Have you tried medications and supplements to cure SIBO but found that your digestive health is not improving? Chances are, you are not improving your digestive function, which is key to resolving SIBO naturally. Here are six techniques you can use to improve your SIBO symptoms, naturally.
But first, let’s recap.
What is SIBO?
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and if you have this, you’re probably ready for some digestive health relief.
We are supposed to have living organisms in and on our bodies. The problem is when we have these critters in the wrong places. Pets can be fun, but I’ll bet you have a strong preference between a puppy in your living room or a family of bats in your attic – eek! Our body feels best when we have a thriving, diverse ecosystem of bacteria and other organisms in our large intestine. If you have too much bacteria in your small intestine that is SIBO: essentially, you have too many critters in the wrong place.
What are the symptoms of SIBO?
If your belly just never seems to feel good, you may be wondering: do I have SIBO?
Symptoms of SIBO vary from person to person, but can include on or more of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux
SIBO can be a challenge to diagnose because there is no gold standard. There are often false positives and negatives. Diagnosis by your physician should include a review of your health history and symptoms as well as ruling out other possible conditions. The most common method of diagnosing SIBO is with breath testing. It’s simple and non-invasive (1). As functional nutritionists, we can help you to work with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.
What causes SIBO?
SIBO is a complicated topic and many factors are at play to how you feel on a day to day basis. There are many possible root causes. Check out this blog post to read more about what causes SIBO. And keep in mind, you may have more than one root cause.
One cause of SIBO we see quite often in our practice is digestive dysfunction. This can include any or all of the following:
- Low stomach acid
- Not enough bile
- Not enough digestive enzymes
- Slow motility
- Ileocecal valve malfunction
How to improve digestion?
Our health and digestion are dynamic. There are many things that influence how you feel day to day and what foods feel good to eat. Digestion is the process of taking your food apart so that we can use it for energy and as the building blocks for all of our body’s processes.
Since SIBO is caused, in part by digestive dysfunction, improving digestion is the first step to resolving your digestive health for good.
You can do a lot to improve your digestive health, as well as how you feel during and after meals. We can help.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Stimulate stomach acid
Does apple cider vinegar help with SIBO symptoms? It might!
Your stomach is supposed to be very acidic. This environment is necessary for your body to break down proteins, absorb vitamin B12 and kill pathogens – those bad bacteria that might otherwise make you sick.
Having some apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, in a glass of water can encourage your stomach to make more acid. We recommend starting with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in ½ of a cup of water, before meals.
This will help stimulate stomach acid, which in turn, stimulates digestive enzyme production. It can also stimulate bile flow. Triple bonus!
Note: this recommendation is not applicable if you’re on acid-reducing medication.
Bring on the bile
What is bile? Bile is a digestive fluid that is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder until your body needs it.
Bile is important for normal digestion. It helps the fats and oils from your foods to mix with water so that they can be digested.
And the bonus for SIBO? Bile can inhibit the bacterial overgrowth naturally, as well as stimulate motility. And we know that SIBO is caused by slowed motility of the small intestine (2).
You can stimulate bile flow by having more bitter foods, such as kale and arugula. Try swapping your spring greens for arugula or kale in your morning smoothie.
Certain herbs, including turmeric and ginger, can also stimulate bile flow. Ginger and turmeric can be added to your evening stir fry. Ginger tea can also be helpful, but be cautious if you’re prone to diarrhea as ginger tea might make that worse.
Chew your food really well
How many times do you chew each bite of food? If you’re like most people, not enough! You probably chew a few times, swallow, and have the next bite queued up on the fork before the previous bite has even reached your stomach.
Chewing food thoroughly – really thoroughly – helps each bite of food to mix with saliva from your mouth. Surprisingly, this is the start of digestion because your saliva actually contains digestive enzymes.
Have you ever done the trick in biology class where you chew (and chew, and chew) a cracker until it begins to taste sweet? That is digestion taking place right in your mouth: the long carbohydrate molecules are chopped into simple sugars by the enzymes, and so it tastes sweeter over time.
Slowing down and thoroughly chewing your foods also helps your body to be in rest and relax mode, which further improves your body’s opportunity to digest your meal without having negative side symptoms. We’ll talk about a breathing technique in just a bit.
Being dehydrated is a really common risk factor for constipation. And if you’ve had diarrhea, you’re at greater risk of being dehydrated.
How much water is enough? The general rule of thumb is to use your body weight, in pounds, as a guide. Take your weight, divide by two, and drink that number in ounces. A 150-pound person should aim for 75 ounces of water each day.
We recommend sipping water throughout the day, not chugging, a few times each day, as chugging water can make symptoms worse.
More gentle foods
If your gut is completely stressed out, offer it a break. Taking a break from foods that are difficult for your gut to digest can help to improve your SIBO symptoms.
- Have more cooked vegetables than raw
- Enjoy blended soups and smoothies, instead of salads
- Skips nuts and seeds
And try not to feel discouraged if you’re missing your favorite foods. These changes are not recommended for forever; they’re a way to offer you relief, as fast as possible, so that your gut can rest and heal.
Speaking of rest – when was the last time you stopped, closed your eyes and took a few calming deep breaths? We recommend doing relaxation exercises before and after each meal. They don’t take long, but they can really help improve your digestion.
The benefit to you and your body is that deep breathing gets your body into rest and relaxation mode, as opposed to fight or flight mode.
Here’s how to do it:
- Before eating, take a slow, deep breath in for a count of five and exhale slowly for a count of seven
- Repeat five times
- Enjoy your meal, chewing each bite thoroughly
- Finish your meal with the same five deep breathing exercises
That’s it! It’s simple, but takes practice to make a habit.
Can you improve SIBO naturally?
These changes can work together to enhance how your body feels, improving your digestion. The gut and the brain talk to one another all the time, by several different pathways. If your brain feels stressed, your gut feels it. If your gut is stressed or inflamed, it changes your mood and how your day feels. And the reverse is true; improving your stress with deep breathing also improves how your gut feels. Our whole body is connected.
For more information on natural remedies for SIBO, check out this article on whether antimicrobial herbs are better than taking antibiotics for SIBO.
You can resolve SIBO – but it takes working with the right practitioner to drill down to root causes and address those, not just treat symptoms. While these tips will offer relief soon, if you’re ready to work towards remission, please reach out – we’d love to help!