• Jan Clementson

7 Signs That Your IBS May be SIBO

IBS Frequency

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the UK. It effects up to 25% of the UK population - that's a staggering 16 million people - with women being twice as likely as men to be affected. It usually develops between the ages of 20-30 years and is often lifelong. Symptoms can be severe but vary between individuals and can come and go, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.

What Causes IBS?

The exact cause was thought to be unknown, ​​ although most experts believe it is related to gut sensitivity and problems digesting food. However, it has now emerged that a relatively unknown condition called Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) is estimated to be the underlying cause of IBS in around 60% of cases, with one study even demonstrating that figure to be as high as 84%.

What is SIBO?

SIBO refers to bacterial accumulation in the small intestine - an area that should be very low in bacteria. You will probably have heard of good and bad bacteria in your gut that, when in balance, provide health-giving properties. Those bacteria are located in your large intestine (AKA your colon), where they perform various functions. However, the small intestine is where the digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs. Having bacteria in this area interferes with digestion and absorption, as the bacteria compete with you for your food. Basically, they will 'cream-off' the best nutrients and will leave you with the leftovers. In particular, they feed off carbohydrates leading to carbohydrate malabsorption and fermentation, as well as malabsorption of other nutrients. This, in turn, leads to bacterial gas production and bacterial damage to the digestive tract itself. A whole host of symptoms and health conditions can then result.

7 Signs that your IBS my be SIBO

1. Abdominal Pain and Cramp - unexplained pain and cramping commonly occurs with SIBO and can leave you feeling miserable and very uncomfortable. Often, you can feel the pain move around your gut as though it were trapped wind.

2. Bloating - this is a very common. The bloating can be so extensive that you can look like you are pregnant, although often it can go down overnight. It is caused by gasses being released by the bacteria as they ferment and digest your food.

3. Constipation and/or Diarrhoea - you can experience either of these separately or alternate between both states. Here, the excess bacteria in your small intestine is affecting your normal bowel movement functions.

4. Gas and Wind - are also very common. The belching and flatulence result from the gasses produced by the bacteria as they eat and ferment your food. Because the small intestine is not designed to be full of gas, the gas will try to escape either upwards or downwards.

5. Acid Reflux - that burning feeling of acid coming from your stomach up into your oesophagus can result from the upwards gas back pressure from the bacterial gas forcing open the valve between the oesophagus and stomach (oesophageal spinchter).

6. Food Intolerances or Sensitivities - the bacteria in the small intestine interfere with proper digestion. So food does not get broken down properly and you start to become intolerant or sensitive to one or more foods.

7. Fatigue, Anxiety and Brain Fog - not only do the bacteria take for themselves your main energy source, carbohydrates, but the actual cell walls of the bacteria produce toxic compounds called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) that irritates the GI tract and triggers inflammatory molecules that can cause mood changes.

Do these symptoms resonate with you? Let's take a look at some of the risk factors that can expose you to SIBO and hence IBS.

Common SIBO Risk Factors

  • Health Conditions - food poisoning, stress, hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), IBD, diabetes, hypothyroid, appendicitis, endometriosis, scleroderma.

  • Drugs - antibiotics, PPIs, opiates.

  • Surgery