eat with an “abundance” or “least restrictive” as possible mindset when it comes to food and a SIBO “diet”—primarily asking this question: How does food make YOU feel? —even “healthy foods.”For instance: In the throes of my own SIBO journey, I was a sweet potato fiend (still am actually). I LOVE sweet potatoes, and used to eat them at least one to two times per day—every day. As SIBO ensued, I began to experience chronic bloating, constipation and diahrrhea—daily.It couldn’t be the sweet potatoes—I thought.Wrong. My high sweet potato consumption wa“s highly connected to my SIBO symptoms—as I was feeding the gut bacteria, and I soon noticed when I cut back on the sweet potato consumption (for a time), my symptoms lessened. The same thing can apply to practically any food we eat and have food intolerances to—be it sweet potatoes, squashes, fruits, Brussels sprouts, almond butter, eggs—anything that just doesn’t make you feel well. Although these foods are healthy foods, if you’re gut bacteria enjoy feasting on them too, then they will let you know about it. If you’ve had gut “issues” for sometime, my “Love Your Gut” (anti-inflammatory) protocol has proved beneficial for many in healing from long term distress. It includes an initial 30-day “gut reset” based on real whole foods and low on some of the most universal, inflammatory foods (including: non-organic poor quality coffee, egg whites, chocolate, most nuts and peanuts, gluten, conventional/processed dairy, artificial sweeteners, and any personal ‘gut irritating’ foods—like cruciferous veggies or some fruits, depending on how you feel), followed by a reintroduction period. I don’t recommend this for everyoneThat said, when you ARE treating SIBO, it can be easy to quickly develop judgements, fears or restrictive mindsets around food.A lot of Google-world advice will tell you to avoid carbs completely, go on a ketogenic diet or irradiate FODMAPS (like potatoes, fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)— during SIBO treatment in order to “starve” the bacteria…however, not all foods (or carbs) for that matter are innately bad.In fact, when you ARE treating SIBO (with some of the steps below), it actually CAN be beneficial to eat some real-food based carbohydrates (starchy tubers and fruits) in order to “bring out” the gut bacteria that may be lying dormant in order for your treatment supplements and herbs to work and kill them off in the first place.What this may look like? A serving of berries or half a large green tipped banana with breakfast, some butternut squash or roasted carrots with lunch, and a small sweet potato or some Jasmine white rice with dinner. Real food carbs are NOT a bad thing—but you must ultimately judge how you feel (i.e. your gut symptoms and body symptoms). See your 7-day sample SIBO meal plan—below—for some inspiration.
- Use Quality (& Varied) Probiotics.
Probiotics are often referred to as “good gut bacteria,” however if you’re taking or eating a non-quality source of probiotics, then you really aren’t doing your gut any favors. In addition, for those with SIBO (remember: bacteria overgrowth), too many bacteria (even from probiotics) may not be such a good thing—especially since you already have overgrowth in your gut. You may be taking a probiotic but are you taking the right types for your gut right now? Lactic acid bacteria-based formulas in particular can sometimes do more harm than good for the individual with SIBO. For this reason, I typically recommend a soil based probiotic formula (like Prescript Assist)—sold here (under the SIBO Basic Dispensary), along with 1 to 2 condiment-sized servings of real fermented foods each day (i.e. not DanActive or fat-free yogurt). In addition, don’t neglect pre-biotics (the “food” or supplements) that feed probiotics to help them stick around in the long run, as well as digestive enzymes (like the “pac-mans” that can help eat your food and digest better). See more about choosing the right probiotics and pre-biotics for you (and saving money) here and aim to take 1 in the morning and 1 at night, and 1 serving of pre-biotic powder or foods each day.
- Supplement Smart: Anti-Microbial Herbs + Gut Loving Boosters
Gut healing herbs that help “kill off” gut bacteria overgrowth—if any are present—are game changers in any SIBO protocol. In conjunction with a basic digestive protocol (i.e. probiotics, digestive enzymes, pre-biotics), anti-microbials are like the “antibiotics” of traditional medicine—used to fight off disease. In my practice, I have a short-term 60-day gut-healing protocol I introduce clients to help them not just manage symptoms, but get to the roots of SIBO. However, for those working on SIBO “on their own” a couple formulas I recommend include: Metagenics Candibactin AR and Metagenics Candibactin BR —taking a dose twice per day, once in the morning and at night. In addition, some other simple “game-changing” gut loving herbs, food and supplements include:
- Atrantil —a supplement specifically to treat SIBO, especially if you experience bloating frequently after meals.
- Chewing on ginger or eating roasted crushed garlic (or Allacin- garlic supplement),
- Taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 2-4 ounces of water before meals
- Sipping warm ginger or licorice tea, as well as bone broth daily
- Biofilm Disrupting Enzymes to break up the tough outer layer of bacteria (taken away from food, on an empty stomach 1 to 2 times per day, like Interfase Plus—found here in the “SIBO Basic” Dispensary)
- Monolaurin—an extract of Lauric Acid to fight off fungi and biofilm (taken with food, like Lauracidin )
- Address Stress.
No matter how many supplements you take, you cannot supplement yourself out of stress or lifestyle factors (i.e. nourishing yourself). If you’re burning a candle at both ends, overexercising or not moving at all, losing out on sleep, eating dry foods (i.e. a lack of hydrating green veggies and produce) or diet foods, disrupting your circadian rhythms with late-night screen time, and trying to “do it all,” you can bet your bottom dollar that your SIBO recovery journey is going to be a bit longer. Like any source of inflammation or injury, in order to heal, your body needs breathing room to do it. Did you know lack of sleep alone is connected to increased constipation and impaired detoxification? Hello poor gut health! Or, did you know that training—too much, too hard, or not varying your exercise—is connected to low stomach acid? Hello poor gut health. “Balance” is a lucrative term, but start SMALL and simple. What is ONE area of your life that may be out of balance right now? How can you realign and connect (with yo’ self)? ONE area or drain to cut out? ONE thing to take off your plate? ONE small step you can take towards mixing up your exercise?
Overhwlemed? Don’t go it alone. Treating and healing SIBO is not easy. If you want to get to the root of your gut “issues” or want a custom nutrition and custom supplement plan made just for you, connect with me at Thrive today and let’s help you love your gut—from the inside out (no crazy restrictive diets, long-term medications, or bro-science included). My aim is to help you to ultimately thrive—so you can do the all the other amazing things in this world you were really meant to do!
7-DAY SIBO HEALING MEAL PLAN
- 2-3 Pastured Egg Yolks, scrambled in 1 tbsp. Ghee
- Power Greens + Mushrooms + Asparagus
- 1/2 Avocado
- 2 Slices Turkey Bacon
- Wild-Caught Tuna
- 1/2 Avocado + Mustard
- Coconut Flour Tortilla
- Side of Carrot “Fries” (roasted carrots)
- “Cheesy” Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Chicken
- Pan-fried Greens in Coconut Oil (Use nutritional yeast)
- Turkey Jerky
- Collagen Protein + Carob Powder
- Lite Coconut Milk
- 1 Tbsp. Sunflower Seed Butter
- 1/2 Green tipped Banana
- Heaping Handful Greens
- Turkey “Unwich” in Collard Green Lettuce Wrap with Sprouts, Pickles & Avocado Oil Mayo
- Side Roasted Butternut Squash
- Herb Crusted Salmon
- Roasted Asparagus with Garlic & Lemon
- Cauliflower Mash with Ghee (instead of Butter)
- Steamed Baby Carrots with Paleo Ranch Dressing
- Chicken Sausage (nitrate-free)
- Spinach in Ghee
- 1/2 Avocado
- Mixed Greens with Leftover Salmon
- Oil & Apple Cider Vinegar
- Roasted Asparagus Spears & Roasted Beets
- Pastured Chicken Thighs
- Small Sweet Potato
- Rainbow Chard in Coconut Oil
- Avocado Chocolate “Mouse” (use maple syrup instead of honey)
- Coconut Flour Blueberry Muffins
- Turkey Sausage
- Leftover Chicken Thighs
- Mixed Greens
- Coconut Butter
- Roasted Beets
- Shredded Chicken or Pork
- Cinnamon Plantains in Coconut Oil
- Pan-fried Collard Greens in Ghee
- Cold Pressed Green Juice
- Chicken Sausage
- 1/2 Avocado
- Greens in Coconut Oil
- Leftover Shredded Pork
- Mixed Greens
- Bison Meatballs
- Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Pesto
- Collagen Protein Bites
- Goat’s Milk Fermented Plain Yogurt
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Protein Powder
- Leftover Bison Meatballs & Zucchini Noodles
- Mediterranean Chicken Pizza
- Coconut Butter Packet
- No Oats Oatmeal
- Canned Wild Salmon
- 1/2 Avocado
- Mixed Greens
- Paleo Cesar Dressing (Primal Kitchen)
- Grass-fed Steak
- Small Japanese Sweet Potato with Coconut Butter
- Celery with Sunbutter