Understanding SIBO

Steps to Take to Feel Better
a young woman with a flower on her tummy

How are you feeling lately? If your answer includes any of the following—“bloated, gassy, tired, loose stools or constipated, belly pain”—you may be experiencing a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).

Once SIBO has taken hold, you will need to follow a program for several months that has been designed to rebalance your internal environment.

What is SIBO?

SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is when you have too many bacteria in your small intestine.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad, pathogenic bacteria. Relative to your colon, your small intestine is not supposed to house a lot of bacteria. When they are too plentiful, they can lead to all the symptoms mentioned above, along with others. Common additional issues may include joint pain, malabsorption leading to nutritional deficiencies, pancreatic insufficiency, and NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).

It may be that when you mentioned these symptoms to your doctor in the past, they offered a diagnosis of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). That’s a doctor’s catch-all phrase for this group of symptoms that don’t seem to have a measurable cause. In many cases, no treatment plan is offered.

If I’m describing a familiar situation, please do not despair. Help is on the way! SIBO, and/or in some circumstances SIFO (small intestinal fungal overgrowth, aka candidiasis), have been widely misunderstood until recently.

Simply stated, bacteria and fungi gain access to and multiply in areas of the small intestine where they’re not supposed to be and cause major problems!

As time progresses with SIBO, the delicate lining of the intestine can be damaged. This results in a further condition known as leaky gut.

Primary Causes of SIBO

Let’s consider what is known to create the imbalances that result in the conditions called SIBO and SIFO. (Since the causes and treatments for both SIBO and SIFO are so similar, for simplicity, I’ll simply refer to them both as SIBO.)

  • High-Carb and High-Sugar Diets

    What does that diet look like? You daily enjoy a diet full of rice, potatoes, pastries, chips and crackers, desserts, fried foods and/or sweet fruits and sugary drinks (including alcohol). One day you realize you’re experiencing low-grade symptoms like feeling bloated, gassy, and generally uncomfortable after eating. You may experience fatigue and foggy thinking.

    I need to make something clear here: our body doesn’t create symptoms for fun. When you notice a symptom, it’s because your body is begging you to listen to it.

    Chronic bloating, pain, burps, and belly distension aren’t normal and healthy.

  • Acid-Blocking Medications

    After asking around, you may hear from a friend that an over-the-counter acid-blocking medication might help diminish your low-grade symptoms. In the beginning, it may seem to help quell the discomfort. However, what most people don’t realize (and, sadly, doctors don’t tell them) is that acid-blocking meds are supposed to be used only for very short periods of time, like weeks. Remaining on acid-blocking medications long term creates imbalances in the digestive system that eventually impact the bacterial environment.

  • Ileocecal Valve Syndrome

    There is a valve between the small intestine and large intestine called the ileocecal valve. In a healthy system, digested matter moves in one way—out. However, diet, allergies, food sensitivity, and stress can all lead to dysfunction of this valve, allowing bacteria that normally reside in the large intestine to back up into the lower small intestine, creating SIBO.

How to Relieve SIBO

What is a Good Diet for SIBO?

You can reverse this process by changing your diet. Initially, for a period of time as you strive to rebalance your bacterial community, you must eliminate the carbohydrates the bacteria use to create this imbalance.

There are many excellent low-carb diets available. Allow five to six hours between meals. Avoid eating within three hours before bed.

Why You Shouldn't Eat Before Bed

New research has shown that eating too often and before going to bed impairs your intestine’s ability to move your food through the digestive system effectively.

Follow These Steps

  1. Flush Out Fungal Overgrowth

    Remove the overgrowth of bacteria/fungi in the small intestine with herbal antimicrobials. Look for a formula that contains oregano oil, thyme, clove, black cumin seed oil, and cinnamon.

  2. Rebuild Intestinal Lining

    Rebuild your intestinal lining that has become damaged. Look for a product that contains L-glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), along with soothing herbs such as marshmallow and ginger.

  3. Restore Healthy Microflora

    Restore your natural healthy bacterial balance. After symptoms have abated, introduce a high-potency, high-strain diversity probiotic. Look for a product that offers 60–100 billion cultures along with 60–100 unique bacterial strains per capsule and seven to ten prebiotic sources that help your natural bacteria to thrive.


Brenda Watson, C.N.C.

For more than 25 years, Brenda Watson C.N.C has been helping people achieve vibrant health through improved digestion.

As an author of seven books, a New York Times bestseller, and the creator of five PBS shows on digestive health, Brenda continues the crusade of teaching how the gut is the foundation of your health.