Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, often referred to as SIBO, is characterized by excessive growth of unhealthy gut bacteria. These bacteria produce a disruptive amount of gas, including methane and hydrogen, leading to symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Bacteria overgrowth is not the only concern since SIBO also causes gut damage. While prescription antibiotics are a standard to kill off these bacteria, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs pose an alternative, and more holistic option.
Herbs for SIBO treatment include berberine, oregano oil, and allicin among others. These herbs can remove some of the excessive bacteria and support gut health.
A clinical trial in 2014 by Johns Hopkins University found holistic herbs for SIBO treatment to be as effective as pharmaceutical antibiotics. The antibiotic involved was Rifaximin. This study is the first of many to show the efficacy of herbal therapy for SIBO.
During this study, 104 patients who recently tested positive for SIBO were offered either an herbal therapy or rifaximin for four weeks. The herbal therapies included four different commercial preparations.
Each preparation included four to ten different herbs for SIBO, including sage leaf, Chinese licorice root, Chinese skullcap root, berberine, oregano oil, and lemon balm. Two of the herbs, berberine and oregano oil, are further discussed below.
The researchers found that herbs for SIBO treatment were as effective as Rifaximin. Notably, some of the patients who received Rifaximin did not see any improvements with their SIBO.
Those unsuccessful with Rifaximin then selected a triple antibiotic therapy or an “herbal rescue therapy.” This herbal rescue option was additionally found to be as effective as the antibiotic route.
The study found a notable difference in side effects between the two groups. In the Rifaximin group, 9% experienced Clostridium difficile and non-C. difficile associated diarrhea. In the herbal therapy group, only 1% experienced diarrhea.
On the contrary, taking antibiotics can lead to an increase in opportunistic infections such as C. difficule because antibiotics increases bacterial resistance. Increased bacterial resistance can cause an unbalanced gut with more unhealthy than healthy bacteria.
Berberine (huang lian su) is a compound found in Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenseal. It acts as an antimicrobial for hydrogen-producing bacteria, by halting bacterial cell division.
Hydrogen- producing bacteria is present in the gut when people experience diarrhea-heavy SIBO. Fortunately, berberine is often found in Chinese traditional formulas utilized to treat bacterial diarrhea.
Berberine has many other functions. It can also support the growth of healthy bacteria in our guts. While studying berberine’s antimicrobial effect against E. coli, researchers in 2008 found berberine to have no negative effect on lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, two beneficial gut bacteria.
Oregano oil is another herbal antimicrobial. It is a well-documented ingredient that directly inhibits the growth of intestinal microbes.
In 2009, scientists tested oregano oil (Origanum vulgare Linn.) against 111 gram-positive bacteria from 23 different species. The oil successfully exhibited antibacterial activity. However, when the oil was decocted, the bacteria became resistant.
Allicin for SIBO
Allicin (da suan), an active ingredient in garlic, is another common herb for SIBO treatment. Allicin helps to eliminate the hydrogen producing bacteria while also supporting the lining of the small intestine. It is found to help relieve the constipation-heavy symptoms of SIBO.
Research on the efficacy of herbs for SIBO is currently limited, therefore more placebo-controlled studies need to be performed in the future. As of now, this article will hopefully help provide high-quality evidence for health practitioners and their patients.
SIBO is a tricky disease that involves several steps to restore a healthy gut microbiome. Some of these steps may involve herbs, antibiotics, and diet alterations. There are a variety of herbs that can help treat SIBO, a few of which are mentioned above that are backed by scientific research. Moreover, Chinese medicine holds valuable tools to help resolve SIBO in a holistic way.