20 Steps I Took to Overcome SIBO
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) was a pain in my butt (and intestines) for a long period of time.
Not only was it causing me to look 6 months pregnant after eating but it was also messing with my immune system, hormones and mental health too!
If you aren't familiar with SIBO or its connection to hormonal health (specifically PCOS!), then give this post a read first.
I first developed this condition several years ago after several bouts of food poisoning whilst working at a summer camp in America.
It took me several years (and a lot of money) to fully overcome it, because for such a long time I wasn't addressing the driving factors of my issues, which I eventually found out to be hidden mold toxicity, sluggish thyroid function, mineral deficiencies & other gut infections (including parasites)
Luckily, I now had a much better understanding of this condition after several years of research and experience with clients who had SIBO. With these tools in my tool belt, I was able to easily clear the infection within 6 weeks and I am taking all the action steps to prevent it returning any time soon!
In this post i'm sharing the 20 steps I took to overcome SIBO, both initially, and during my recent experience...
#1 I viewed SIBO as a SYMPTOM & treated MY root causes
Let's start with the most important point. If you just chase the overgrowth & don't actually understand WHY you developed it in the first place, you will likely be part of the large group of people who struggle with relapses. Underactive thyroid function, low stomach acid, h.pylori infections, intestinal adhesions, high stress levels, poor bile flow & environmental toxicity (such as mold & heavy metals) are some of the most common drivers of SIBO to investigate.
#2 I took digestive enzymes
Supplementing with ox bile, digestive enzymes and HCL provided me with symptomatic relief and allowed me to fully digest and absorb the nutrients from my food. When food isn't broken down completely, this allows bacteria to feed on the 'left overs', and when we aren't absorbing our nutrients correctly, this can lead to depletion and poor immunity.
#3 I ate mindfully
At each meal time, I turned on a podcast (not the TV or Instagram) so that I could look at my food and fully appreciate each bite I took. I paid close attention to my hunger and fullness signals to prevent over eating. I tried to take a minimum of 20 minutes to consume my meals, so that my body wasn't rushed and had time to process the foods.
#4 I chewed my food
Each time I ate, I chewed my food until it was liquid. Even with smoothies and soups, I made an effort to keep them in my mouth long enough so that my salivary enzymes could start to break this food down. With SIBO, our digestive tract is already compromised, therefore I wanted to take the extra load and stress of my gut by breaking my food down physically, before swallowing.
#5 I managed my stress
I did a lot of work on my mindset, suppressed emotions and included relaxation practicess. When we are stressed, this can lower our digestive enzyme secretions, slow down peristalsis (movement) of the intestines and reduces secretory IGA, which is a marker of gut immunity. The goal is to keep your nervous system in the parasympathetic state (rest & digest) as often as possible, when we are struggling with SIBO. For me, this included epsom salt baths, meditation, yoga, reading and walking in nature.
#6 I took antimicrobial herbs
I used high quality herbal supplements such as garlic, oregano, berberine, grapeseed extract and neem, to help eradicate the overgrowth of bacteria. Unfortunately, diet alone can't really help to clear gut infections like SIBO and it does require a protocol containing some of these natural antibiotics. The type of herb, dosage and duration can depend on your type of SIBO (hydrogen or methane dominant), how long you've had it and the other health conditions or medications you might be taking. Because I also had other infections (like parasite & yeast overgrowth), I had to treat these too
#7 I tried conventional antibiotics
When I first developed SIBO, my symptoms were quite severe and I wanted to get rid of the overgrowth as quickly as possible, therefore I paid privately to try the conventional antibiotic treatment which was a combination of Rifaxamin and Neomycin. Although this did work to reduce the level of overgrowth, it didn't clear the infection completely and I did still have to use herbal antimicrobials after this treatment.
#8 I used a prokinetic agent
In order to keep my intestines moving and stimulate the migrating motor complex (MMC), I took supplements including ginger, 5HTP, triphala and magnesium citrate each night before bed. Slow motility can allow food to 'back log' in the intestines and provide food for bacteria, which allows them to overgrow. A common mistake I see is that people fail to incorporate a prokinetic agent into their protocol, post SIBO. This is one of the reasons relapse occurs so frequently. Methane dominance is usually associated with slow motility, as is hypothyroidism, magnesium deficiency, diabetes and vagus nerve dysfunction
#9 I improved my MMC
Frequent snacking can also create a 'back log' of food in the intestine. Spacing your meals throughout the day allows the action of the 'cleansing waves' from the migrating motor complex to take place. This process only occurs once the stomach is empty, every 90 minutes. Similarly, I always try to leave 12 hours between my evening meal and breakfast the next day. Eating every 3-4 hours works best for most people in my opinion.
#10 I boosted my stomach acid
I believe that low stomach acid was a big driver of my SIBO struggles. This is likely due to times of high stress and/or mineral deficiencies (particularly zinc & sodium), which I was prone to. Hydrochloric acid should be as strong as battery acid and this helps us not only breakdown our food, but also protects our gut against pathogens. It also triggers the release of other digestive enzymes in the intestines and promotes regular motility of the gut. But you need cellular energy & enough minerals to make this. I also had to clear a h.pylori infection in my stomach, as this was suppressing acid production.
#11 I improved my thyroid health
The thyroid is our master metabolism gland and one of it's roles is to keep our digestive health strong, and keep food moving through the intestines. My thyroid was sluggish for a number of reasons including the fact i'd been on the birth control pill for 2 years and was severely nutrient depleted, mineral deficiencies from my body being under a lot of stress & poor gut health (from chronic infections). I supported my thyroid by eating nutrient dense foods, sleeping more, managing stress and taking supplements of the nutrients my body was lacking.
#12 I supplemented with magnesium
Most people are deficient in magnesium and this can lead to slow gut motility and constipation. Although I tried to eat a lot of magnesium rich foods, I just found that it wasn't enough for me, therefore I took a blend of magnesium glyincate and citrate each night to help my gut 'clear out' the waste and food from the day, whilst I slept. I also had regular epsom salt baths as this provided me with magnesium sulphate directly through my skin, which is a great option for someone who has impaired digestive function.
#13 I took spore based probiotics
The use of probiotics for SIBO is quite controversial, however I found that supplementing with a spore based probiotic actually helped me to clear my bacterial overgrowth, without having a detrimental affect to my other gut bacteria. Certain strains are actually believed to act as low dose antibiotics and can regulate the microbiome. I also struggled with histamine/mast cell issues + couldn't tolerate certain strains of bacteria in a lot of conventional probiotic supplements, however I've always tolerated spore-based probiotics very well!
#14 I moved my body
If we aren't exercising or moving our body at all during the day, this can promote stagnation within the gut. We need to MOVE for our gut to move too! At the time, I couldn't tolerate intense workouts because I was a little depleted, therefore I stuck with restorative activities like yoga and walking. Stretching in some of the common yoga poses can really help with the digestive function. I tried to walk 10,000 steps every single day, which helped not only my physical health, but also my mental health, as walking is great at lowering cortisol levels and promoting serotonin production!
#15 I reduced my fibre intake
There are many diets used by practitioners when trying to overcome SIBO. I had tried the low FODMAP and a very low carb diet, however I struggled to keep weight on and felt too restricted and drained with these options. Diet changes alone are not enough to eradicate gut infections like SIBO, however they can definitely help in symptom management and reduce the food substrates that the bacteria love to thrive on. I personally just reduced my fibre intake as before I was consuming a TON (which was unknowingly just making matters worse!). I focused on consuming meat, eggs, fish, healthy fats and smaller portions of fibrous vegetables. I was still consuming enough fibre to prevent constipation, but it had lowered significantly from what I was consuming
#16 I ate lots of high quality protein
We need high quality amino acids to keep our immune system and gut lining strong, therefore I made sure to consume a source of high quality protein at each meal. Because my digestive system was a little compromised because of this overgrowth, I made protein easier to digest by eating more shredded meat, slow cooked stews, pressure cooked proteins and soups. I also supported my stomach acidity by taking HCL supplements, to ensure that I was breaking down the delicious organic meats.
#17 I ate healthy fat
Fats like egg yolk, butter and olive oil , provided me with nutrients to support my thyroid health and the epithelial lining of the gut, which can be damaged by SIBO. They are also important at lubricating the gut and supporting motility. Taking digestive enzymes and nutrients like ox bile, helped me to absorb the fats and fat soluble nutrients, that come alongside these foods.
#18 I avoided hard to digest or raw foods
Because my digestive 'fire' and gut health was a little 'weak', I avoided raw vegetables, most fruits, grains, beans and un-soaked nuts, as these are difficult to digest for most people with SIBO. I was also dealing with fructose malabsorption, therefore I could only really tolerate berries as my fruit option for a good few months. In Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine, they often discuss the negative effects of 'cold' foods on the system, especially for someone struggling with digestive issues. It is much better to focus on warming and nourishing foods during this time, in order to take the stress of your gut.
#19 I made sleep a priority
I have always been a pretty good sleeper, but when my gut health was a wreck, I really made it a priority to sleep 8-10 hours each night. Our body only physically heals and repairs when we are asleep, especially during the hours of 10pm-2am. These are known as the 'golden hours' and we should all try our best to be in a state of deep sleep during this window, in order to receive the health benefits. When we are sleep deprived, this affects our cortisol levels, immune system, food choices, cravings, appetite and energy levels the next day, all of which are important factors to address when trying to overcome SIBO.