Dysbiosis is a term for a microbial imbalance that most often affects a person’s digestive tract. That being said, dysbiosis can also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, ears, nose, sinuses, nails, and vagina.
Dysbiosis is also sometimes called dysbacteriosis or bacterial dysbiosis. That is because the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) contains both “good” and “bad” bacteria to form the gut flora—also called the gut microbe. But, other tiny organisms also reside in the gastrointestinal tract, including yeast, fungus, viruses, and parasites.
The dysbiosis pronunciation is “diss-bi-osis.” Russian-born microbiologist and zoologist, Dr. Elie Metchnikoff, would first coin the term in the 20th century. Dr. Metchnikoff is the first scientist to discover the impact of the properties of probiotics—also known as that “good bacteria.” The terms “dys” and “symbiosis” translate to “not living in harmony.”
The gut, or GI tract, has three major roles: the absorption of nutrients, the digestion of foods while converting food into vitamins, and the prevention of toxins and pathogens from entering your body. There are approximately 500 species of bacteria that make up “the gut flora.” The beneficial bacteria are essential for good digestion and the proper maintenance of the intestines. The most common classification of “good bacteria” will begin with the names “Bifidobacteria,” or “Lactobacillus.”
When the gut flora is balanced, it is called “orthobiosis,” which again is a term introduced by Dr. Metchnikoff in the early 1900s. He considered dysbiosis so serious that is also said, “death begins in the gut.” The issue here is that not all of the friendly organisms in the gut flora are “friendly.” In fact, when there is an overgrowth of bacteria, parasites, fungus, yeast, or other organisms, it can lead to dysbiosis.
Causes of the dysbiosis
In general, women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with a digestive disorder than men. In the U.S., it is estimated that over 30 million people suffer from an imbalance in the GI tract. However, that number is probably a lot higher considering that there are so many potential causes of gut dysbiosis. The following are some of the dysbiosis causes:
- Antibiotic use: Antibiotics seem to be prescribed for everything these days, especially when they are not needed (i.e. in cases of the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, most sore throats, and many ear and sinus infections). Every time antibiotics are taken, they kill all the bacteria—even the “good” kind. Over prescribing antibiotics will also cause antibiotic resistance, which means the antibiotics don’t only kill the “good bacteria,” but they may not even help in cases of bacterial infections.
- Use of other drugs: Proton-pump inhibitors and antacids are designed to block hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, but that acid is the first line of defense against microbes that enter the body with food. When that acid is blocked, the body no longer defends against the “bad microbes.” The overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also inhibits the growth of the “good bacteria.”
- Fermentation: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a carbohydrate intolerance condition induced by bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, large intestine, and stomach. Any carbohydrate will ferment by the “bad bacteria” and produce toxic waste products as a result.
- Chronic stress: Chronic stress will increase hormone levels, and this also highly impairs the immune system, which creates an environment in the GI tract that is susceptible to dysbiosis.
- Poor diet: A poor diet is another major factor in dysbiosis. Low-fiber diets, high-fat and high-protein diets, and diets high in sugar and processed foods can slow down gut motility, and also often lack nutrients necessary to nourish and repair the digestive organs, including the GI tract. Candida is a type of yeast that lives off sugar and processed foods, which highly disturb the balance of organisms in the body. Gluten sensitivity is also a factor in dysbiosis.
- Environmental factors: Environmental factors that influence dysbiosis include contaminated food and water, exposure to manufactured chemicals or toxic metals, the presence of fungus or mold in the home, and living in a foggy or damp climate.
Symptoms of the dysbiosis
There are several dysbiosis signs and symptoms linked the condition. Here are the intestinal dysbiosis symptoms you will often experience:
- The common recurring digestive issues will include chronic diarrhea, heartburn, chronic constipation, bloating, belching, abdominal pain, frequent indigestion, bad breath, foul-smelling stools, undigested food in the stool, or nausea after taking supplements
- Weight loss due to malabsorption, or weight gain
- Food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances
- Sugar cravings, including alcohol
- Rectal or vagina itching
- Weak of cracked fingernails
- Iron deficiency
- Loss of libido and infertility
- Chronic sinus congestion
- Bladder problems like interstitial cystitis
- Hyperactivity like behavioral and learning disorders
- Mental fog
Diagnosis of the dysbiosis
Right away let’s make something clear. Dysbiosis is often suspected when the patients have a food intolerance or allergy, unexplained fatigue, malnutrition, neuropsychiatric symptoms, breast or colon cancer, or inflammatory, autoimmune, or gastrointestinal disorders. You should also seek help if you regularly experience lots of digestive problems like gas, bloating, or diarrhea. The most useful diagnostic test for dysbiosis is called a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA).
The CDSA will include a number of procedures such as biochemical evaluations of digestion, evaluation of bacterial microflora, detection of abnormal mycology, evaluation of intestinal absorption, and the detection of metabolic markers of intestinal metabolism. From these tests, excessive triglycerides, meat, vegetable fibers, fatty acids, or cholesterol may indicate gut dysbiosis.
Severe dysbiosis cases may also result in abnormal blood tests that indicate low levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid, and malabsorption of proteins.
Other tests used for dysbiosis include the breath hydrogen test, candida testing, the Genova IP test for leaky gut, u-biome tests to offer a bigger picture of the bacteria in the body, and zonulin testing. Zonulin is a protein that is commonly implicated in leaky gut syndrome and levels will often be high.