What is SIFO (Small Intestinal Fungal Overgrowth)?


Have you heard of SIFO?  You may be more familiar with the term candida, as this has been commonly talked about by healthcare practitioners over the years.  You can still find products in the health food stores for candida cleanses.  But what does it all actually mean?  And what are the symptoms?  Our Toronto naturopaths work with a lot of different digestive conditions, and while most people may have heard about SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), most are not as familiar with SIFO.  So we want to provide a two part blog series to help explain what SIFO is and how to treat it.

What is it?

We have a variety of microorganisms that live on our skin and in our body, which are referred to as our microbiome.  This balance of this microbiome is very important – when the bacteria, yeast, fungus, etc. live in harmony in our microbiome, they play many important roles in our health.  At low levels, the variety in the microbiome do not usually cause any problems. However, when things get out of balance, like an overgrowth of fungus, then we start to see a number of symptoms arise.  On the outside we may see things like skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis that are taking a long time to clear up, or conditions like dandruff, athletes foot, vaginal yeast infections, and oral thrush.  These conditions are usually from some type of fungal condition.

When we have an overgrowth on the inside in our gut, then symptoms can be very similar to those of SIBO presenting as IBS-like symptoms such as abdominal bloating, gas, burping, pain, diarrhea or nausea.  If you’ve tried some treatments suspecting that you have a bacterial overgrowth, and the symptoms aren’t really getting any better, then you may have a fungal overgrowth. 

What can cause it?

Research on SIFO is still emerging, so at this time there is no exact known cause for it.  Some factors that may increase the risk for SIFO are excessive use of proton pump inhibitors (also known as PPIs), excessive use of antibiotics, immunosuppressant drugs, and motility disorders.  Essentially anything that can disrupt the delicate harmony of your microbiome will increase your risk for SIFO, among other conditions.  One research article has even suggested that a fungal overgrowth may be the root cause for IBS in some patients, and may exacerbate symptoms in patients with IBD.

How is it diagnosed?

If your naturopath suspects SIFO then they will want to do a Comprehensive Stool Analysis test to assess your digestive and absorptive functions.  This will also check for the presence of opportunistic pathogens.  The patient will take a kit home with them and collect a sample of their stool.  This sample will then be sent out to the lab for testing, and once the results are in, your naturopath will call you in to go over the results.

So, now you’ve been diagnosed with SIFO – what’s the protocol? Find out next week in the second part of our blog series.

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