It’s becoming mainstream knowledge that the gastrointestinal microbiome is the driver of many of our health issues, even those not seemingly related to the digestive system at all. The gut microbiome is includes the more than 100 trillion microbial cells that reside in your digestive system, or as I like to call them – your gut bugs. There are anywhere from 500 to 1000 different bacterial species in each of us – some good, some bad – and they are in control of your digestion, metabolism, hormone balance, levels of inflammation, food sensitivities, immune system function, brain function, mood, and even skin health.
When the balance of these gut bugs is optimal, and there is a healthy environment for them to thrive, then YOU will thrive. Maintaining a healthful state will come naturally. It’s when this balance gets out of whack, and the non-beneficial species can take over, that problems occur. This is called dysbiosis, and it causes more health issues than any of us fully yet comprehend. A disruption in your gut microbiome can cause many seemingly unrelated symptoms, including:
- Digestive Issues (IBS, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, cramping)
- Skin Issues (eczema, psoriasis, hives, acne)
- Autoimmune Disease (celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD)
- Mental Illness (depression, anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders)
- Hormonal Issues (PMS, infertility, estrogen dominance)
- Chronic random health issues (chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, joint pain, sinus congestion)
- Food Intolerances
- Nutrient deficiencies
From this list, you can see why in almost all health issues, our first stop needs to be looking at the health of the gut and the balance of your gut flora. Without first addressing this major player, many protocols to heal other ailments will be unsuccessful, and supplement regimens will not work. This leads to frustration for the client looking for relief.
Why does this imbalance happen?
So, how did we get here in the first place?
Our gut wants to be in a state of balance and harmony, and often it is our doing that takes it out of balance. Things like chronic stress, use of NSAIDs, overuse of antibiotics, poor food choices, oral contraceptives, proton pump inhibitors and antacids, parasitic infections, and exposure to human-made chemicals all contribute to dysbiosis.
These factors change the environment of the gut, which often allows for harmful strains to proliferate, crowding out the beneficial strains. Several different scenarios make for the perfect storm for the imbalance to set in. These environments include:
Insufficiency – when there aren’t enough of the good guys in your digestive system, allowing for the harmful bacteria to take over. This is often the case for people who are currently taking or have taken antibiotics, even as far back as childhood. While antibiotics can be a potent and necessary treatment option for certain illnesses and infections, there is a serious overuse issue in today’s medical field, and it causes unnecessary damage to our gut health. Antibiotics are excellent at killing off the harmful bacteria, but they do not discern between good and bad, so the beneficial bacteria that bring us health, balance, and vibrancy are killed off as well. This will often show up as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and food sensitivities.
Putrefaction & Fermentation – When your upper GI system is hindered, not allowing for full digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Lack of stomach acid, eating on the run or in a stressed-out state, not properly chewing food, sluggish or absent bile production, and digestive enzyme insufficiency are all contributors to this impaired system before the food even enters the intestines. As a result, undigested food particles sit in your GI tract too long and provide food for the harmful bacteria. As food feeds the bacteria, they produce gas as a byproduct. This reaction will show up as bloating and gas, especially after eating carbohydrates.
Overgrowth – when the bacteria from the colon back up into the small intestine or bacteria meant for the colon doesn’t make it there and begins making a home in the small intestine. The large intestine is the keeper of all of these gut bugs, while in a healthy digestive system, the small intestine is relatively absent of bacteria. However, due to either a slow migrating motor complex (MMC) – the muscular activity in the GI tract responsible for digestive movement – or insufficient stomach acid, the movement slows, and bacteria begins to grow where it doesn’t belong…in the small intestine. It is known as SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and is becoming quite a common digestive health concern. Symptoms of this occurrence are bloating, gas, pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
Parasites & Fungus – all of us have growth of candida – a fungus – in our digestive tracts, but sugar, alcohol, antibiotics, stress, and steroids, can cause it to grow out of control in the gut, leading to colonization on the skin, nose, small intestine, vagina, and scalp. This will show as eczema, psoriasis, chronic sinusitis, vaginal yeast infections, dry skin patches, or common digestive issues such as gas and bloating. Parasites are another growth in the gut that can often go undiagnosed and untreated for far too long. Parasites of all kinds can make homes in our digestive tract and thrive there, wreaking havoc on the rest of the body.
Inflammation & Immune Response – certain bacterial growth can suppress the immune system and cause an inflammatory response. This can lead to chronic inflammation and a suppressed immune system. With a compromised immune system, it will be tough to get and stay well. Efforts to heal will be thwarted. The inflamed state of the body can lead to the development of more severe conditions such as autoimmune disease, cognitive disorders, and even cancer.
Bacterial Overgrowth Testing and Treatment
In general, gaining health and balance in your digestive tract requires several steps. First, identifying and eliminating any pathogenic growth. Second, replacing lost beneficial bacteria with probiotic foods and supplementation. Third, creating optimal terrain for the good bacteria to thrive. And fourth, maintaining healthy digestive function with dietary, lifestyle, and supplemental support.
Cases of bacterial imbalance are hard to determine and care for accurately without proper testing. The most useful test is a stool test that shows the growth of specific bacterial strains – both beneficial and non-beneficial – and how abundant they are, the presence of any parasites or yeast overgrowth, inflammatory markers of the gut, and the ability of the digestive system to break down foods. I strongly recommend testing the gut if you have ANY unexplained health concerns. It truly is a window into the health of your entire body and the information provided in one test is invaluable.
If you’d like to check on the health of your gut, you can do so as a Fat Burning Female!