1 in 5 adults in the US and Australia suffer from bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Yet, not many are aware of it. Bacterial overgrowth in gut can be a trigger for different conditions that could compromise the normal functions of the body. This disorder can induce malnutrition, abdominal pain and other digestive diseases that represent a threat to the normal functioning of your digestive system (1).
While many health problems are a by-product of unhealthy habits, in this case, the threat to your health comes from biological organisms that lie in your environment: Bacteria. Let’s explore how this type of organism can affect your body, your gut and, overall, your digestive system.
Also known as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), bacterial overgrowth in the gut is a medical condition that refers to an imbalance in the number of bacteria in the intestinal flora. To understand why you’re suffering from this condition, you need to know how the intestinal flora and the bacteria relate to each other to ensure the correct functioning of the overall digestive system.
Your intestines harbour microorganisms in their walls due to the exposure they’ve had throughout your life. From a young age, we’re exposed to bacteria present in breast milk and, later on, in the different types of food we consume, contributing to the growth of the bacterial population and adaptation (2). So, having bacteria in your gut is actually good for you.
When you have a balanced level of bacteria in your gut, you have a healthy intestinal flora, which serves two big purposes:
- A variety of bacteria is key to supporting your immune system and helping you stay safe from external biological agents. The interaction between gut bacteria and the immune system is critical since the immune system evolves and adapts, improving its efficiency against bacterial organisms. (3)
- Gut bacteria actively help improve and optimise your metabolism. The intestinal flora influences the way your body absorbs and uses the nutrients present in the food you consume daily. As the bacteria process the nutrients you eat, they create a special type of enzyme. These enzymes are unique since the human genome cannot produce them as their components are not encoded in our genes.
Some of the enzymes that are provided by the intestinal flora are capable of helping absorb nutrients while the metabolic process takes place. For instance, enzymes in gut bacteria aid the synthesis of vitamins and minerals present in plants (4).
So, while these are the benefits of having a healthy gut, what happens when the number of bacteria starts growing out of proportion? How does this affect your body?Gut bacteria help break down carbohydrates during digestion. So, if you have an overgrowth of bacteria, you’ll probably notice an increase in gas and other by-products, which can lead to diarrhoea. Interestingly, these bacteria can also consume proteins and vitamin B12, which contributes to poor fat digestion and nutritional absorption, particularly calcium and fat-soluble vitamins, causing gastrointestinal discomfort and malnutrition (5).
There are plenty of reasons why you could suffer from bacterial overgrowth. Some of them are related to your diet. Others have a lot to do with the state of your immune system and its capacity to effectively defend itself against the bacterial population, which becomes much more difficult when the bacterial overgrowth in your gut reaches certain levels of activity. This complex condition can originate from different sources, so it's important to know the most common reasons and factors that can influence the development of bacteria overgrowth:
#1 - Alcohol Abuse
One of the most common causes of a bacterial imbalance in the gut is the abuse or regular use of alcoholic substances, which represents a threat to the stability of the intestinal flora. Many studies have confirmed that regular consumption of alcohol stimulates the growth and development of a negative type of bacteria called Gram.
This type of bacteriological agent can activate a defensive immunological response, where cells release toxins to suppress bacterial density in the gut. The negative part is that these toxins promote an inflammatory reaction within the intestines walls creating a painful sensation and irritation (6).
#2 - Unprotected Sexual Activity
Believe it or not, another common reason behind SIBO is rooted in sexual habits. Plenty of studies have confirmed that a big percentage of men that engage in sexual encounters without using protection are more prone to developing a bacteriological imbalance. (7)
This occurs because the different conditions and diseases that involve unprotected sex usually affect the way our immunological system works. For example, HIV positive individuals experiment a decreasing capability of their immune response against different bacteriological threats. A weakened immunological system is a perfect scenario for negative bacteria to thrive and reproduce at faster rates (8).
#3 - Unhealthy Diet
Even though food by itself is not the main cause of bacterial overgrowth, its importance during the development of this condition cannot be understated. There are many types of food that can provide bacteria with the chemical components and nutrients necessary for their growth. When it comes to SIBO, we need to avoid foods high in lactose, sugar, and grains. This will avoid compromising the situation or making it even worse.
Besides the causes of SIBO, you should also be familiar with the different risk factors that could help to determine if you suffer from bacterial overgrowth. For example, advanced age can be considered a risk factor due to the vulnerable state of the body’s defences and exposure to different medications that could trigger a change in the microbiota (9).
The second risk factor is the frequency of exposure to medical interventions. Bacterial imbalance can be stimulated by different types of exposure to radiation since the intestines have different mucosal fluids that can be affected by it. These mucosal fluids also contain the immunological agents that regulate the evolution of the microbiota in the digestive system. Usually, the radiation helps the bacteria against the immunological defences of our body, altering the mucosal lining (10).
In the next section, we will discuss the different symptoms that may influence people who suffer from bacterial imbalance.
Even though the symptoms of bacterial overgrowth are not dangerous in an immediate sense, everyone who experiences them for a long period, like a week or more, should consult a doctor. This section will explore the different symptoms that your are more likely to experience if you suffer from SIBO.
#1 - Bloating
When your gastrointestinal tract is packed with air or gas, your belly gets bloated. This feels like you've eaten a large meal and there's no more place in your stomach. Your stomach feels inflamed and compressed.
In the most extreme cases of bloating, you could also suffer from a strong fever and vomit due to episodes of nausea. You should consult a doctor before reaching this point since these symptoms could represent a possible stomach infection or bacterial imbalance (11).
#2 - Spontaneous Weight Loss
Unexpected weight loss is defined by a considerable reduction in body weight that occurs even if you’re not trying to lose weight. Abnormal weight loss is defined as a drop of 5% of body weight during a period of 6 to 12 months. Weight loss that really is unexplained might be a sign of a more serious disease or condition.
When a person suffers from SIBO, the overgrown bacteria start to consume the nutrients and proteins from the digested food, and that makes the process of nurturing the body a lot harder, which results in weight loss and eventual nutritional decay (12).
#3 - Fatigue
Everybody gets fatigued at some point in their lives. Fatigue is a state of extreme exhaustion. It's difficult to get out of bed in the morning, go to work, go over your typical activities, and get through the day when you're tired. You may have a strong need to sleep, yet you may not feel rejuvenated after resting or sleeping. Fatigue can be a temporary issue, or it can become a chronic condition affecting the organism for months. As for bacterial overgrowth, a weakened body that suffers from the effects of fatigue usually ends up being more vulnerable to infections and deficiencies that can damage various parts of the body (13).
Bacterial imbalance can be improved through different methods and therapeutic treatments, dietary changes and supplements. Learning how to treat this condition is key to avoiding the consequences of leaving this disorder untreated.
It’s also worth noting that the treatment of SIBO should focus on three key variables for analysis: How fast the overgrowth is developing, how compromising the situation is, and the underlying reason behind the origin of this bacterial evolution.
Depending on these variables, your physician will recommend different courses of action to fight the bacterial overgrowth in your gut. There’s also a great alternative against different digestive conditions that are now available in our store: The Prebiotic Collagen Protein which includes products that will help anyone that could be experiencing a hard time with bacterial overgrowth and other similar diseases that affect the digestive tract.
#1 - Antibiotic Therapy
The first thing a doctor would recommend to a patient that suffers from SIBO is to consider the use of antibiotics as an initial step. By technical and practical definition, an antibiotic is a type of medicine that inhibits the development and growth of outsider microorganisms that could be within our body.
In the specific case of bacterial overgrowth in the gut, there’s a group of antibiotics that work perfectly against it. Many health professionals have mentioned the benefits of tetracycline, norfloxacin, ciprofloxacin, and metronidazole. It's important to take note of the fact that all of these substances can be used off-label and don’t have a general recommended dosage for each person since each individual case is unique (14).
The nutritional supplements that are advised for people with SIBO are vitamin B12, calcium, and iron. These supplements can be consumed either in the form of pills, intramuscular injections or different consumable and edible products such as gummies, protein shakes and nutritious bars.
Learning to adapt our diet in a way that helps the body to face the bacterial overgrowth instead of helping it to grow is also key. The best way to do this is, basically, to exclude lactose and sugars from the food that we usually eat. Lactose provides the bacteria with sugar and the fuel necessary to grow and defend better against the immune system (15).
#3 - Herbal Treatment
Even though antibiotics are perfect for eliminating the symptoms of bacterial growth, some individuals are prone to experiencing negative side effects that may cause, for example, digestive inconveniences, fever, or some type of allergy. For those cases, consuming herbal infusions prepared to clean and restore the state of the digestive tract, it's a pretty popular and “gut-friendly” alternative.
There are a lot of diverse ways to deal with the effects of bacterial imbalance that didn't make it to this list. Check out how how to restore gut health with these best practices here.The two key practices everyone must follow when it comes to fighting a disease or condition of any kind include getting enough information and taking preventive action. Understanding how SIBO works and how to prevent it is the best way to avoid suffering from its symptoms. And if you are already experiencing bacterial overgrowth and still feel like you could need a little extra help, taking a look at the Prebiotic Collagen Protein could be pretty helpful.