SIBO stands for “Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth.” I first learned about it in a medical article published by the Lyme Times about 7 years ago. At the time, I was steeped in research regarding my husband’s case of Lyme.
One of his most predominant and mysterious symptoms was the fantastic ability to press on a painful tight muscle and trigger loads of belching.
When he was in a lot of discomfort due to muscular pain and tension, pressing and belching would bring some relief.
This all started following his first round of Doxycycline for Lyme disease, but no doctor believed his new talent was related to the Lyme or antibiotic treatment.
When my husband would demonstrate the operatic belching for his physician, the doctor would just stare slack-jaw in disbelief. When I described the symptom to physician friends or Lyme Literate MD’s seeking better understanding, they just shook their heads and either said, “Ha – that’s just not possible – no one belches because they press on a muscle!” or “Sorry, but I have no idea what that’s about.”
The article in the Lyme Times didn’t describe his exact symptom, but the circumstances and symptoms matched very closely. I suddenly knew that treating him for SIBO was a key to recovering his health.
Symptoms of SIBO include bloating, flatulence, belching, abdominal pain and cramping, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and nausea. It is characterized by a very sluggish digestive system, and is related to the increasing sluggish bowel that can occur from diminished autonomic nervous system activity in the gut (sometimes described as “bell’s palsy of the gut”).
SIBO, as the name explains, is a bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine. It is characterized by lots of fermentation in the gut, and this gas can travel to and congest other parts of the body as well. Your food (particularly carbs and meat) rot and ferment when it is poorly digested, and disease-causing bacteria take advantage and feed off the decaying food.
This causes the production of excessive levels of hydrogen and methane gas. One primary way to diagnose SIBO in addition to symptom presentation is through a breath test that measures the levels of these gases from your breath.
SIBO also results in the mal-absorption of nutrients which can lead to anemia and an overall weakening of the system. It goes hand-in-hand with – and is a common underlying cause of – well-recognized GI diseases such as leaky gut, Irritable Bowel, Candida yeast overgrowth, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease, chronic indigestion and more.
As such it is also at the root of much of the systemic inflammatory conditions and symptoms that people with Lyme and chronic disease suffer from – from headache to joint and muscle pain to fatigue, neurological inflammation, etc.
It seems that SIBO is not taught about in medical school, because the only doctors who know much about it are experienced Lyme doctors. This is because a common trigger of SIBO is oral antibiotics, as was the case for my husband.
Once recognized, the conventional medical treatment is… (drum roll please…) antibiotics! This is sometimes combined with what is known as an Elemental Diet, which is a 3-week liquid diet that consists of shakes concocted by the Nestle corporation (Vivonex), which contain amino acids added to a corn starch / maltodextrin base.
Not surprisingly, antibiotics alone do not usually create a lasting cure. In my clinical experience, you are better off avoiding them altogether.
The holistic approach to treating SIBO involves 3 major strategies that must all be done at the same time.
Strategy #1 = A nutrient-dense liquid diet for 3-6 weeks. While I don’t recommend Nestle’s version of the Elemental Diet, the approach is correct in that a liquid diet is necessary because it eliminates and starves the nutrient sources of the bad gut bacteria (undigested solid food).
This is a requirement for substantially reducing the population of bad bacteria and getting the population of good bacteria back on track. When this is done with high quality homemade or carefully sourced liquid foods, your body and energy grows strong while the infectious bacterial colonies become weak and die.
Strategy #2 = Regular colon cleansing. This is not an absolute necessity but it will accelerate and enhance the healing process and the clearing of the die-off and toxic disease material from your body. In working with scores of people on healing SIBO and chronic infection through therapeutic fasting I have witnessed a clear correlation between how much colon cleansing happens with how quickly and completely your body is able to heal and recover.
Strategy #3 = A rotational anti-microbial protocol. Depending on symptoms and known infections that are present in the gut, I create a personalized rotation for each individual. Examples of natural antimicrobials that I often use include allicin, berberine from herbs such as barberry, goldenseal, Chinese phellodendron or coptis, oregano oil, olive leaf, clove, terminalia, black walnut hull, and many others.
Follow-up Strategy #4 = A grain-free diet once returning to solid food. Most people with SIBO do best with a GAPS or Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or some version of a paleo diet. All of these diets overlap with different emphases.
If you leave any of the 3 primary strategies out of the picture, your healing process will be slower, and may remain incomplete. SIBO is a stubborn problem, and recurrence is common.
It’s important to stay with the natural antimicrobial rotation, a clean healing diet, and colon cleansing routine for several weeks to several months after initial treatment to ensure that you remain SIBO-free for good.
A bonus of this treatment plan is that while solving SIBO, you can also treat chronic yeast overgrowth, parasites, Lyme, cytomegalovirus, and even eliminate biofilm. This approach can be individualized to treat your unique spectrum of gut-based infections, and a huge load of your disease burden can be released.
Not chewing solids for a while is a small price to pay, wouldn’t you say?
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