Yesterday I received the test results back from a breath test I took for an illness called SIBO a few weeks ago. In short, I went to the naturopath and described to him my physical health conditions, and he recommended I take a Hydrogen/Methane Breath test to test for SIBO. The results came back and I tested positive. by a large margin.Ouch.
My health journey
So in a nutshell I have suffered from a variety of uncomfortable symptoms my entire life. Since I was as young as I can remember I felt sick after eating. Not a little sick, but like lay on the floor clutching my stomach sick. I hated eating. It made me feel awful. I favored microwave dinners (Michelinas in particular) to any real food and would basically protest to eating a meal with my family. I never really knew why and hadn’t bothered to wonder, as I had figured I had survived with it up until this point, it probably wasn’t going to kill me, I just knew when I ate I was in pain. When I really began to notice the severity of my symptoms was when I moved into dorms my second year at university (yea it took me a long time). All of the sudden the fridge wasn’t stocked with home made prepared foods (my mother is Italian and cooks for a football team). I had to cook for myself. So in classic college student fashion I enjoyed hot dog wieners, ramen noodles, canned soup and tuna, whatever was cheap, filling and on sale. God did I get gain weight and feel sick. I gained like 11 lbs. fast (I know that isn’t a lot but I’m not that large of a person so it felt like a lot) and just couldn’t find the energy to get up and go to class, or even move (although I did, but very sluggishly).
Okay so being a science major I made a plan with myself, try eating a raw diet and exercising a lot and let’s see how this sits with your body. So that’s what I did, it was salads, lentils, beans, cooked foods; the good stuff. And it was the gym, every single day. I lost so much weight people began to wonder if I had an eating disorder. I looked sickly. However, throughout all of these food transitions, I still had the same feeling in my stomach I did as a kid. This nasty bloated gut feeling every time I ate, approx. an hour or two after. Why? What could I do? By the time third year university rolled around I began complaining about this to my father, whom luckily for me has been a “health fanatic”, my whole life. He was seeing multiple doctors but one in particular, a naturopath, he referred me to. Essentially my father had already pre-diagnosed me with what I have now been properly diagnosed with because he had done some research on the subject himself out of interest. The naturopath helped my father give me this sibo test and I tested positive.
SIBO stands for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth and is described as an increase in the number and/or change in the type of bacteria in the upper gastrointestinal tract (Bures. J et al. 2010). So why is this a problem you ask? Well from my readings, specifically in a book called The New IBS Solution, written by Mark Pimentel, MD, Pimentel describes these “gut buddies” as the gut bacteria that live on the floor of your gut in the large intestine, past the ileocecal valve (Pimentel, M., 2006). When these “gut buddies” eat, they produce gas, and in this case gas that’s mainly composed of hydrogen and methane. Millions of these gut buddies live in all of us, typically in our large intestines. However, in some unlucky individuals, myself included, due to some sort of previous damage/illness, these gut buddies move upwards towards the small intestine. This number is now increased, and the “gut buddies” aren’t in the right place, instead they are in your upper gut, causing you all sorts of pain. Hydrogen and methane being released in the wrong place means bloating, pain, and general major discomfort.
Pimentel describes the test as looking for the prevalence of both hydrogen and methane, which are exclusively produced by intestinal bacteria in the large bowel in healthy people or in the small intestine in the case of SIBO. These hydrogen and methane breath tests are performed after the patient (Me in this case) drinks a sample of lactulose syrup (yes it tastes awful). The patient then breathes into a sterile tube every twenty minutes for three hours, and each sample is sent off to a lab for analysis. This is done on an empty stomach. Twenty percent of hydrogen and methane is exhaled by the lungs and can be measured through the breath, which is what the test detects.
Testing positive versus negative
Typically, a healthy person will not show an increase in bacterial levels rising during the duration of the test (approximately three hours), hence you wouldn’t see a large increase in hydrogen or methane in the breath test analysis (approx. 15 parts per million of these little bacterial buddies). However, in an individual with SIBO, you would see twenty or more parts per million of these two gases, showing that the syrupy solution hit the small intestine before it reached the colon (p.50).
So what does this all mean? Let me just give a small list of the symptoms of SIBO:
-Weight loss and malnutrition.
All of those sound fantastic, don’t they? Well to be completely frank, I have lived with these symptoms my entire life and really wouldn’t have tried to even look into any of this without this additional information coming to my attention. Recently, research has been discovered on how our “gut buddies” interact with the brain and control our mental capacities, particularly when these “gut buddies” are stressed/out of whack. There is a relationship between the two entitled the gut brain axis’s (GBA). The GBA consists of a two-way communication system between the central and enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions (Carabotti, M., et al. 2015). More interesting (at least to me and my focus) is the gut’s relationship with the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis: HPA-core stress efferent axis that coordinates the adaptive responses of the organisms to stressors of any kind. It’s part of the limbic system, a crucial zone of the brain involved in memory and emotional response.
Do you start to see a correlation here? These Axis’ have a direct correlation between emotional response and memory retention as well as a relationship with these “gut buddies” and if my gut buddies are all out of whack and by a long shot, how could this affect my emotional and cognitive centers? So why do I care? Recent research says that Environmental stress; as well as elevated systemic pro-inflammatory cytokines (caused by sibo) is thought to trigger a release of these gut buddies (Microbiota). These microbiota are what controls the relationships between these axis’ and our emotional and cognitive centers. Why I care is I want to research how to combat these microbiota and prevent any control they may have on my long-term memory retention and emotional centers, and further find more research on the subject, making this a much thoroughly researched field.
I know this sounds like a whole lot of information but not much evidence, and to be honest, the research I have been looking at has quite a small amount of animal-tested evidence available. But again, it’s really quite new and the research isn’t quite there yet. However, I decided to make this whole experiment with myself. I want to research how I feel after taking the medication to lower the gut buddies population, changing my diet and working with my naturopath to combat SIBO. My hopes are that maybe if anyone else feels they are having similar issues, they can leave a comment, and we can learn together and potentially shed light onto a subject still shrouded in mystery.
- Carabotti, Marilia et al. “The Gut-Brain Axis: Interactions between Enteric Microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems.” Annals of Gastroenterology : Quarterly Publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology 28.2 (2015): 203–209. Print.
- Pimentel, MD, M. (2006). A NEW IBS SOLOUTION. Sherman Oaks, California: Health Point Press.