Is small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) interfering with your quality of life? If you are constantly bloated and feel like an inflated balloon, or suffer from recurrent nausea, abdominal pain, and gassiness among others, it’s hard to feel like your best self. Luckily, learning how to treat SIBO naturally is very simple!
SIBO isn’t something you have to live with for the rest of your life. There are actions you can take to treat SIBO naturally, improve your digestion, and increase your quality of life once again. (1)
There is a future in which you don’t have to deal with constant bloating and other digestive problems. In this article, we’ll explore how you can treat SIBO naturally to make that future a reality.
One of the best strategies for treating SIBO naturally is to try and starve the bacteria. This will require an elimination diet, where you stop eating certain foods, such as sugars and lactose, from your diet which are known to worsen SIBO and make the bacteria grow. (2)
While many people will do an elimination diet for a few weeks or months and then go back to how they were eating before, others choose to reintroduce the foods they've eliminated one by one to see which foods they react badly to (causing symptoms like bloating and/or abdominal pain) and then eliminate those foods that affect their guts from their diets completely.
Some people even choose to stay on their elimination diets permanently and not reintroduce the foods they've stopped eating just because they feel so well.
How you approach your elimination diet is entirely up to you. Here are a few elimination diet ideas you can try to help treat SIBO:
Go on a Low FODMAP Diet
Cutting FODMAP foods from their diets is one of the first things many people try when they have SIBO. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. They are short-chain carbohydrates, which aren't well-absorbed in the small intestine. They tend to absorb water and also ferment in your colon, which is how they cause gas and bloating.
Some people choose to only stop eating FODMAPs and nothing else, while others eliminate FODMAPs as well as other foods. You can choose to only eliminate FODMAP foods or eliminate them as part of a more elaborate elimination diet to treat SIBO naturally.
So, how do you follow the low-FODMAP diet? Here are the most common FODMAPs to avoid:
- Fructose: Found in fruits like apples, bananas, watermelon, and pears, as well as other foods like honey and processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup. Any food or beverage with added sucrose should also be avoided, as sucrose consists of two types of sugars, namely fructose and glucose.
- Lactose: Found in dairy products, such as ice cream, milk, cheese, kefir, yoghurt, and chocolate.
- Polyols: Found sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, maltitol, and sorbitol, as well as in various fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, mushrooms, blackberries, pears, apricots, apples, peaches, green beans, butternut, and sweet potato.
- Galactans: Found in soy products and legumes.
- Fructans: Found in many foods like cabbage, onions, garlic, broccoli, asparagus, chicory root, and grains like bread, pasta, rye, spelt, and wheat. (3, 4)
Eliminate All Carbs and Sugars From Your Diet
Since sugars and carbs can ferment in your gut and cause the bacteria to grow, it can be an effective strategy to eliminate all carbohydrates and sugar from your diet for a few weeks or months to starve and kill the bacteria naturally. You don't need to be on a low-carb or zero-carb diet forever. It's a temporary strategy to try to correct the bacterial overgrowth in your gut naturally.
This includes all grains, starchy carbohydrates, fruits, processed carbohydrates, candy, sugar-sweetened beverages, and dairy products like milk.
The GAPS Diet
The GAPS diet is a type of elimination diet sometimes used to treat SIBO naturally. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and the diet was designed by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.
It requires you to eliminate refined carbs, grains, starchy vegetables, and pasteurised dairy from your diet. The diet is used to try and treat various conditions naturally, but because it eliminates many foods that can lead to the growth of bacteria in the small intestine, it can also be an effective elimination diet for treating SIBO naturally. On this diet, you are allowed to eat fresh meat and animal fat, eggs, vegetables, and fermented foods. (4)
The diet consists of an introduction phase and the full GAPS diet. If you want to know more about how to follow the GAPS diet, you can find the full protocol in the book Gut and Physiology Syndrome by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is another diet commonly used to try and get rid of SIBO naturally. It was created by Dr Sidney Valentine Haas.
How do you follow the Specific Carbohydrate Diet? You reduce how many complex carbohydrates you're consuming from certain food sources. On this diet, you'll eliminate grains, most starches, dairy products that contain lactose, and simple sugars.
This way of eating can reduce inflammation and gut-related problems like bacterial overgrowth naturally. You are allowed to eat unprocessed meat, fish, eggs, fruit, nuts, vegetables that aren't canned, vinegar, mustard, olive oil, and coconut oil. (4)
The Elemental Diet
To treat SIBO naturally, you can also try an elemental diet, which is a diet that consists of predigested micronutrients (usually in liquid or powder form) that are absorbed in the proximal small bowel. This diet is usually done under medical supervision and was designed for people who have severe digestive problems.
The diet limits the nutrients that are delivered to the bacteria located in the distal part of the small intestine. In one study in which participants were on an elemental diet for 2 weeks, it showed that there was an 85% symptomatic response rate.
The downsides to this diet are that it can be quite expensive to follow, can be difficult to adhere to, and most people don't find it very palatable. The diet is also usually only possible to follow with the help of your doctor. (3, 5, 6)
Go on a Low-Fibre or No-Fibre Diet
While you've probably been told to eat more fibre for a healthy digestive system, if you have SIBO, consuming too much fibre can make your symptoms worse. Fibre cannot be broken down and absorbed in the body. It stays in the digestive tract and can also slow down digestion if you consume a lot at once, which gives the bacteria in your small intestine more time to ferment the fibre, making you more bloated and helping the bacteria you're actually trying to get rid of to grow.
A good idea is to reduce your fibre intake or even eliminate fibre from your diet entirely for a few weeks or months to help starve the bacteria in your small intestine. Don't worry, you will still be able to have healthy bowel movements if you don't consume fibre. In fact, many people have found the biggest bloating and constipation relief when they eliminated fibre from their diets. (7)
Think of fibre as a bulking agent. It may make you have more bowel movements if you consume a lot of fibre, but that's just because there is more to eliminate from your bowels, thanks to the fibre filling up your colon.
It might seem daunting to eliminate so many foods from your diet, but if you can get rid of your SIBO naturally, doing an elimination diet will be well worth the sacrifice. It’s a small price to pay for good gut health, and an elimination diet is usually temporary. However, you should bear in mind that any significant changes made to your diet should be done with the help of your doctor or nutritionist based on your specific needs and characteristics.
One of the most effective strategies for treating SIBO naturally is to reduce meal frequency. Even though you may have been told to eat multiple small meals a day for good digestion, healthy blood sugar levels, and to maintain a healthy weight, this is a bad idea if you have SIBO.
Because of something called the migrating motor complex (MMC complex). The migrating motor complex is a gut motility pattern—a pattern of electrical waves that move (“migrate”) through your gastrointestinal system. It helps food move through your small intestines.
Every time you eat, it pauses the migrating motor complex. If you don’t leave enough time between meals and eat snacks regularly, you will keep interrupting the MMC complex, which then means that food stays in your digestive system for longer, giving it more time to ferment and for bacteria to feed on the undigested food and grow.
If you have SIBO, it’s best to wait at least 4 to 5 hours between meals to allow the food you ate to move through your digestive system properly, before you eat again and halt the MMC complex. (9)
When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it slows digestion, interferes with the MMC complex, and leaves food in your system for longer to ferment. How does this happen? Well, when your body thinks you’re in danger and that you will need to either fight or run away to save your life, digestion won’t be its biggest priority and it will direct blood flow away from your digestive system and to your limbs, which you’ll need to take flight or fight.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for an efficient MMC pathway. Sleep is important for helping to manage stress. Your circadian rhythm (your body’s 24-hour internal clock which controls your sleep-wake cycle) plays a role in the control of your gut motility. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted from a lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep, it can affect your gut motility and slow it down.
Gut motility slows at night and MMCs occur less frequently. Staying up late and eating late at night can therefore contribute to SIBO. (10)
Some studies show that taking probiotics can help treat SIBO. However, it might be better to introduce probiotics once you've tried to starve the bad bacteria for a few weeks or months (depending on the severity of your SIBO). The reason for waiting is that you don't want to just introduce more bacteria into your gut when you're trying to kill the bacteria in your small intestine. Taking probiotics can potentially increase the overgrowth of methanogenic bacteria and increase your risk for the methane predominant variant of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. (3)
There are studies that show that taking probiotics doesn’t prove to be very effective in preventing small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. However, it can potentially relieve abdominal pain and decontaminate SIBO. (11)
But once you've starved and killed the bad bacteria in your gut, you can then introduce a probiotic to supply your gut with good bacteria that can then grow and proliferate. After taking a probiotic for a while, you should end up with an ideal amount of good bacteria in your gut and not a lot of bad bacteria. (12)
As mentioned earlier, an important part of curing SIBO is treating any nutrient deficiencies you developed as a result of the condition. If you have had SIBO for a while, most likely your levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K are depleted. So, you would do well in consuming supplements until you get back to the right levels.
You can also develop deficiencies in the enzymes lactase and fructase because of inflammation of the small bowel brush border. (1)
Herbal remedies can be just as helpful and effective as antibiotics when it comes to treating SIBO. When researchers compared taking three courses of the antibiotic rifaximin to taking herbal remedies containing ingredients such as sage leaf, oregano oil, berberine extract, wormwood oil, Indian barberry root, and lemon balm oil, they saw that the herbal remedies can be just as effective. (13)
A natural approach may take longer than opting for pharmaceutical medicines like antibiotics, but it won't cause as much damage as taking antibiotics potentially can.
While doctors will often prescribe antibiotics to treat SIBO and antibiotics can kill the bacteria in your gut, it’s important to note and remember that SIBO can often be caused by antibiotic use.
Many people develop SIBO after taking antibiotics because they don’t only kill the bad bacteria in your body but also the good, protective bacteria too. When the protective bacteria has been killed, it makes it easier for other bacteria to grow.
It can also result in small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO) like a yeast overgrowth because there aren’t enough good bacteria, which allows the yeast to ferment the fibres in your digestive system and cause bloating.
SIBO can be difficult to treat, even with the inclusion of antibiotics. People who take antibiotics to treat SIBO also generally have a high rate of recurrence. In fact, one study showed that 45% of people who took antibiotics to treat their SIBO experienced a return of the problem, and the symptoms are often worse when a recurrence happens. (14, 15)
SIBO can be difficult to get rid of completely for the rest of your life as there are things that can trigger its return, such as antibiotic use, stress, and a poor diet. Therefore, it's important to stay on top of your SIBO symptoms and to try and live a lifestyle that reduces the chances of it returning.
If you do notice a return of your SIBO symptoms, it's best to start a treatment protocol as soon as possible and adjust your lifestyle to take care of the problem. If you've naturally treated it successfully once before, you'll know how to eliminate it once again.
Once you’ve incorporated the tips we recommend above on how to treat SIBO naturally, we highly recommend you supplement with Complete Gut Repair. The prebiotics it contains can help the good bacteria in your gut grow. The collagen will also help to heal any gut damage you may have and will help support your gut for future gut health. Complete Gut Repair can also help reduce sugar and food cravings, which can make losing weight easier if that is your goal, and it can also make it easier for you to go longer between meals and stick to 3 meals a day for your migrating motor complex in order to naturally prevent bacterial overgrowth and SIBO problems in the future.
We hope this article has given you enough clarity on how to treat SIBO naturally and will help you get to a point where you can feel like your best self, free of digestive problems.