Is lack of beneficial bacteria in our guts responsible for majority of today's medical problems?
This article is a part 2 of article series exploring the health of our microbiome and it focuses on explaining the condition of dysbiosis (microbial imbalance in the gut) in more detail. I also share my own story of how things started to go really wrong for my gut from early childhood.
If you haven't read part 1 of the series, click here.
First, let's go over risk factors for dybiosis according to dr. Robynne Chutkan, MD, FASGE, founder of the Digestive Center for Women and author of many publications on the topic including "Gutless" and "The Microbiome Solution".
According to dr. Chutkan, answering yes to even one of the questions from the list below could indicate you have dysbiosis, and the risk is cumulative based on how many risk factors you have.
Risk factors for dysbiosis:
Have you taken antibiotics more than four times per year of for longer than two weeks at a time?
Have you been on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy in the last five years?
Have you taken corticosteroids such as prednisone or cortisone for longer than two weeks at a time?
Have you been on acid suppressive therapy with proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers (H2 blockers) for more than a month at a time?
Do you take ibuprofen, aspirin, or other NSAIDs regularly?
When you were growing up, were you a picky eater who rarely ate green vegetables?
Have you consumed a large amounts of sugar and starchy foods?
Do you drink more than 10 alcoholic beverages per week?
Do you drink one or more sodas or diet sodas daily?
Have you ever had diarrhea or dysentery with foreign travel?
Have you been diagnosed with a parasite?
Signs and symptoms of dysbiosis:
Acne, eczema, rosacea
Allergies and chronic food sensitivities
Bad breath and gum disease
Bloating or foul-smelling gas
Candida overgrowth or chronic yeast problems
Chronic unexplained fatigue
Depression or anxiety
Difficulty losing weight
Frequent colds, flu, or sinus infections
Mucus in stool
Poor digestion, including acid reflux
Stomach buds or episodes of food poisoning
Vaginal or anal itching
Conditions associated with dysbiosis:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Dysbiosis, besides making you sick, can make you fat.
Often times, even after eliminating sugary, starchy, fried and processed foods and following a restricted diet with plenty of exercise, many people continue to have a difficult time losing weight because they are colonized with the wrong bacteria.
Every minute of the day we are exposed to both good and bad bacteria that can colonize our guts. There are several factors that can contribute to the development of microbial imbalance and it starts at birth.
What are the major players contributing to dysbiosis?
In Dr. Chutkan's book (referenced below), which I highly recommend everybody to read, she lists a number of modern microbial disruptors. Some of the biggest she mentions are:
Antibiotics use - wide-spectrum antibiotics are still over-prescribed, often unnecessarily, for conditions such as flu and the common cold. Even a single course of antibiotics can significantly alter your gut flora.
Cesarean Sections - while often medically necessary, C-section born babies miss out on being colonized with Lactobacillus species and other essential microbes from their mother as they pass through a birth canal. They are typically colonized with less desirable hospital bacteria.
Antibiotics in pregnancy - almost half of all women giving birth in the U.S. hospitals and almost all of those undergoing C-sections receive antibiotics. Most of those antibiotics are prescribed preventively to healthy, asymptomatic women.
Baby formula - indigestible carbohydrates (not present in formula) in breast milk feed the baby's essential microbes, which in turn repel unfriendly bacteria on the mother's nipple.
Appendectomy - it turns out that the appendix, for decades considered unnecessary by medical practitioners, plays a very important role: it stores the good bacteria for when we need them, like after an episode of traveler's diarrhea.
Hand sanitizers - being colonized with various microbes is actually good for us, and scrubbing them away with the chemicals does us far more harm than good.
Chlorinated drinking water - widespread chlorination of public drinking water has been successful at reducing the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever, however treated water takes a toll on our gut as even low levels of chlorine are very toxic to essential microbes.
Agricultural practices including use of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in animals, and genetically modifying foods.
Part of the reason for me exploring this topic in such great details is that, although I was born vaginally and was fed breast milk (theoretically gaining big advantage over, for example my brother, born via C-section), I am certain that as a kid I was over-prescribed antibiotics had have significantly affected my health later on in life.
I remember growing up and always being sick. On numerous occasions I was getting injections of antibiotics to treat God knows what, as they never took any swabs or blood samples to really know if I had a bacterial infection. Besides getting colds all the time, when I was in middle school and high school I would get cold sores at least twice a year, for which I took some strong antibiotics. Yeast infections were also very common, which back then, I blamed on going to the swimming pool every week. Things seemed to quiet down for a bit when I lived in Scotland but once I moved to the US, I've developed allergies and contracted Lyme disease. I was hit pretty badly with it, experiencing some crazy neurological symptoms. I was on wide-spectrum antibiotics for at least 9 weeks. From there on things improved a little, but I still never felt I was as healthy as I should be considering my diet (which I thought was pretty good) and exercise habits. I would still get colds, sinus pain and cold sores.
I was sick and tired of that situation so I decided to do some research and see what I can do to be healthier.
To learn how to restore a healthy mix of microbes and take control of your gut read PART 3 of my article series here.
Want to know how to prevent and treat bloating naturally? Read my article on natural remedies for bloating here.
Robynne Chutkan, MD, FASGE - The Microbiome Solution. A radical new way to heal your body from the inside out.