In the last article that I wrote on small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida, I listed five major causes of these concerns. Both of these health concerns are due to an overpopulation of bacteria or fungus in the gut that invade other areas of the digestive system, such as the small intestine.
This can result in a population of undesirable microbes in an undesirable digestive location, which can cause severe irritation and imbalance in the intestinal tract and compromise its function. Certain enzymes in the upper part of the small intestine are required to complete the breakdown of hard-to-digest proteins like casein in dairy, gluten in grains and other hard-to-digest proteins such as soy, nuts, seeds, fish and meats. Sugary foods are also processed here, and if there are misplaced bacteria or candida in the small intestine, sugars can be used as fuel to feed the overpopulation of misplaced microbes rather than being absorbed into the bloodstream as energy for the body. At a minimum, this can cause uncontrollable gas, bloating and intestinal discomfort. (1)
The prevalence of SIBO is varied. In one study with healthy people, SIBO was found in 2.5 – 22% of the population. When health concerns like irritable bowel issues, liver concerns and obesity come into the picture, SIBO can be present in up to 90% of an unhealthy population. (2)
Addressing the First Major Cause of Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
One of the major causes of this is stress. (2) According to Ayurveda, we process stress through the large intestine where 95% and the majority of all neurotransmitters are produced and stored. The large intestine is considered to be the seat or source of the nervous system.
In stressful situations, the adrenals are forced to make more energy than they actually have, and this drives the body into exhaustion and over-compensation. According to Ayurveda, the downward-moving energy normally used for reproduction and elimination begins to move up in an attempt the handle the stressor. This upward-moving pressure called “udvarta” puts reverse pressure on the digestive system, forcing large intestinal bacteria into the small intestine.
Separating the large from the small intestine is a valve, called the ileocecal (IC) valve. As a result of upward pressure, intestinal irritation and stress, this valve can malfunction and the bacteria in the gut can migrate into the small intestine. This is what some practitioners call an open IC valve.
Understanding Your IC Valve
Think of an IC valve like a zipper. When the zipper is down, the IC valve is open, and when the zipper is zipped all the way up, the IC valve is closed. When the valve is stuck open, bacteria from the large intestines can easily migrate into the small intestines, as in SIBO. It can also cause loose stools and undigested food in the stools. If the intestinal tract is in spasm or tight as a result of a poor diet or excess stress, it can tighten or close the IC valve and cause bloating, abdominal pain or constipation. Understanding this valve is a time-tested tool that is used by many natural health practitioners. Problems with the IC valve can cause a host of digestive-related health concerns such as:
- Loose stools or occasional constipation
- Undigested food in the stool
- Dark circles around the eyes
- Low back pain
- Mild abdominal pain or cramping
- Occasional heartburn
- Gas and bloating
- Mild weight gain
- Sinus concerns
- Skin concerns
- Lymphatic congestion
- Food intolerances
Rebooting Your IC Valve
Foods that are rich in chlorophyll are helpful to reset the IC valve, as is taking a chlorophyll supplement. Probiotics are also an effective way to help bring balance back to the IC valve and small intestine. In particular, lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium longum and Saccharomyces boulardii have been found to support the natural restoration of healthy intestinal bacteria. (3) For more on this, see my article, “4 Steps to a Healthy Microbiome.”
IC Valve At-Home SIBO Therapy
In addition, there is home massage technique that can be used to help support the function of the IC valve. The IC valve is a circular sphincter muscle that can malfunction over time. It is very amenable to a mechanical massage that is very easy to learn and do at home. This technique has been successfully used by natural health practitioners worldwide.
Step One: Locate the IC Valve
Draw a line from the navel to the right hip bone. Feel for the boney protuberance on the front of your pelvis. Note where the middle of that line is. Under this area is the IC valve.
Step Two: Evaluate the IC Valve
Gently but firmly press into the abdomen in this area looking for tenderness. Often you will feel a tender area or even a hard nodule under your fingers. Sometimes it will feel like a hard but tender golf ball. This tension must be massaged out in order for this valve to function. In the case of SIBO — the valve is likely stuck open.
A. Massaging a stuck-open IC valve
An open valve will predispose the body to intestinal overgrowth, loose stools and undigested food, along with the general symptoms mentioned earlier.
Massage the area in a firm clockwise circular motion. Extend the upward circular motion as if you were zipping up a zipper. The circular motion is more of an oval with the emphasis on pulling the tissue in an upwards direction. I am a big fan of using some form of vibrating massage tool for this in a similar way – extending the upward zipping up of the IC valve for best results. In addition, the entire lower abdomen can benefit from a visceral massage with a vibrating massage tool.
B. Massaging a stuck-closed IC valve
A closed valve can cause occasional constipation, a hard, inconsistent stool, gas and bloating, and abdominal discomfort.
Massage the area in counter-clockwise circular motion with an emphasis in the downward motion, as if to un-zip a zipper and open the IC valve.
Step Four: Frequency
Repeat this technique twice a day for 2 minutes and before each meal until the soreness and tenderness in the IC valve area disappears. The area should be soft, supple and non-tender.
>>> Read part 2 of this series on SIBO & Candida here: SIBO Starts In Your Stomach
>>> Read part 3 of this series on SIBO & Candida here: Starve Your SIBO & Candida