Dysbiosis: Overview and Treatment

Dysbiosis can cause health problems, including digestive and systemic symptoms

Dysbiosis is a state in which there is an imbalance of microorganisms on or within our bodies. When in balance, these colonies of microorganisms tend to have a favorable effect on our bodies. When there is an imbalance, we may experience unwanted symptoms.

gut bacteria
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Overview

Gut dysbiosis means there is an imbalance of microorganisms in the intestines. Dysbiosis is also known as intestinal or gastrointestinal dysbiosis.

Gut microorganisms, collectively known as gut flora, consist predominantly of various strains of bacteria, and to a lesser extent include fungi and protozoa. The gut flora are essential for digestion and immune functioning. A state of dysbiosis, therefore, will result in digestive and other systemic symptoms.

Types of Dysbiosis

There is more than one type of gut dysbiosis. Some people have too much harmful bacteria in their digestive system, while others don't have enough good bacteria. Gut dysbiosis may also describe an imbalance in the microbe community in your gut or a lack of microbe diversity.

Health Problems Stemming From Gut Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis has been identified as playing a possible role with a variety of health problems. What this role might be is not always clear. It is theorized that the balance of gut bacteria can affect the immune system and the health of the lining of the gut (increased intestinal permeability). As you can see, health conditions in which dysbiosis might play a part are not all digestive in nature:

Gut dysbiosis and weight gain may be related as well. Some studies, for example, have found a link between obesity and certain types of gut microorganisms.

Causes

Dysbiosis is caused by a change in the population of the various microbes, in that unhelpful microbes overpower those that are more beneficial. Unfortunately, this tends to have a snowball effect, as the lesser amounts of helpful microbes become less and less able to keep the "unfriendly" microbes from multiplying. Dysbiosis may also be caused by changes in the location of the various types of microorganisms throughout the intestines or a change in how they are operating.

Some factors that appear contribute to a state of dysbiosis include:

  • Antibiotic use (from medications or from the consumption of antibiotic-treated animal products)
  • Unhealthy diet (lacking in nutrients and fiber or containing harmful substances)
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Secondary to medical illness, such as chemotherapy for cancer
  • High life stress levels

Symptoms

The symptoms of gut dysbiosis may include:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosis

Because there are a lot of individual differences between the gut microbiotas of healthy people, there's no standard way to arrive at a dysbiosis diagnosis. Some healthcare providers may order tests such as:

  • A comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA), which is a laboratory analysis of a stool sample.
  • A hydrogen breath test measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath. Unusual levels of hydrogen can point to a bacterial imbalance.
  • An organic acid test is a simple urine test that looks for the acids that some bacteria may produce.

Because certain conditions like IBS and long-term use of antibiotics are associated with dysbiosis, your healthcare provider will also ask you about your medical history.

Improving Gut Health

In theory, dysbiosis can be cured through improved dietary and lifestyle habits. Adopting a dysbiosis diet might mean eating high-quality proteins from sources like lean meat and fish, increasing your intake of fiber, and avoiding things like sugar, saturated fat, and refined flour.

Lifestyle changes might include things like engaging in mind/body techniques for stress management. Some alternative health practitioners recommend the use of bone broth, but there is no clinical research to back up this recommendation.

The research on the relationship between gut dysbiosis and our health is still in preliminary stages, although it is rapidly expanding. As of now, there are a few dysbiosis treatment options that have received some research support for improving a state of dysbiosis:

When dysbiosis is caused by too little good bacteria in the gut, probiotics may help. Some studies have shown that certain probiotics may cure this type of dysbiosis.

For people who have irritable bowel syndrome, there is a specific antibiotic named Xifaxan (rifaximin) that targets dysbiosis in the intestines.

As of now, this area of medicine is still in its preliminary stages. Clear information about improving dysbiosis and what effect that will have on health disorders are not yet available. However, this area of inquiry appears to be a promising one.

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