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What is SIBO? The signs you may be a sufferer

Susan Hunter Digestive Health Leave a Comment

If you have persistent digestive problems and, like many of us, do some Dr Googling to work out what could be wrong, you may have come across a condition called SIBO, also known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

It is now thought that up to 60 per cent of irritable bowel syndrome could actually be SIBO.

What is SIBO?

As the name suggests, it’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Bacteria migrate from the large intestine or colon where it could be growing in normal amounts but once it colonises the small intestine in large numbers it becomes pathogenic. That’s when it’s considered an infection and needs to be eradicated.

The small intestine is not meant to be sterile but it is supposed to have a much lower concentration of bacteria than the large intestine. The small intestine is also where we absorb most of the nutrients from our food, so keeping it healthy is critical for good gut health.

Why SIBO causes gut problems

When bacteria overgrow in the small intestine all sorts of problems are created.

The bacteria hinder the absorption of the nutrients in food that we eat. They also cause damage to the brush border/lining of the small intestine and create inflammation and intestinal permeability of the small intestinal wall.

If not addressed, this intestinal permeability can, over time, trigger an immune system activation. This happens because larger food particles cross over the small intestinal lining and into the bloodstream where the immune system detects them and creates an antibody response. This is what causes food allergies and intolerances.

Feeding the bad tummy bugs

The bacteria that overgrow in the small intestine feed on our food. As a result two things happen:

  1. Our food becomes their food supply and
  2. They keep the infection viable and as they rob the body of nutrients over time this causes deficiencies of iron, vitamin B12 and folate, their favoured nutrients to devour.


Whenever the bacteria feed on our food they produce gas that leaves the SIBO sufferer feeling bloated, windy and with changes in bowel movements. Some people will also have excessive belching or burping as their body tries to expel this excess gas. This makes for very uncomfortable times!

The bacteria overgrowing in SIBO also cause a reduction in fat digestion. This happens because the bacteria cause deconjugation of bile which leads to fat soluble nutrient deficiencies; that is, vitamin A, D and K deficiency. Often this fat maldigestion is seen as pale, floating and sometimes greasy stools.

So if you are exhausted, belching, bloated, flatulent and experiencing changeable bowel movements, then SIBO could be a possible cause that needs to be ruled out.

If you suffer from these symptoms, contact us to find out if we can help diagnose the problem.

Susan Hunter
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