What is Dysbiosis?

A Definition of Dysbiosis (Gut Dysbiosis)

Dysbiosis, or gut dysbiosis, is an imbalance of the bacteria in your gut that occurs for a variety of reasons, such as antibiotic therapy, illness, or eating a diet high in sugar. Your microbiota, or gut flora, weighs approximately four pounds and contains an estimated 400-1,000 different species of bacteria.

what is dysbiosisSome of those bacteria are friendly and play a key role in digestion and overall gastrointestinal health. But, bacteria that is not beneficial, such as yeasts, fungi, parasites, and other microorganisms, also are a part of the microbiota. People who have a healthy microbiota balance have a majority of beneficial bacteria; on the other hand, people who suffer from dysbiosis have a reduced number of friendly bacteria, and the harmful bacteria become the majority.

Symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis

There are some health issues that commonly arise in people who suffer from dysbiosis. Dr. Elizabeth Lipski, author, integrative and holistic nutrition educator, and clinician, cites several serious health concerns that dysbiosis leads to, including arthritis, autoimmune illness, food allergies and sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more.

While the symptoms of gut dysbiosis vary from individual to individual, there are some common symptoms that occur in individuals whose microbiota is out of balance:

  • IBS-type digestive issues such as bloating, belching, abdominal pain, indigestion, constipation, heartburn, and diarrhea
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Frequent colds, flu, or sinus infections
  • Skin problems such as acne, eczema, or rosacea
  • Fatigue or chronic fatigue
  • Depression or anxietygut dysbiosis: what is it, what are symptoms?
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Allergies or food allergies and food sensitivities
  • Mental fog or forgetfulness
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Bad breath and gum disease
  • Chronic yeast problems or Candida overgrowth
  • Behavioral or learning disorders or hyperactivity
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Acid reflux
  • Lowered libido
  • Burning in the mouth
  • Anal itching
  • Joint pain
  • Nail fungi
  • Cravings for sugar or alcohol
  • Stomach bugs or food poisoning episodes

Causes of Dysbiosis

Gut dysbiosis may be caused by a number of things, as the microbiota balance is delicate. Women who use birth control pills and people who use other types of hormones or immunosuppressants such as steroids are at an increased risk of developing dysbiosis. People who do not eat a healthy, balanced diet, especially those who consume too much sugar, are also at risk of having an imbalanced microbiota. Other causes of dysbiosis include drinking alcohol, experiencing psychological and physical stress, undergoing chemotherapy, frequently eating processed foods containing sulfates or sulfites, consuming artificial sweetener, and following the Standard American diet that is low in fiber and high in fat.

Antibiotic therapy is the most common cause of gut dysbiosis. Anytime that we take an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, the antibiotic impacts the microbiota. While the impact of the antibiotic on the microbiota varies by dosage, length of administration, and its spectrum of activity, antibiotics are a significant cause of the alterations made to the microbiota. As a general rule, the longer you take an antibiotic, and the higher the dosage, the greater the impact on your intestinal flora.

Treatment of Dysbiosis

One of the best ways to treat gut dysbiosis is to take probiotic supplments daily, especially if you are prescribed antibiotic therapy. Probiotics deposit beneficial bacteria back into the microbiota, helping to reestablish balance. Probiotics also help to keep the immune system healthy because they support the bacteria  that are so important to strong immune responses.

Putting beneficial bacteria back in the gut is just as important as feeding it with foods that support their existence, so people with dysbiosis also benefit by taking prebiotics and eating fermented foods. There are several foods that benefit people with dysbiosis, including raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, vinegar, specific yogurts, onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, asparagus, oat bran, green tea, carrots, brown rice, and almonds.

But, taking probiotics and eating foods containing prebiotics is not going to help people who have dysbiosis if they do not change their overall diet. Eliminating sugary, starchy foods, processed foods, and cheeses and milk that are difficult to digest is one step that nutritionists and doctors recommend for people who are diagnosed with dysbiosis.

If you have digestive issues that you cannot explain or any of the other symptoms listed here and have not been feeling like yourself, especially during or after antibiotic therapy, you should consult with a physician and begin making changes to your diet and taking probiotics to start on the path toward a balanced microbiota.

Images via Flickr by kaibara87 and Pixabay by MabelAmber