What is dysbiosis?
Biosis means way of life. In dysbiosis, the “dys” in dysbiosis means bad or abnormal. More specifically, dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in our micro-organisms that can lead us to develop a number of health conditions. Our bodies are home to millions of small particles, too tiny to see, called microbes or microorganisms…over 100 trillion. Many microbes are important to keep us healthy, but some can make us sick. The most common microbes are bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
A balance of micro-organisms is important to a healthy immune system and the prevention of disease. This is also important to support optimal digestion and nutrient production. A number of factors can impact the potential development of dysbiosis, including your genetics, lifestyle, early infant/childhood exposure to and colonization of microbes, as well as your medical history (vaccination, hygiene, antibiotics). Typically, dysbiosis is seen mostly in the gut, but can occur on skin or mucous membranes (eyes, ears, sinuses, etc.)
Dysbiosis is really about the relationship your micro-organisms have with you. Microbes actually communicate, so your gut microbes actually message your brain and your immune system. Actually, your gut communicates much more to the brain than the brain communicates to our gut.
An overgrowth of bacteria or bad bacteria may increase intestinal permeability, allowing food substances to travel beyond your gut wall. This is one potential trigger of intestinal permeability (known as leaky gut). Others include food (gluten, casein, or other food sensitivities), toxins, stress, and traumatic brain injury. With leaky gut, the immune system is activated by the larger particles that leak through the gut wall. The end result is inflammation.
Why should I address my dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis can impact your immune and inflammatory responses. The end products of the gut micro-organisms may cause low-grade inflammation and contribute to metabolic disorders and degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
A healthy ecosystem of microbes (microbiome) supports production of nutrients, our ability to detoxify, and can actually influence how we metabolize medication. An imbalance or presence of unwanted microbes can result in chemical messages and activation of the immune system to cause inflammation in the brain and other organs.
Knowing that our gut microbes are major communicators connecting the gut and the brain and mediate the activity of our immune system, you can understand why it is important to optimize your gut microbiome.
How do I know if I have a dysbiosis?
Well, basically, you will have symptoms of inflammation. This may include gut symptoms, such as reflux, heartburn, bloating, excessive gas, belly pain, constipation or diarrhea, or symptoms of disease in other organs that don’t seem to be gut-related but actually have their root cause in the gut. Joint aches, mental health conditions, autoimmune disease, resistance to weight loss are some examples.
What can be done to fix dysbiosis? Functional medicine practitioners usually go to the gut first to see if it’s the cause of your symptoms. They use the 5Rs to treat dysbiosis and other causes of inflammation. The 5Rs include remove, replace, re-inoculate, repair, and rebalance. For dysbiosis, your practitioner will first work to identify the microorganisms that need to be removed or reduced. This may include testing such as GI-mapping, stool analysis, or hydrogen breath tests, etc.
To replace, practitioners may use various foods, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceuticals to help develop or manage the gut to promote a health microbial community. Re-inoculate includes the use of pre-biotic and pro-biotic foods and supplements. Repair may require the use of supplements to heal the gut lining and tighten the junctions to seal the gut so that the leaking of food particles outside the gut wall is stopped.
The bottom line is that while you can change your gut microbes relatively quickly, it is a lifelong commitment to your health to keep your microbiome in balance and get rid of the “dys” in dysbiosis to have a healthy way of life and help prevent disease.