Many people with SIBO have been taught to fear fibre, but the relationship between fibre and SIBO is actually much more complicated than being simply “good” or “bad”. Read on to find out more!
SIBO as Dysbiosis
For the uninitiated, SIBO, or small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is when bacteria normally found in your colon or large intestine start accumulating in the small intestine, causing all sorts of issues, including unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and malnutrition .
At its core, SIBO is really a form of dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is any imbalance in or damage to the gut microbiome, and generally manifests in three stages :
- An imbalance between good vs. bad bacteria leads to a weakened, less diverse gut microbiome.
- The loss of diversity leads to damaged gut tissue, causing increased permeability.
- Increased gut permeability, or leaky gut, leads to the release of intestinal contents into the bloodstream, which can cause mild to severe chronic inflammation.
And, as you may know, chronic inflammation is at the root of all kinds of health issues and disease beyond the gut [4, 5]. For that reason, addressing dysbiosis is key to maintaining and improving overall health. When it comes to SIBO, the dysbiosis is primarily location-related, as normally beneficial bacteria wreak havoc by accumulating where they shouldn’t.
This makes dealing with SIBO kind of tricky, since, on the one hand, the bacteria in the small intestine need to go, but on the other hand, too much focus on eliminating these bacteria can end up harming the gut microbiome, leading to even worse overall health in the long-term.
The Fibre Connection
This is where fibre comes in. Since prebiotic soluble fibre is many gut bacteria’s favorite food, a key part of addressing SIBO often involves limiting or even eliminating high-fibre and high-FODMAP foods to starve out the bacteria in the small intestine. Though this often provides short-term relief, it’s not an effective long-term strategy because your gut microbiome ALSO relies on soluble fibre and needs it to thrive!
If this is your first time hearing about FODMAPs, you can learn more here.
In fact, when you ingest soluble fibre, your friendly gut bacteria convert it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are not only essential for overall health but also specifically for healing your gut [2, 6, 7]. For example, butyrate, one of the main SCFAs, addresses all three stages of dysbiosis! Here are just a few of the reasons butyrate is a superhero for your gut:
- Butyrate rebalances your gut microbe populations.
- It supports beneficial gut bugs AND suppresses harmful ones.
- Studies show that butyrate reverses intestinal permeability, reducing the release of toxins into the bloodstream [2, 8].
So, as you can see, getting enough fibre is vital for long-term gut health. If you have SIBO, you may feel like all this is a bit contradictory. How can you get enough fibre if you’re also supposed to be limiting it? Don’t worry! You can indeed effectively manage your SIBO AND get all those amazing benefits that fibre has to offer.
The Journey to a Healthier Gut
1. Is it SIBO…or something else?
The first step is making sure you have the correct diagnosis. Some people are misdiagnosed with SIBO but actually have another condition. Also, SIBO itself can be a symptom of an underlying condition, so it’s vital to consult with your doctor to pinpoint the exact issue.
2. Fibre is your friend.
Even if you have SIBO, it’s important to realize you can still tolerate certain amounts of fibre and FODMAPs, but there are caveats! To get a SIBO-damaged gut back on track, remember these rules of thumb:
- A low-FODMAP diet can be used to systematically eliminate and reintroduce foods to figure out your food sensitivities and learn your gut’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
- Then, based on your results, gradually work up your fibre + FODMAP intake. Take it slow, and remember to always listen to your body and continually readjust and adapt based on your needs.
- Especially in the beginning, choose forms of fibre that are easier for a damaged gut to handle. For example, cooked or lightly steamed vegetables are gentler on your gut than their raw counterparts.
Though healing a damaged gut can be a daunting journey, hopefully this article has shown you that you should never lose hope. Check out the following article to learn more on how you can heal your gut naturally!