What is Bacterial Overgrowth?
It's not an overstatement to say that the small intestine is the most important segment of the entire digestive tract, which starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum. Nutrients we eat -- carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals -- are absorbed in the small intestine. If anything interferes with the absorption here, nutrient deficiencies can result.
The small intestine normally contains relatively small numbers of bacteria. However, certain factors can cause the growth of excess bacteria.
Through a process called bile acid deconjugation, the unwanted bacteria causes fat malabsorption. It also blocks carbohydrates from being absorbed. Intead, they're left to ferment in the intestines, resulting in gas, bloating, pain, mucus in stools, foul-smelling gas and stools, and diarrhea. Sweets and starchy foods cause the worst symptoms.
Toxic metabolic substances produced by the bacteria injures intestinal cells and impairs absorption, resulting in nutrient deficiencies, food allergies and intolerances, and poorly functioning digestive enzymes.
What Causes Bacterial Overgrowth?
- Decreased motility in the small intestine - caused by excess dietary sugar, chronic stress, and conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and scleroderma. In the United States, up to 40% of chronic diarrhea in people with diabetes is associated with bacterial overgrowth.
- Hypochlorhydria - as people get older, the amount of stomach acid they secrete decline. Because stomach acid is acidic and helps to kill bacteria in the small intestine, if there is less stomach acid, bacteria are more likely to proliferate. Another very common cause of hypochlorhydria is due to excessive use of antacids.
- Structural abnormalities in the small intestine - gastric bypass surgery, small intestinal diverticula, blind loop, intestinal obstruction, and Crohn's disease fistula are some of the structural causes of bacterial overgrowth
- Other causes include immune deficiency, stress, certain medications such as steroids, antibiotics, and birth control pills, inadequate dietary fiber, and pancreatic enzyme deficiency.
- Abdominal bloating and gas after meals
- Chronic loose stools or diarrhea - studies have found 48% to 67% of people with chronic diarrhea had bacterial overgrowth
- Soft, foul-smelling stools that stick to the bowl
- Fatigue - megaloblastic anemia due to vitamin B12 malabsorption
- Abdominal pain
- Mucus in stools
- Bloating worse with carbs, fiber, and sugar
Natural Remedies for Bacterial Overgrowth
It can be difficult to get proper testing and treatment for bacterial overgrowth, because some doctors don't understand this condition. The conventional treatment for bacterial overgrowth is antimicrobial drugs.
There are three parts to the natural treatment of bacterial overgrowth:
- Diet - low carbohydrate diet
- Eradicate unfriendly bacteria in the small intestine using herbs such as peppermint oil
- Replace - Bacterial overgrowth impairs friendly bacteria ("probiotics") and digestive enzymes
Candidiasis (Yeast Problems)
Candida issues are one of the most common problems we see in our office. The range of symptoms from Candida range from obvious vaginal or oral infections to systemic problems that that have a very wide variety of symptoms associated with them.
- Chronic systemic candida has been associated with chronic fatigue, muscular pain, memory loss, insomnia, headache and depression.
- Blood tests for various antibodies can determine if you have chronic systemic infection. Treatment involves dietary change and supplementation. Yeast feeds on sugar so fluctuating blood sugar levels are commonly associated with candida.
- Antibiotics, steroids and birth control pills are often associated with yeast overgrowth. Women sometimes think that if they don't have an active overt vaginal yeast infection that they don't have a problem with yeast. This couldn't be further from the truth.
- In our office, we often see women who have chronic yeast that has not been properly identified and treated and their symptoms range from fatigue to mental fogginess to decreased libido.
- In our society where antibiotic abuse is common, yeast has become a major source of illness. Treating yeast issues often clears up symptoms that a patient never associated with yeast.