If you’ve been feeling run down, bloated, nauseated, anxious, achy or otherwise out-of-sorts, there’s a chance you may be thinking that it’s all in your head—but it’s much more likely that it’s all in your gut. A condition known as gut dysbiosis has been linked to a wide range of symptoms, from bad breath and skin rashes to constipation and depression. What’s more, the side effects of gut dysbiosis can go far beyond minor discomfort. This condition has been determined to be a root cause of many seemingly-unrelated disease and disorders—even cancer. (1)
So how can you know if you have gut dysbiosis, and what should you do if you suspect that you’re experiencing the symptoms of dysbiosis?
What is Gut Dysbiosis?
Your digestive tract is home to colonies made up of billions of bacteria. If the thought of bacteria in your gut makes you worry, don’t; despite the bad rap that bacteria often gets, the bacterial populations of your gut are (usually) good for you! The bacteria in your digestive tract, also known as your gut microbiome, have a key role in regulating health and disease and helping many of your body’s natural processes run smoothly.
The problems arise when the balance of the bacteria in your gut gets out-of-whack. Even healthy individuals have numerous strains of bad bacteria in their digestive tracts, but normally the good strains keep the negative effects caused by the harmful strains in check. When the bad bacteria residing in your gut starts to outnumber the populations of beneficial bacteria strains, however, it can lead to a condition known as gut dysbiosis. The signs and symptoms of gut dysbiosis can vary widely. Sometimes they’re minor and temporary, such as mild stomach upset. However, if your gut dysbiosis continues unchecked, it can increase your intestinal permeability and lead to significant and life-impacting symptoms as well as giving rise to more serious conditions and diseases such as several types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, hormone imbalances, metabolic diseases, neurological conditions, and more. (1)
Understanding the Causes of Intestinal Dysbiosis
Millions of Americans suffer from gut dysbiosis, and it’s no wonder: an imbalance of gut bacteria can be caused by so many everyday factors. Some of the most common causes of gut dysbiosis include:
- Changes to your diet, such as an increase in your sugar or dietary additives intake
- Antibiotic use
- Excessive alcohol consumption, typically more than two drinks a day
- Poor dental hygiene that leads to bacterial imbalances in your mouth
- Chronic stress that affects your immune system function
- Accidentally or purposeful consumption of certain chemicals, such as pesticides left on unwashed fruit or chemotherapy provided for cancer treatment (3)
- Exposure to harmful bacteria during unprotected sex (2)
Intestinal dysbiosis can also arise from a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO occurs when bacteria that normally reside in other parts of the human gut (namely your large intestine) starts growing in your small intestine instead. (4)
This can lead to pain, diarrhea, and even malnutrition if the bacteria in your small intestine start using up the nutrients in the food you eat.
In short, anything that creates a disruption in the balance of the human gut microbiota can cause dysbiosis—and, as you can see, many everyday things can lead to a bacterial imbalance in your digestive tract.
The Variety of Health Problems Caused by Gut Dysbiosis
As we mentioned before, any shift in the delicate bacterial balance in your gut can trigger a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms. Some of these are directly related to your digestive function, such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea, bloating or general upset stomach. Because your gut health is so closely linked to many other bodily functions, however, the side effects caused by intestinal dysbiosis can go beyond the GI tract. Bad breath, difficulty urinating, chest pain, joint pain, fatigue, skin rash or redness, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and depression have all be linked to gut dysbiosis.
However, bacterial imbalances in the gastrointestinal tract can do more than directly cause discomfort. Gut dysbiosis has the dubious honor of playing a role in a whole host of health conditions and diseases. Some of these health problems are related to digestive function, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. The effects of unbalanced gut microbiota can cause health issues outside the gastrointestinal tract, however, leading to conditions that affect the immune system, liver function, weight loss and more.
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- rheumatoid arthritis
- leaky gut syndrome
- celiac disease
- skin conditions such as eczema
- Parkinson’s disease
- late-onset dementia
- heart disease and heart failure
- certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- weight gain and obesity
- and much more (5)
For obvious reasons, getting your gut dysbiosis under control is critical for promoting your overall health—but what can you do if you determine that a bacterial imbalance is the underlying cause of your health issues?
How You Can Help Heal Your Gut & Bring Balance to Your Digestive Tract
Luckily, there are treatment options available that can help combat gut dysbiosis and bring balance back to your gut flora.
Makeover Your Diet
For many Americans, their gut dysbiosis is a direct result of their diet. The beneficial bacteria strains in your gut need certain key nutrients to thrive, including b-complex vitamins like B6 and B12, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and beta-carotene. Making sure that your diet includes enough of these vitamins and minerals is an important step in curing your dysbiosis. You can get these nutrients naturally by eating more fish such as salmon and mackerel, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and high-fiber foods such as lentils and raspberries. (2)
At the same time as you add the nutrients that the good bacteria in your gut need to thrive into your diet, you need to cut back on the foods that fuel the growth of harmful bacteria strains. That includes foods that are high in sugar (whether that sugar comes from corn syrup or raw cane sugar), processed meats like deli meat, and simple carbohydrates like potatoes, white bread and pasta. (2)
Discontinue Use of Dysbiosis-Causing Medicines
Let’s be clear: you shouldn’t stop taking any prescription medications without clearing it with your doctor! However, as we noted above, many antibiotics can lead to bacterial imbalances—and if you’ve been experiencing the common symptoms of gut dysbiosis, your doctor may suggest discontinuing their use.
Take a Daily Probiotic Supplement
One of the easiest steps you can take to combat the multitude of side effects caused by an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria is to begin taking a daily probiotic supplement. Research has shown that probiotic therapy can be effective in correcting “illness-promoting” dysbiosis, reversing bacterial imbalance and restoring your gut health. By adding a probiotic supplement like LoveBug Probiotics’ Here’s the Skinny to your daily routine, you can be well on your way to a healthy gut microbiome—and all with one easy-to-swallow tablet a day! In addition, probiotics have many other health benefits XYZ – so you really can’t go wrong.
- Gottfried, Sara. “Dysbiosis Decoded: Symptoms, Why You Get It, and Link to Autoimmunity, Breast Cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Plus Other Common Conditions.” Dr. Sara Gottfried MD. Last modified June 2015. https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/dysbiosis-symptoms-and-conditions/.
- Jewell, Tim. “What Causes Dysbiosis and How Is It Treated?” Health Line. Last modified November 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/dysbiosis.
- Bolen, Barbara. “The Role Dysbiosis May Be Playing in Your Health.” Very Well Health. Last modified October 2018. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-intestinal-dysbiosis-1945045.
- McConnell, Darcy. “What is Dysbiosis – and What You Can Do About It.” Blum Health MD. Last modified June 2017. https://blumhealthmd.com/2017/06/17/what-is-dysbiosis/.
- DeGruttola, Arianna K., Daren Low, Atsushi Mizoguchi, and Emiko Mizoguchi. “Current understanding of dysbiosis in disease in human and animal models.” Inflamm Bowel Dis 22, no. 5 (2016): 1137–1150. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000000750.
- Wischmeyer, Paul E., Daniel McDonald, and Rob Knight. “Role of the microbiome, probiotics, and ‘dysbiosis therapy’ in critical illness.” Curr Opin Crit Care 22, no. 4. (2016): 347–353. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000321.