Your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They are collectively known as the microbiome.
Fact: Bacteria and fungi are commonly much more smaller than our body cells. Typically, a bacteria can range from 10x to 100x smaller than a red blood cell…so the populations of bacteria have the potential to be greater than all the cells in our body and it’s commonly said that there are more bacteria counts combined in the human body than actual cells.
While some bacteria are associated with disease, others are actually extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and many other aspects of health. There is ‘symbiosis’ of good and bad bacteria within the body that is carefully balanced. In most people it is a 85-15 balance that works well. The imbalance is called ‘Dysbiosis’. Some effects of dysbiosis, such as stomach upset, are temporary and mild. In many cases, your body can correct the imbalance without treatment. But if your symptoms become more serious, you’ll need to see your doctor for diagnosis.
The majority of bacteria reside in your gut or intestinal tract of your digestive system. There are up to 1000 species of bacteria in the gut microbiome and each plays a different role in your body.
How does it affect your body?
Humans have evolved to live with microbes for millions of years. Archaeological studies have revealed that microbiome has changed throughout human history from the time humans were exclusively plant eaters to when we discovered fire, began eating meat, and developed agriculture to recently when humans processed grains and developed processed foods.
Our microbiome gets a huge hit the moment we are born and further enhanced by breast feeding during infancy. You are first exposed to the greater diversity of microbes when you pass through your mother’s birth canal. The inheritance of human bound bacteria from mother and child across all mammalian species is a vital defensive mechanism that helps newborns combat microbial pathogens early on in life. There are some cultures that bring up their infants within their immediate communities but breast feeding from multiple mothers during infancy and inheriting immunity strength of the collective. It throws into question the drawbacks of caesarean births. There is new evidence that suggests that babies may come in contact with some microbes while inside the womb.
As you grow as an infant to a child to a young adult, your gut microbiome diversifies and grows in species and number through the interaction of your environment. This microbiome diversification differs from culture to culture. There can be much discussion of the differences between populations and cultures of the health of gut microbiome. Higher microbiome diversity is considered good for your health
What causes dysbiosis and who is at risk?
Any interruption in the balance of microbiota can cause dysbiosis.
When dysbiosis happens in your GI tract, it’s typically the result of:
A dietary change that increases your intake of protein, sugar or food additives
- Accidental chemical consumption such as lingering pesticides on unwashed fruit and vegetables
- Drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day
- New medications such as anti-biotics, that affect your gut flora
- Poor dental hygiene, which allows bacteria to grow out of balance in your mouth
- High levels of stress or anxiety, which can weaken you immune system
- Unprotected sex, which can expose your to harmful bacteria
Example of dysbiosis on the human body can also occur on the skin where you notice more. Typical example is Cellulitis which is a bacterial infection of the skin where the skin has been broken, surgery, grazes, cuts and bacteria has permeated into the wound, typically in the form of conditions of Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. In certain conditions, being hot weather, sleeping positions/habits, bathing in tropical waters or many other reasons, Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria can overtake healthy bacteria in the vagina. All these cases the bad bacteria is winning over the balancing efforts of good bacteria and/or immune responses. The same imbalances occur in our gut.
What are symptoms of dysbiosis?
Your symptoms will depend on where the bacteria imbalance develops. They may also vary based on the types of bacteria that are out of balance.
- Common symptoms include:
- Bad breath
- Upset stomach
- Difficulty urinating
- Vaginal or rectal itching
- Trouble thinking or concentrating
How is dysbiosis diagnosed?
After going over your medical history and assessing your symptoms, your doctor may order one or several of the following diagnostic tests:
Organic acids tests
Your doctor will collect a urine sample and send it to a lab. The lab technician will test for certain acids that bacteria can produce. If these acid levels are abnormal, it may mean that certain bacteria are out of balance.
Comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA)
Your doctor will have you take home special equipment to obtain a sample of your poop. You’ll return this sample to your doctor for lab testing. The lab technician will test the poop to see what bacteria, yeasts, or fungi are present. These results can tell your doctor if there’s an imbalance or overgrowth.
Hydrogen breath test
Your doctor will have you drink a sugar solution and breathe into a special balloon. The air in the balloon can then be tested for gases produced by bacteria. Too much or too little of certain gases can indicate a bacterial imbalance. This test is often used to test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Your doctor may also take a sample of bacterial or tissue (biopsy) from an area of an active infection to see what bacteria are causing the infection. Gut intestinal biopsy is taken using an endoscope.
Outside environment effects
The way the outside environment gets into your body is a contributor to the health of your gut microbiome. Consider the list and associated factors listed below:
- Pollutants by skin, breath or ingestion.
- Disrupted sleep patterns (shift work)
- Anxiety and depression
As the food we eat is ingested and has direct contact on a physical level on many occasions on a daily basis, it is probably the most impacting cause of gut microbiome health than any other factor:
- Breast milk
- Plant material and fiber
- Animal product
- Fermented foods
- Processed foods
- Gluten and other inflammatory foods
There is a strong correlation between bacteria imbalance and weight gain. In studies that looked at general populations and genetic similarities has shown the following, have significant body weight and health issues:
- People in areas of poor eating habits, which include those in high- and low-income demographics as well as impoverished areas
- Areas that suffer a lack of good choices or lack of certain food groups
- Food choices where there is a high likelihood of processed foods
Family twins that have different eating habits, particularly those in family separations have revealed examples of bacterial imbalances caused by environmental differences. Experiments have shown twins separated at birth and living in different social eating habits ate the same food but had different weight gaining or loosing patterns. The same experiments also revealed the catalogue of chronic diseases and disorders between the two patterns of health.
May help to control heart health and blood sugar
There are strong correlations to the overall eating habits over a long period of time. The outstanding link is processed foods. Those that have elevated blood sugar and higher cholesterol levels will in most cases also have certain gut disorders, intolerances and gut bacterial imbalances. These disorders happen over time and may occur in any order beginning with certain food intolerances and reactions, tiredness associated with blood sugar levels, high or low blood pressure readings, leading to faintness during certain activities. The list of disorders and reactions is lengthy.
The primary reason these disorders begin is the absorption factor of both nutrients or lack there off, because of the unhealthy state of the digestive tract and the permeability of pathogens through the same unhealthy gut lining caused by, over time, unhealthy eating practices.
When did the food change?
One of the fundamental strategies of restoring the body’s health, is to return to the way of eating that humans have been eating by nature’s means.
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have been eating by nature’s hand, eating foods that have been foraged by hand from trees and from the ground (and sea) and by hunting animals. The body has adapted to nature’s way.
The two biggest changes in human eating occurred:
Firstly approx. 10,000 years ago when humans started agriculture, the change from hunting and foraging to planting fields and keeping livestock, they also at this time began to process their grains, such as flour, and learnt how to preserve and store some foods.
Secondly, during the world wars of the 1900s when the advent of processed and canned food began and advanced to artificial preservatives and methods of processing food for mass production, shipment, storage, convenience and choice, particularly from the 1950s onward.
The more processed the food has become, the greater the occurrence of disease, particularly in populations that have the greatest access to the processed foods.
Interesting fact: Type 2 diabetes.
In 1953, cases of type 2 diabetes was 1 in 85-90
In 1985, they were between 1 in 40-45
In 2005, they were between 1 in 20-25
In 2015, they were between 1 in 12
It is predicted that by 2030 it may be between 1 in 5-8
How can you improve your gut microbiome?
A quote by Hippocrates….’Our food should be our medicine. And our medicine should be our food’.
By returning to the primal way in which humans had been practicing before the great changes in food already mentioned. Embrace natural food, preparation from single and raw ingredients, avoiding processed foods and enhancing the microbiome with beneficial bacteria from traditional fermented foods (mentioned below).
Eat a diverse range of natural foods: Fruits, vegetables and legumes that includes fibre, to support good bacteria growth and population.
Eat fermented foods: Sauerkraut and kimchi are jarred and fermented types of cabbage, yoghurt (if not dairy intolerant) or coconut yoghurt, kefir and kombucha.
Eat prebiotic foods: That support and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria such as artichokes, bananas, asparagus, garlic, onions, cocao powder, flaxseeds, radishes, coconut, sweet potato, cabbage, berries, legumes.
Breastfeeding: for infants for at least 6 months. There have been enough studies and examples that infants and children breast feeding for 2 years have less occurrences of gut and bowel disorders throughout their childhood and into early adult life.
Eat whole grains: Avoid processed or flour produces. Whole grains retain their fiber quality.
Eat foods rich in polyphenols: A compound that helps healthy bacteria to grow and similar to that of prebiotic foods but expands to red wine (without preservatives), plums, black currents, nuts, black and green tea.
Probiotic supplements: These usually come in chemist line capsules, or liquid form and are usually taken as part of a therapy to aid restoring gut health after episodes of dysbiosis. They do this by re-seeding with healthy microbes. You may have heard of ‘Inner Health Plus’.
Exercise: Regular activity from keeping your step count up, to gym classes and weight training contributes greatly to gut recovery and overall health. The activity stimulates bowel movements and keeps the cycle of the digestive tract active.
Stress: The gut and the mind is connected. Most people will have changes to their bowel movements and gut feelings the more they are stress or anxious. Take time to calm yourself, find peace through stressful moments and deal with crisis on all levels so as to reduce the effects you may feel in your gut. Pay attention to how your gut feels during stress. Repeated episodes of stress effecting the gut turns the gears of harm more.
- Gut health is an investment.
- It usually comes after discovering your have a gut disorder, an intolerance, or even an allergy that has been caused by a long-term habit that has impacted your gut health over a long period of time.
- It may also have been caused from a sudden event such as a course of anti-biotics, surgery food or a severe illness that has destroyed your gut bacteria balance very quickly.
- Either way, the restoration is a lengthy one that will require investment in good eating practices on a broad scale which includes:
- Avoiding foods that harm good bacteria
- Eating naturally and provide the gut with the food it needs to repair
- Engaging in regular exercise
- Regular intake of fermented foods
- Stress and sleep management
- If the gut disorder persists, see your doctor.
- Coach Stephen