Do you suffer from digestive problems like cramps, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn?
Perhaps you also suffer from non-digestive problems such as acne, chronic fatigue, and anxiety?
If so, gut dysbiosis could be to blame.
As a naturopath who has treated many people with a combination of digestive and non-digestive problems, I understand that you may wonder how a non-digestive issue such as anxiety could possibly be related to your gut.
In this article, I will discuss what the relation between your gut and your body, the definition of gut dysbiosis, signs and symptoms of gut dysbiosis, what causes it and tests and treatments for it.
What is Gut Dysbiosis?
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. When gut dysbiosis occurs, one or more of these changes occur:
- You lose beneficial bacteria in your gut
- You get potentially harmful bacteria taking over your gut
- You have less diverse bacteria in your gut
Your gut can contain more than 1, 000 species of bacteria. Your gut microbiome (bacteria in your gut) perform many important roles. For instance, they help maintain a healthy metabolism, digest your food, make vitamin K and other essential nutrients, maintain the well-being of the lining of your gut so that infections do not cross into your blood, and make short chain fatty acids which may play a role in preventing and treating obesity, bowel disease and various cancers.
The activity of gut bacteria are so far-reaching, they even communicate with distant organs such as your brain via the gut-brain connection!
Most of the bacteria in your gut are actually “good bacteria”, meaning that they will not cause you any harm. The rest of the bacteria are called “opportunistic bacteria” meaning they will not cause you any harm as long as they are kept in check by the good bacteria. However, once they overrun the good bacteria, they can wreak havoc on your body and cause gut dysbiosis!
Gut Dysbiosis Symptoms and Signs
Gut dysbiosis causes a number of signs and symptoms. For instance, gut dysbiosis can cause the lining of your gut to become “leaky”. When the gut becomes leaky, toxins and bacteria can enter your bloodstream which can trigger a variety of symptoms such as nutrient malabsorption. Other signs and symptoms of gut dysbiosis include:
- Heart burn
- Food allergies, intolerance or sensitivity
- Aching joints
- Skin Rashes
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with your immune system
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Asthma or other difficulties breathing
- Memory loss
- Nutritional/Vitamin deficiencies
Below is a video that discusses some of the signs and symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis:
Conditions That Have Been Linked to Gut Dysbiosis
There are a variety of conditions that have been linked to gut dysbiosis. It may surprise you to see how many of these are non-gut related! These include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Colorectal cancer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Thyroid disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Coeliac disease
- Anorexia nervosa
Potential Causes of Gut Dysbiosis
If you have gut dysbiosis, it could be as a result of:
- Taking antibiotics and antibacterial medications
Did you know that taking antibiotics for just a short period of time actually shifts your gut to an unbalanced state of being in the long-term? In fact, you can be in a state of dysbiosis for months or even years!
Research has shown that taking antibiotics such as metronidazole and omeprazole affects upwards of 30% of your microbiome makeup and this can last up to 4 years. Specifically, when you take antibiotics you reduce the number and diversity of bacteria in your gut. Why does this matter? The less diverse your microbiome is, the less likely your immune system will be fast enough to fight off invaders!
Tip: Try to limit your use of antibiotics as much as possible. If you must take an antibiotic, once you have finished your course of antibiotics, take a high quality probiotic to help re-populate your gut.
- Increasing your intake of sugars, refined starch, processed foods and food additives e.g. artificial sweeteners and preservatives
Most artificial sweeteners have been claimed to be safe. Sucralose (Splenda) for instance, has been reported to be safe because most of it is not absorbed or metabolized in our bodies. If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, you may be taking artificial sweeteners to help you fend off the weight, but did you know that they could be contributing to your gut dysbiosis?
Animal research has shown that sucralose affects the makeup of bacteria in the gut. Sucralose has also been shown to increase the amount of inflammation-causing products (toxins) secreted by the gut bacteria. Other artificial sweeteners have also been shown to cause gut dysbiosis.
Tip: Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners.
- Accidentally ingesting harmful chemicals and toxins from foods such as occurs when eating unwashed fruits, vegetables, and cereals
Do you love exotic fruits? Not washing your exotic fruits well before eating them could be causing your gut dysbiosis!
One of the most widely used pesticides, chlorpyrifos has been shown to increase the concentration of bad bacteria in the gut. Though chlorpyrifos is no longer commonly used in the States and Europe, it is still commonly used in other parts of the world. So, if you are consuming produce from other parts of the world, make sure you wash it thoroughly!
Tip: If you can, eat locally and organically! By eating locally and organically, you not only decrease your chances of ingesting harmful chemicals, you increase your nutrient intake by eating produce that is at its peak nutritionally!
- Drinking too much alcohol
Studies show that drinking too much alcohol increases the number of predominantly bad bacteria, Proteobacteria and Fusobacteria in your gut. Notably, Proteobacteria and Fusobacterium have been linked to inflammation in the body.
Tip: Limit your alcohol intake and ideally have no more than 1 or 2 servings of alcohol in a day. If you already have gut dysbiosis related to drinking too much alcohol, take a prebiotic as research suggests that this may help improve your gut microbiome.
- Not taking care of your teeth properly which causes an imbalance of bacteria in your mouth
Not taking care of your teeth properly may not only lead to tooth decay and gum disease, it may also result in gut dysbiosis! An animal study found that gum disease leads to a change in the gut microbiome and inflammation of the fatty tissue and liver.
Tip: Make sure you brush your teeth twice daily to get rid of most of the gum-diseasing causing bacteria in your mouth. You could also try swishing your mouth with extra virgin coconut oil as research has found that swishing your mouth with extra virgin coconut oil for about 10 to 20 minutes, is as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in reducing gum disease-promoting bacteria.
- Elevated levels of stress, anxiety or depression which impact your immune system
Are you under a lot of stress? One of the chemicals released when you are under a lot of stress is norepinephrine. Research has shown that norepinephrine released during surgery (a form of stress) increases the production of the bad bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa which leads to gut dysbiosis and infection. In addition, norepinephrine causes other bad bacteria to multiply or become more potent.
Tip: If you are under a lot of stress engage in relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises to let off some steam.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Are you puzzled as to how non-digestive problems such as anxiety and chronic fatigue could actually be connected to problems with your gut? Well, the answer is your gut-brain connection aka gut-brain axis.
You probably already realize that your brain affects your stomach. For instance, when you just think about eating, your brain sends signals to your stomach to produce digestive juices. Well, the connection also goes the opposite way!
Your gut actually sends signals to your brain when it is in trouble. As a result, when you have a problem with your gut as occurs with gut dysbiosis, non-digestive symptoms such as anxiety can occur. Truly amazing!
We wrote a whole article on this topic you can check out titled… Gut-Brain Connection and How it Affects Your Mood.
Testing for Gut Dysbiosis
Not sure whether you have gut dysbiosis?
Getting tested for dysbiosis will give you a picture of the number of good and “bad” bacteria in your gut. These tests can help you find out if you have gut dysbiosis:
- Hydrogen breath test: This test measures the amount of hydrogen you breathe out after drinking a sugary drink and breathing into a test tube. This test is used to check for SIBO, intolerance to fructose and other problems with your gut.
If your levels of hydrogen are high, you may have gut dysbiosis. However, in order to have an accurate test, you need to avoid consuming probiotics, vegetables, fruit and alcohol before the test. Your gastroenterologist can do the test for you or I can organise for you a home test kit.
- Organic acids test: This test measures the amount of organic acids in your urine. Your gut bacteria produce organic acids as by-products of their metabolism. When you have too much organic acid in your urine, it may mean that certain bacteria are overtaking your gut.
- Stool test: This test measures the amount of good and “bad” bacteria in your poop.
- Gut MicrobiomeTest: This is a comprehensive test that I use with clients. It is also a test that looks at your stool. With this test, your stool is measured in a lab using 16S RNA ribosomal sequencing, which is a method in which scientists isolate the DNA that comes from your bacteria. This test gives you a clear picture of the exact percentage and ratio of different species of bacteria in your gut.
Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis Treatment
Now that you know what gut dysbiosis is and what causes it, you may be wondering how you can treat it. The below is a general list of how you can improve your gut microbiome. As you can see, most of the treatment is dietary.
It is important to mention, when I work with clients, protocols are personalised based on individual results and I will use targeted herbal and nutritional medicines where required.
- Eat Fermented Foods: Eating fermented foods will help heal your gut as probiotics contain a fair amount of prebiotics (substances that feed your good bacteria). They also contain a fair amount of probiotics (bacteria that are beneficial for your health). Examples of fermented foods include kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and fermented milk products such as yogurt.
- Eat More Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: Your gut bacteria need fiber to survive. By eating more fiber, you will help build up your gut bacteria. Examples of fiber-rich foods include starchy tubers, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit.
- Get Dirty: Do you carry a bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere you go? Your cleanliness habit could be contributing to your gut dysbiosis. Our over-use of antibacterial soaps results in immature microbiomes. What are some good ways to get dirty? Try exposing yourself to more germs by gardening, owning a pet, or playing in nature.
- Take a Probiotic Supplement: Invest in a high-quality probiotic supplement in order to increase the number of good bacteria in your gut.
- Avoid the overuse of Antibiotics: Whenever you take antibiotics, you not only kill the bad bacteria, you also kill the good bacteria in your gut and it can take years to repopulate the good bacteria in your gut. After completing a course of antibiotics, make sure you ingest a high-quality probiotic supplement to repopulate your gut.
- Avoid processed foods: Are you a processed food junkie? Your eating habits could be contributing to gut dysbiosis. Processed foods tend to contain a lot of refined carbohydrates, sugars, fats and artificial additives which help feed bad bacteria.
- Avoid a high-fat diet: The ketogenic diet with its high proportion of fats is all the rage now for weight loss; however, it may not be a good idea for your gut microbiome! Bad bacteria love fat so being on a ketogenic diet may not be a good idea if you have gut dysbiosis. A ketogenic diet can be a powerful protocol, but it is important to get your gut in good working order first.
Below is a video that summarizes the gut-brain axis, your microbiome, and the role of food in maintaining a healthy microbiome:
Gut dysbiosis occurs when there is an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. It can result in a number of digestive and non-digestive signs and symptoms including constipation, diarrhoea, anxiety and depression. Additionally, gut dysbiosis is linked to a number of conditions including Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
Gut dysbiosis may be caused by a number of factors including drinking too much alcohol, taking antibiotics and poor dental hygiene. There a number of tests for gut dysbiosis including organic acids test and the Gut MicrobiomeTest.
Do you think you have gut dysbiosis? Here are some important next steps:
- Get tested by getting in contact about a Gut MicrobiomeTest.
- If you think you may have gut dysbiosis, follow these general steps:
- Eat fermented food
- Eat more fiber
- Get dirty
- Take a high-quality probiotic supplement
- Avoid highly processed foods
- Avoid a high-fat diet
- If you are on antibiotics, check with your healthcare practitioner to confirm whether they are really necessary
- If you suspect you don’t have gut dysbiosis, keep it that way by:
- Using antibiotics only when necessary
- Limiting your intake of sugar, refined starch, processed foods and food additives
- Carefully washing your fruits and vegetables and/or eating organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables if possible
- Drinking only one or two servings of alcohol a day
- Practicing proper dental hygiene including swishing with alcohol or extra virgin coconut oil to rid yourself of gum-disease-causing bacteria
- Making time for stress-reducing activities such as meditation and deep breathing exercises
Did you enjoy reading this article? I hope you did!
If you have any questions for me, please leave me a comment in the comments section!