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SIBO can be managed through diet, gut-designed supplements, and stress relief. Can it be cured? That’s the million-dollar question.

Elmer Bernard

Elmer Bernard

Founder and CEO of SIBO Clinic Canada

Elmer Bernard, the founder and CEO of SIBO Clinic Canada began asking himself whether SIBO could be cured almost eight years ago when he started to suffer from debilitating digestive issues. Lost, alone, and unable to find answers, Elmer put other aspects of his life on hold and dove into the world of SIBO.

For those who don’t know, SIBO is an acronym for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It’s a proliferation of bacteria normally found in the large intestine (colon) that has migrated into the small intestine. In addition, it has now been proven that SIBO can be linked to excessive bacteria coming from our mouths. A few suspected causes for SIBO are low stomach acid (which is our first line of defence in killing off bacteria from the food we eat), having a dysfunctional gallbladder (and therefore not being able to produce enough bile salts to destroy the leftover bacteria), dietary factors (like what, how, and how fast we’re eating), and stress.

SIBO symptoms go beyond gastrointestinal distress

SIBO symptoms can include many of the following: bloating, constipation, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, fatigue, anxiety, and excessive flatulence. Other symptoms can include bladder pain, joint pain, redness, and smelly breath. Factors that increase your risk of SIBO include having gastric surgery, an injury to the small intestine, Crohn’s disease, or diabetes. Research now shows that 70 percent of diabetics test positive for SIBO.

Our small and large intestines are home to trillions of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, collectively known as the microbiome. The microbiome is affected by genetics, stress, diet, and environmental factors, which can either be beneficial or increase the risk for disease. The small intestine usually has fewer bacteria than the large intestine due to the rapid flow of contents. In SIBO-positive individuals, however, the microbiome becomes compromised. Stagnant food remains in the small intestine and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

Christian Turbide

Dr. Christian Turbide

Gastroenterologist, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary Medical School

Dr. Christian Turbide, a gastroenterologist, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary Medical School, and managing partner with SIBO Clinic Canada, says that the main difference between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and SIBO is that IBS is a pain syndrome. “It’s defined by the presence of chronic abdominal pain that lasts for at least three months, along with a change in stool and bowel movement frequency. SIBO, by contrast, doesn’t always present with pain,” he says.

Non-invasive breath tests make SIBO testing easy

Though there are many symptoms of SIBO, the most common is chronic bloating, says Dr. Turbide. “Patients are often told that they’re ingesting too much air, which is causing gas. They’re told to stop chewing gum or drinking carbonated drinks,” he says. “New research is showing that the gas is being produced by bacteria, and the food that you’re eating is being fermented by gut bacteria, causing gas and bloating.” Dr. Turbide notes that other factors can also cause gas and bloating, such as eating too much fructose or having a sensitivity to gluten. This is why he says that it’s important to be tested for SIBO.

After learning about SIBO, Elmer discovered that he wasn’t alone with his symptoms or his frustration with long wait times for SIBO testing. So, he decided to launch SIBO Clinic Canada, which provides simple, non-invasive breath tests that can be ordered without a referral and mailed directly to your home. The test involves drinking lactulose, which is a non-absorbable sugar and then collecting breath samples over the course of a few hours. The test measures the amount of hydrogen or methane that you breathe out. A rapid rise in exhaled hydrogen or methane may indicate bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Following the test and a positive diagnosis, SIBO Clinic Canada clients work with a practitioner to find the best ways to ease their symptoms.

Testing for SIBO can bring answers and relief

“I see a lot of patients who have been looking for answers for a long time, and SIBO testing is a validation. They’re relieved to have that confirmation that there’s something wrong and that they’re not imagining it,” Dr. Turbide says.

“Ask yourself, what are your stress levels? What’s the source of the stress? How is your diet — are you actually feeding this overgrowth of bacteria? Are there toxins in your environment? You can’t just treat SIBO and expect it to be cured,” says Elmer. “SIBO is a defence mechanism of our bodies reacting to stress and other environmental factors. You have to get to the root cause and then you can move forward in your healing.”

Common treatments for SIBO include antibiotics, gut-designed supplements (which can be found on the SIBO Clinic Canada website), and a diet of low fermentable foods. However, Elmer says that to prevent or treat SIBO, people need to deal with underlying issues first. He points out that SIBO is becoming more and more widespread, which is no doubt an expression of the toxic world we live in. If one’s microbiome isn’t balanced, then SIBO will become a reflection of that problem, not to mention many other causes.

Taking a holistic approach to managing SIBO

According to Elmer, simply treating SIBO is only one piece of the puzzle. If this is the only focus, be sure to expect its return.

There are so many other factors within our control, including diet, exercise, stress management, sleep hygiene, light exposure, and proper nutrition. All of these factors impact our microbiome and the likelihood of success in healing SIBO. Simply addressing SIBO with antibiotics or herbal treatments alone is inadequate. In fact, that goes for any disease, ailment, or symptom from which you may be suffering.

Our gut should be our top priority. Build a healthy routine and stick to it day in and day out, especially as you age. Stress is our enemy, especially to our microbiome. Developing a healthy routine and sticking to it is our first line of defence. Listen to your body. How is it responding? Don’t be afraid to make changes until you find your best routine.

This is your key to not only a healthy gut but a healthy lifestyle. SIBO is secondary — start with what could be causing SIBO, and the likelihood of recurrence may disappear.

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