Prevalence of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome in Patients with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease/Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis: A Cross-Sectional Study

Microorganisms. 2023 Mar 10;11(3):723. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms11030723.


Introduction: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a multifactorial, wide-spectrum liver disorder. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is characterized by an increase in the number and/or type of colonic bacteria in the upper gastrointestinal tract. SIBO, through energy salvage and induction of inflammation, may be a pathophysiological factor for NAFLD development and progression.

Aim/methods: Consecutive patients with histological, biochemical, or radiological diagnosis of any stage of NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver [NAFL], non-alcoholic steatohepatitis [NASH], cirrhosis) underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Duodenal fluid (2cc) was aspirated from the 3rd-4th part of duodenum into sterile containers. SIBO was defined as ≥103 aerobic colony-forming units (CFU)/mL of duodenal aspirate and/or the presence of colonic-type bacteria. Patients without any liver disease undergoing gastroscopy due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) comprised the healthy control (HC) group. Concentrations (pg/mL) of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), interleukin (IL)-1β, and IL-6 were also measured in the duodenal fluid. The primary endpoint was to evaluate the prevalence of SIBO in NAFLD patients, while the comparison of SIBO prevalence among NAFLD patients and healthy controls was a secondary endpoint.

Results: We enrolled 125 patients (51 NAFL, 27 NASH, 17 cirrhosis, and 30 HC) aged 54 ± 11.9 years and with a weight of 88.3 ± 19.6 kg (NAFLD vs. HC 90.7 ± 19.1 vs. 80.8 ± 19.6 kg, p = 0.02). Overall, SIBO was diagnosed in 23/125 (18.4%) patients, with Gram-negative bacteria being the predominant species (19/23; 82.6%). SIBO prevalence was higher in the NAFLD cohort compared to HC (22/95; 23.2% vs. 1/30; 3.3%, p = 0.014). Patients with NASH had higher SIBO prevalence (6/27; 22.2%) compared to NAFL individuals (8/51; 15.7%), but this difference did not reach statistical significance (p = 0.11). Patients with NASH-associated cirrhosis had a higher SIBO prevalence compared to patients with NAFL (8/17; 47.1% vs. 8/51; 15.7%, p = 0.02), while SIBO prevalence between patients with NASH-associated cirrhosis and NASH was not statistically different (8/17; 47.1% vs. 6/27; 22.2%, p = 0.11). Mean concentration of TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6 did not differ among the different groups.

Conclusion: The prevalence of SIBO is significantly higher in a cohort of patients with NAFLD compared to healthy controls. Moreover, SIBO is more prevalent in patients with NASH-associated cirrhosis compared to patients with NAFL.

Keywords: cirrhosis; microbiome; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.