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Irritable Bowel System (IBS) is a common condition that causes all manner of digestive discomfort: from bloating and gas to diarrhea and constipation. While IBS patients face certain quality of life issues, the cause of their condition can be difficult to nail down – and therefore, difficult to treat at the source. Thankfully, scientific studies are uncovering a link between IBS and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), giving suffers a fighting chance to settle their stomachs and regain their quality of life.
Because both conditions exhibit strikingly similar symptoms, arriving at a final diagnosis – and effective treatment plan – can be quite challenging. In most cases, SIBO is just one piece of the GI puzzle and can be accompanied by other problems that cause your gut to go haywire.
If you’ve experienced prolonged digestive discomfort, chances are you’ll undergo (or have already undergone) a colonoscopy and/or endoscopy only to find that your results are normal. While these scopes and cameras are remarkable pieces of technology, they simply can’t cover the long narrow tube that is your small intestine, which stretches more than 20 feet long. These exams can rule out cancer, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis) and, by diagnostic exclusion, conclude that a patient is suffering from IBS.
But how can you tell if SIBO is the culprit behind the curtain? You’ll need to pay attention to a few warning signs, any of which could indicate that your IBS is the outcome of a bacterial overgrowth.
#1 - You’ve gone on a gluten-free diet, but your symptoms only improved slightly.
If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten and cross-gluten containing foods can be an effective way to ease your digestive symptoms. However, chances are that if your gluten-free lifestyle only partially freed you from IBS symptoms, there’s much more going on and you could be dealing with an underlying bacterial imbalance.
#2 - You feel worse when you eat fiber, starch, carbohydrates, and even resistant starches.
These ingredients (along with several others mentioned below) act as super food for the bad bacteria that’s causing your gut to get out of balance. As these ingredients fuel the bacterial imbalance, you’ll suffer from increased bloating, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and possibly diarrhea. Keep a 7-10 day food diary, detailing what you ate and how you felt. This journal can shed some lights on how your diet interacts with your IBS.
#3 - You feel worse when you eat certain kinds of sugar such as agave nectar, sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol).
Other sugar culprits can include high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, fructose, fruit juice concentrate.
#4 - You have a history of anemia (low red blood cells and low iron), low calcium levels (osteoporosis), low ferritin levels (iron storage), and/or low magnesium.
All of these symptoms point to malabsorption issues, which is an indicator that you’ve got a case of SIBO underlying your IBS.
#5 - You feel better after taking antibiotics.
If you’re suffering from bacterial overgrowth (as is the case with SIBO), decreasing the bacterial load (known as the antigenic load) in your body is an excellent way to ease your negative symptoms. However, simply killing them off is not enough – you need to implement a biological restraining order – ensuring that the bacteria doesn’t become a repeat offender. Antibiotics can provide short-term relief, but if it’s SIBO you’re fighting, you’ll find that your symptoms will repeatedly come back without proper attention.