SIBO, otherwise known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. This condition affects upwards of approximately 15% of people. It is prevalent among people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Symptoms of SIBO include GI issues such as diarrhea, feeling constipated, and bloating. Therefore, those who have SIBO may want to cut out foods that cause them gas. Unfortunately for vegans and those who follow a plant-based diet, that means eliminating staples in their diet such as legumes.
So what exactly is SIBO? If you are on a vegan or plant-based diet, how can you safely do so while suffering from gastrointestinal distress? Here is how to manage SIBO as a vegan.
- 1 What is SIBO?
- 2 How Does An Excessive Amount of Bacteria Happen?
- 3 Foods for Vegans with SIBO to Avoid
- 4 Food for Vegans with SIBO to Eat
- 5 Eat Properly With a SIBO Diet
- 6 How to Know if You Have SIBO?
- 7 What to Do if You Have SIBO?
- 8 Listen to Your Body as a Vegan with SIBO
- 9 Resources
What is SIBO?
SIBO, or Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, is what happens when one particular kind of bacteria overgrows, taking over the intestine as a whole. This causes extreme inflammation, severe gastrointestinal distress, and left untreated, may even cause death.
Who Does SIBO Affect?
A comprehensive meta-analysis on SIBO stated,
“Although data are limited, the prevalence rates of SIBO in young and middle-aged adults appear to be low, whereas prevalence rates appear to be consistently higher in the older patient (14.5–15.6%) .”– Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y)
The reason for this analysis seems to be in line with many theories on gut health. When you are young, your body is better equipped to handle inflammation, proper digestion of food, and fighting off gastrointestinal distress.
Older adults must compete with time, dietary choices, exposure to toxins, and side effects of medications all impact the bacteria in our system. These stomach bacteria play such a pivotal role in GI issues that are common symptoms of SIBO.
How Does An Excessive Amount of Bacteria Happen?
The word “bacterial” is in SIBO. Therefore, stomach bacteria plays an essential role in how this condition causes gastrointestinal distress. So, let’s start with the essentials, what causes SIBO in the first place?
What Causes SIBO?
Along your intestinal lining are a colony of cells that work in harmony on the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients from the large intestine. As we age, these microbes become compromised by opportunistic bacteria and chronic inflammation. Ultimately, this will damage the lining of the small intestine.
These adverse conditions disrupt the functioning of the gut biome. As a result, the system doesn’t work in synergy. This lapse in cohesion allows room for large numbers of bacteria to overtake the microbiome. This bacterial overload leads to one of two precursors to SIBO.
Intestinal Flora, Bile Salts, and Gastric Acid
Gastric acid is essential in preventing SIBO. It acts as the bouncer to the small intestines and doesn’t allow anyone without the right credentials through. However, compromised gut health lowers levels of gastric acid in the system, leaving our small bowel susceptible to bacterial overgrowth.
Those with gastrointestinal distress and low stomach acid are usually a victim of the opportunistic gut flora, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). As H.pylori colonizes, the symptoms of SIBO will exasperate .
Gut Bacteria and Gut Motility
The other major cause of SIBO is a breakdown in gut motility. We rely on our gut to function properly for the digestion of food. Any backup can cause a variety of symptoms, such as bloating and diarrhea. As a result, our body becomes more prone to bacterial overgrowth.
We should complete the digestion of food approximately 90 minutes after eating. Some people develop migrating motor complexes (MMC). That means their gut flora doesn’t facilitate the digestion of food and elimination of waste as efficiently as others.
“All but five patients had normal interdigestive motor complexes. The five patients in whom the motor complex was absent or greatly disordered had bacterial overgrowth as evidenced by 14CO2 bile acid breath tests before and after antibiotics .”
– Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y)
With gut motility not working correctly, it allows room for SIBO to set in. If you experience frequent symptoms of SIBO, such as chronic gastrointestinal distress, bloating, or diarrhea, please contact your physician.
Microbiome Testing and SIBO
A study with 30 cases who tested positive for SIBO via a hydrogen breath test was conducted. Some volunteers were given probiotic treatments. While others were presented with a placebo .
“93.3 per cent patients showed negative result of the HBT at the end of treatment in the study group compared to 66.7 per cent in the control group, showing the effectiveness of the probiotic treatment.”– Indian J Med Res.
Since bacteria is causing your GI issues, you should get to the bottom of which intestinal flora is causing this disturbance. That way, you can figure out how to get rid of harmful bacteria in the gut and how to improve gut health naturally.
With microbiome testing, you use all the tools provided with the Thryve At-Home Gut Health Test Kit. Just mail your sample in the discreet and sterile vile and envelope we provide. Our specialists analyze the gut bacteria in your microbiome. We then formulate personalized probiotics based on the gut flora causing your SIBO.
While we work on your SIBO plan of attack, you can get started yourself. Vegans, here are some tips to avoid a diagnosis of SIBO.
Foods for Vegans with SIBO to Avoid
One of the main things that people do as a form of self-treatment for their SIBO is through their diet. Many avoid many kinds of foods and try to eat a low-FODMAP diet.
FODMAP stands for:
While most people do not have an issue with these types of foods, for many, a low-FODMAP diet can cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping, and other unfavorable gastrointestinal symptoms. . So, avoiding these foods can benefit a vast number of people, and help to improve their quality of life.
Foods that are often avoided are any foods with:
- Gluten (What, Rye, Barley)
- Alliums (Onion, Garlic)
- Sweeteners (Sorbitol/Xylitol)
That seems to cover a lot of ground…and a lot of vegan staples. Luckily, there are some foods here you can handle in small quantities. For instance, lectins in legumes cause a lot of people gastrointestinal distress.
Lectins are antinutrients. They inhibit our body from absorbing vitamins from our food and may result in severe nutritional deficiencies. However, soaking legumes in water can help remove the lectins. This process eases the digestion of food. Therefore, vegans with SIBO may be able to have legumes in small doses without causing too much abdominal pain.
Go a week without these foods and slowly introduce some back. Take note of how your body reacts. Everyone is different, and each food interacts with us differently.
Food for Vegans with SIBO to Eat
Since the stomach bacteria that cause SIBO feeds off of fiber, many people seek to consume less fiber and consume more animal products. This transformation can be incredibly hard for a vegan SIBO patient. A plant-based diet is often high in fiber and is devoid of all animal products.
Unfortunately, people following a vegan diet might be unknowingly causing issues for the digestive tract. Therefore, a vegan diet may actually increase the risk of SIBO. In turn, their nutrient-dense dietary choices are failing to meet their nutritional needs.
So, not only must they deal with the variety of symptoms that comes with SIBO, but SIBO might become the underlying cause of more significant medical conditions. Here are some measures vegans can take to lower risk factors.
Eliminating Fiber on a Vegan SIBO Diet
This notion often conflicts with tons of scientific data showing that a diet high in fiber can help reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So, what are the facts?
Well, by eliminating fiber, you are reducing the food source for both the good and the harmful bacteria. This omission leaves food options such as meat, dairy, and eggs. In abundance, these foods sources meet the nutritional needs for creating too much bacteria of the harmful kind.
Unfortunately, by eliminating plant foods, you are removing the sources of fuel necessary to power good bacteria in your GI tract. So, how do you navigate this whirlpool of excess bacteria? Let’s discuss where a vegan SIBO patient can get their fiber and protein on so that they can avoid nutrient deficiencies.
Getting Protein and Low Fiber in a Vegan SIBO Diet
So, it is possible to remain vegan while also working on a SIBO treatment, especially if you are following a low-FODMAP diet? One of the best things to do would be to try to lower your fiber intake, this means including more calorically dense or processed plant foods to your diet. Good thing this balance isn’t impossible to achieve.
- Faux Meats
- Whole Oats
- Brazil Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
- Hemp Oil
- Brown Rice
You can still live your cruelty-free lifestyle, get a ton of nutrients, and say good-bye to SIBO!
Eat Properly With a SIBO Diet
When you have to restrict a lot of foods for SIBO, as well as restrict foods for veganism, it can be very easy to become deficient in specific vitamins and minerals. For instance, not being able to consume beans or meat can cause you to potentially not consume enough iron or zinc. Not to mention, vegans are notorious for developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency. While these can easily be remedied with a daily multivitamin, some people would instead get their nutrients from diet alone.
If this is you, consider consuming more nuts and seeds, and higher protein pseudo-grains like quinoa. Foods that are higher in protein also lower your chances of developing a zinc or iron deficiency.
More protein can also help you to feel more energized during the day, so that can help you get into good health overall.
How to Know if You Have SIBO?
While you can make dietary changes to help with abdominal pain and issues throughout the GI tract, you should speak to a doctor about confirming your suspected diagnosis of SIBO.
Find a clinical practice that specializes in gastroenterology. Speak to a specialist about getting a hydrogen breath test (also known as the Lactulose Breath Test). The Lactulose Breath Test is the most common test for diagnosing SIBO.
Breath testing looks at the three-hour activity of different microbes throughout your gut biome. It accomplishes this feat by studying some of the byproducts different types of bacteria leave in their wake. Namely, we’re talking about their waste.
The main objective of a Lactulose Breath Test is to measure the amount of hydrogen and methane gas emissions throughout the digestive tract. Based on these numbers, your doctor can determine if there’s an overgrowth of bacteria within. After a positive diagnosis of bacterial overgrowth, you should immediately begin your elimination diet.
What to Do if You Have SIBO?
To curb bacterial growth, you will need to make changes to your diet. While you can take some of the advice here, different people have different reactions to SIBO and dietary changes. It’s imperative you talk to a specialist who is familiar with you, your dietary preferences, and your family’s medical history.
Listen to Your Body as a Vegan with SIBO
All-in-all, do what is best for your body. Try out foods and see which ones flare up your gastrointestinal tract, and which ones don’t. That way, you do not have to avoid tons of food outright, and you can see what foods you should not eat. Doing this is healthier both mentally, as well as physically, as you do not have to stress over everything you eat. It also allows you to feel better in the long term.
But always go to a doctor, and listen to their advice first and foremost. While certain natural remedies like cinnamon or oregano oil can be beneficial to your gut health overall, you may need to take a strong antibiotic. If that’s the case, you will definitely want to start a round of probiotics to help rebuild gut flora. Your health should come first, and focusing on what experts say, as well as your own body, will help you overall.
 Dukowicz, A. C., Lacy, B. E., & Levine, G. M. (2007). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 3(2), 112–122.
 Saltzman JR, Kowdley KV, Pedrosa MC, et al. Bacterial overgrowth without clinical malabsorption in elderly hypochlorhydric subjects. Gastroenterology. 1994;106:615–623. ]
 Khalighi, A. R., Khalighi, M. R., Behdani, R., Jamali, J., Khosravi, A., Kouhestani, S. h., … Khalighi, N. (2014). Evaluating the efficacy of probiotic on treatment in patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)–a pilot study. The Indian journal of medical research, 140(5), 604–608.
 A, M., & al., et. (2016, April). Does a diet low in FODMAPs reduce symptoms associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders? A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25982757