The invisible epidemic
What is dysbiosis?
You live in communities, and communities live in you.
Colonies of beneficial bacteria make their home in your intestinal tract where they perform functions that benefit themselves and their environment, which happens to be your body. When everything works well, it’s a classic symbiotic relationship that’s a win-win for everyone. But things don’t always work well.
Collectively, the bacteria and other microbes (microbiota) that populate the digestive tract make up the gut microbiome. You may have heard of good bacteria, eubacteria, or commensal bacteria—all ways of describing the desirable microscopic partners that are essential to good health. And you’ve certainly heard of harmful bacteria, yeast, and viruses that cause illness and disease.
Dysbiosis occurs when the microbiome becomes imbalanced. Harmful microbes can gain a foothold, but even altered proportions of the types of microbes or too many good bacteria in the wrong part of the digestive tract can negatively impact your health.
Microbiome refers to a given environment’s microbiota (combined population of bacteria, yeast, viruses, and other microbes) and the place they reside. Trillions of microorganisms live within your gastrointestinal tract. In fact, you have ten times the number of bacteria in your digestive tract as cells in your whole body. These microbes produce important organic compounds, like serotonin and enzymes that impact estrogen levels. The GI tract, the microbes, and their metabolites make up the gut microbiome.
If you’ve heard of Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is commonly found in yogurt and probiotic supplements, you’re already familiar with one member of the gut microbiome. In recent years, scientists have succeeded to some degree in genetically mapping the mind-boggling number of organisms in healthy digestive tracts. One effort in 2019, GutFeelingKB, found that two of the most common species of bacteria are Bifidobacterium longum and Bacteroides fragilis.
Research shows that the species and proportions of bacteria in people’s digestive tracts vary according to the part of the world they live in. Even within a given country or city, though, each individual’s microbiome is unique. Your neighbor may be harboring strains of bacteria that you’re not—and vice versa. An infant’s microbiome contains a different mix of organisms than a child’s or an adult’s.
Vive la difference! Diversity rules in the microbiome—or it should. In fact, a loss of diversity in the gut microbiome—fewer types of resident microorganisms—is associated with chronic diseases.
Good health depends on the quantity, diversity, and function of the gut microbiome. In other words, good health depends on a balanced microbiome.
The gut microorganisms manufacture substances our bodies need, including vitamins, enzymes, and brain chemicals. They break down food, destroy toxins, and provide energy to cells in the digestive tract. And they even form a communication network with various body organs like the lungs, brain, and skin. Through these functions, intestinal bacteria impact multiple body systems.
A healthy microbiome produces healthy:
- Cognition and mood
- Immune function
- Nutrient absorption
- Nutrient production
- Digestion and
- Inflammatory responses
Bottom line: If the microbiome ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Both researchers and clinicians identify three types of dysbiosis.
Gain of function:
An excess of one or more species of microbes that crowd out other communities of beneficial bacteria. This can happen when a new pathogenic bacteria or microbe enters the gut and “takes over.” However, often species of beneficial bacteria already living in the digestive tract become dominant over the thousands of other species that live in balance with one another. Think of it as an overpopulation of a species in the wild. Too many of any animal can affect every other level of the food chain, and ultimately, the environment itself.
Loss of function:
The absence of species and communities of beneficial bacteria. This is often caused by continuous courses of antibiotics or chronic diarrhea. Without beneficial bacteria and other microbes, the body is deprived of essential products and critical communication links the normal microbiota provide.
Combined gain and loss of function:
The above two types of dysbiosis often occur in quick succession. The loss of good bacteria can leave the terrain open for the taking by opportunistic bacteria. It’s also possible to have an overgrowth of good bacteria in one part of the digestive tract, for instance the small intestine, and a decrease in variety and quantity of good bacteria in another part like the colon.
All three types can wreak havoc on your body in multiple ways. A treatment protocol that only targets one type of dysbiosis may fall short, so it’s important to acknowledge the different kinds of dysbiosis.
Current research is constantly finding new links between changes in the gut microbiome and disease.
Conditions that are associated with dysbiosis include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Kidney stones
- Gall bladder problems
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Respiratory illnesses
What’s going on? How can changes in the gut bacteria produce such wide-ranging effects?
Researchers have compared the types of bacteria in the GI tracts of healthy people to the bacteria of people who have chronic illnesses. Even when the illnesses are different—for example, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease—the people with illnesses shared common dysbiosis patterns with each other rather than with healthy subjects.
Another pattern emerges as well. Those who have chronic health problems tend to have less diversity in their gut microbiome than those who are healthy. One study found that babies with atopic eczema had less diversity in their microbiomes than babies without that skin condition. In another study, scientists found that chronically ill subjects were more likely to have taken antibiotics within the last year and to have less diversity of intestinal bacteria. Unfortunately, many antibiotics reduce commensal bacteria colonies while they kill the targeted harmful bacteria. Researchers theorize that losing some of those bacteria makes it easier for diseases to begin and progress.
If you’ve taken antibiotics recently or continuously, you could be at risk for dysbiosis and the conditions that come with it.
The microbiome is such an unbelievably complex system that a single factor can throw a wrench in the entire machine.
Taking antibiotics can destroy necessary bacteria and leave room for opportunists. Food poisoning or a bout of diarrhea can do the same. Stress, illness, and injury can upset the delicate balance of your microbiome.
Another threat to the microbiome that’s becoming harder to avoid is exposure to environmental chemicals. Living in an industrialized society means taking in chemicals from our food, water, and air that can alter our microbiome. Some of the biggest offenders include BPA (found in many plastics), phthalates (plasticizing chemicals that sneak into the food we eat and air we breathe), POPs (persistent organic pollutants that accumulate in the environment from pesticides and industrial processes), and PBDEs (a common fire retardant chemical that accumulates in house dust).
With all these threats to the gut microbiome, no wonder dysbiosis has become so prevalent.
If any of the following apply to you, there’s a good chance you have dysbiosis:
- Have used antibiotics
- Eat out frequently
- Had food poisoning
- Had a case of diarrhea or often have diarrhea
- Frequent colds or illnesses
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Blood sugar irregularities
- Digestive discomfort
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rashes or itchiness
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Stressful life events
- Poor sleep patterns
- Yeast infection
- Chemical exposure
Does that sound like just about everyone?
We agree, which is why we’re calling attention to this invisible epidemic and urging people to take care of their microbiome—which is so essential to a full and vibrant life.
Australian Academy of Science. (2016). Gut bacteria: The inside story. Curious. https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/gut-bacteria
Bull, MJ & Plummer, NT. Part 1: The human gut microbiome in health and disease. Integrative Medicine. 2014;13(6):17-22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566439/
CDC. (2021). What’s the big deal about antibiotic resistance? https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/antibiotic-resistance.html
Fattorusso A, et al. Autism spectrum disorders and the gut microbiota. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):521. doi:10.3390/nu11030521. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471505/
King, CH, et al. Baseline human gut microbiota profile in healthy people and standard reporting template. PLOS One. 2019;14(9):e0206484. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0206484
Quigley, EMM. Gut bacteria in health and disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2013; 9(9): 560-569. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
Science Daily. (2020). Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200521112605.htm
Wilkins, LJ et al. Defining dysbiosis for a cluster of chronic diseases. Nature Scientific Reports. 2019;9(1):12918. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49452-y
You can defeat dysbiosis.
The Gut Wellness Program at the Global Wellness Lab is a 10 week program designed to address all three types of dysbiosis at once.
If you or your practitioner think you have dysbiosis, this comprehensive strategy can help you restore the balance in your microbiome and your body as a whole.
Start smart with our favorite probiotic + prebiotic combo!
Most commercial probiotics only contain 2 or 3 species of beneficial bacteria – often numbering only at a few billion bacteria per serving (you have and need TRILLIONS in your gut). For comparison, our recommendation contains over 50 billion live microorganisms per serving.
When you are looking for a good probiotic, you want to see at least three things:
- Wide diversity of bacteria species
- 4:1 ratio of anaerobic (non-oxygen-loving) bacteria to aerobic bacteria
- Over 25 billion live microorganisms per serving (at the least)
- Healthy prebiotics to help the bacteria you take quickly multiply (without sugars that can feed harmful bacteria, like FOS). Basically, you want food that only certain types of bacteria will thrive upon.
Probiotic Pro meets all of these goals, and then some. Check it out!