Frequently Asked Questions About Gut Dysbiosis

Is gut dysbiosis connected to candida overgrowth?

The simple answer to this question is, yes. Candida is an overgrowth of the yeasts which are part of the microflora of the digestive system. The situation regarding pathogenic yeasts are much the same as the pathogenic bacteria in that when the pathogenic yeasts overwhelm the beneficial yeasts it results in an overgrowth. Although yeasts are getting a bad name we have to remember that they are in fact an essential component of microflora, it is only the overgrowth which results in health problems.

Can it cause acne?

The links between acne and gut dysbiosis have been known since the 1920s, but unfortunately for sufferers the hypotheses put forward by two scientists called Stokes and Pillsbury was ridiculed by many in the medical profession. Their studies indicated that not only was there a link between acne, pathogenic bacteria and intestinal permeability but also that it overlapped with depression and general inflammatory conditions.

More recently it has been shown that apparently their theories were correct. Research revealed that probiotics strongly influence many factors which can result in acne. Not least those of tissue lipids and glycemic control 1. Had the peers of Stokes and Pillsbury been more open to investigating the problems relating to intestinal permeability all those years ago, maybe the nature of today’s illnesses would present a very different picture.

Can it cause mental health issues?

The suggested links between gut dysbiosis and mental health issues are over 100 years old when problems with the gut microflora were known as autointoxication. However although the theories were initially supported, particularly when Elie (Ilie) Metchnikoff presented his theory relative to probiotics which had been found in Bulgaria, they were subsequently shunned. The condescending attitude toward Metchnikoff’s theories and probiotics in general has continued into the last decade2. Now there is strong scientific evidence to support the findings of the 19th and 20th century physicians who first put forward the idea. In fact it would appear that colonic irrigation procedures stemmed from the theory that bacteria in the colon were having adverse effects on health in general and mental health in particular. It was this particular practice, which rarely resolved mental health issues, that resulted in the autointoxication hypotheses being tarred as quackery.

Is there a test for dysbiosis?

As medicine is only now coming to even recognize it as a condition, and indeed many clinicians and even national authorities do not, it can be difficult to get a definite diagnosis through a test. Many naturopaths use cortisol levels as a guideline but even then you may find it difficult to source. I did however discover a urine test performed through Genova Diagnostics at gdx.net which claims to be a dysbiosis profile. This test might be of particular interest to those suffering from Candida overgrowth as it reports on D-arabinitol levels which it says are a specific marker for Candida sp and this is in addition to L. acidophilus and other microbial classes. It is available to most of the US, although not New York, and it is also available to the UK. If patients requiring a test are interested they or their clinician are best to contact the company direct. I cannot report on the accuracy of the test since I have only just been made aware of it, however since options are limited patients might be interested in pursuing information further.

Is alcohol consumption connected to gut dysbiosis?

Most of the research relating to alcohol and gut dysbiosis has been in respect of excessive consumption and that of alcoholism. It has been shown that most of those with an alcohol addiction at some stage develop leaky gut syndrome. It has also been proven that liver damage arising from excess alcohol intake has been slowed, stopped or repaired by ingesting probiotics. Whether the dysbiosis is cause or effect has not been established. However in many cases of specific illness where individual studies have been performed, it would seem that patients have a predisposition to reduced levels of microflora which may precipitate the alcoholism.

Can it cause hair loss?

There is little research being undertaken with regard to hair loss and gut dysbiosis. However several smaller case studies have indicated that hair loss and gut dysbiosis are linked and that the cause is related to the autoimmune reaction of the body. The current popular hypothesis suggests that the hair follicles are being attacked by our immune system. One area of hair loss which many patients report but which few get investigated, is that of body hair loss as opposed to loss of hair from the head. Most of the research relates to loss of head hair and usually cases of obvious and diagnosed alopecia, however many patients also report lack of body hair growth.

Are gut dysbiosis and hormones connected?

Initial suggestions are that the female hormones estrogen and progesterone but particularly estrogen, in some way affect digestion. This is due to the way estrogen is detoxified in the liver. In effect excess estrogen is normally neutralized by glucuronic acid before being transported to the gall bladder for elimination through the colon or bowel. But when there is an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria an enzyme is produced called beta-glucuronidase is also released in excess. This enzyme is able to break the bond holding estrogen and the glucuronic acid together. When this happens the estrogen is freed back into the system which can cause a hormonal imbalance.

Can it cause IBS?

Like many other illnesses today, particularly those of ‘unknown cause,’ IBS is classified as a syndrome. This means that the patient has to have several of a selection of symptoms to qualify for the ‘diagnosis’ of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. However although IBS is now recognized in most countries as an illness it does not exist as a specific disease. It is clear that most, if not all of the symptoms of IBS, are actually the same as those of gut dysbiosis. Until science starts investigating the symptoms referred to as IBS in respect of dysbiosis then no clear causation can be established. It is true however that many patients with diagnosed IBS report their symptoms improve if they treat it as gut dysbiosis.

Can it cause weight gain?

Increased weight gain and the difficulties some people have in losing weight have both been linked to increased levels of cortisol production relative to gut dysbiosis. This does not mean however that being overweight is always due to the condition. If you have no other symptoms then it is unlikely that treating excess weight as if it were linked to dysbiosis will assist you in losing that weight. Also if you aren’t conforming to the traditional stereotype of being fit always means being thin, try to forget examining your body shape and take a look at your health. If your body shape does not impede you doing what you want to do and you suffer no direct ill-effects as a result of it, then you are probably a healthy weight. If you do suffer from other conditions or symptoms which affect your quality of life, such as fatigue, breathlessness, muscle and joint pains, then it could be that your weight gain or difficulty in removing existing weight, is linked to dysbiosis.

Can antibiotics cause gut dysbiosis?

Most people and doctors are now well aware that antibiotic treatment will result in digestive problems and usually in the form of diarrhea. In itself this is a practical example of how the gut is affected and science has confirmed that antibiotics diminish the number of good bacteria in the intestinal system. One of the most surprising discoveries however is that it does not take prolong use of antibiotics to do this. Antibiotics taken in small amounts over the short term will do just as much harm. The problem is that no one really knows how long it takes all the microflora to recover and how much damage is done. It is certain however that the period it takes for some specific bacteria to recover numbers in the intestinal system after taking them, extends far beyond the period they are taken for.

Is apple cider vinegar good for it?

When it comes to acid and alkaline levels they are measured on a scale of 1-14. In this case 1 is classed as being the lowest number and 14 as the highest. Under normal circumstances stomach acid should be of an acidic nature. If stomach acid levels are of a higher pH they are more alkaline than they should be and this can cause problems in degrading food in the stomach. Additionally a more alkaline acid causes problems with the release of enzymes and other compounds necessary to aid digestion. Apple cider vinegar has long since been believed to aid digestive upset and it is thought that the acidity of the vinegar lowers the pH level and helps to digest foodstuffs. At the moment we are aware that this is at least one function apple cider vinegar performs in respect of the digestive process and ensuring gut function runs smoothly, however it is unknown if this fluid has other attributes which support intestinal health. What is clear however is that apple cider vinegar which has been produced commercially and been purified appears to be less effective than that which is natural and organic and still contains ‘mother.’ This would indicate that there is more to apple cider vinegar than simply the pH level.

Can birth control pills cause gut issues?

The research surrounding oral contraceptives is like that of many other subjects – very often they can tell you that a particular situation occurs but do not explain how it occurs. Above I explained how estrogen dominance can arise in respect of dysbiosis affecting the hormone. However research explaining how birth control pills can cause dysbiosis is thinner on the ground. Many of the links it would seem are indirect. For example we know that dysbiosis can result in acne. One study examining the effects of low dose contraceptives on the levels of acne seem to support the general medical and scientific expectation that a side-effect of oral contraception will, quite possibly, be acne. Some might consider the indirect links tenuous, but until science explains to us exactly how oral birth control results in side-effects such as acne then we are left to draw our own conclusions 3.

I have body odor – can it be because of my gut?

Many people with digestive issues and diagnosed chronic conditions, which appear initially to be unrelated to gut problems, report that they are having issues with body odor. Some doctors, particularly naturopaths, claim this is due to the build-up of toxins being released by the body. Others, particularly when there is also breath odor, reason that it is due to a build up of pathogenic bacteria in the mouth. However most agree that increasing probiotics together with introducing antimicrobials into the diet, assists in eliminating this sometimes embarrassing problem which can reflect on personal hygiene even though it is totally unconnected.

Is brain fog related to it?

Although ‘brain fog’ is a term much used by many patients affected by numerous conditions which include vitamin deficiencies, IBS, CFS and Candida, it doesn’t really have a medical classification. Yet it is certain that most people suffering from brain fog will, as soon as they hear the words, know exactly what you are talking about! There are several theories as to why brain fog occurs with illnesses having the common link of dysbiosis and one of the most reasonable appears to be that the brain does not receive its energy supply in the form of nutrients required by the cells for normal function. The brain functions at a phenomenal speed and it only takes a fractional slowing to produce the effects of brain fog. A simpler way of thinking about it is that if you have an overgrowth of microflora which disturb normal digestion then the fuel provided to your brain is diminished and the result is slower thinking.

I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and I was wondering if it’s all connected?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the many current disorders which are not only of ‘unknown cause’ but also classified as an autoimmune condition. Many of the symptoms of CFS are indicative of the problems associated with gut dysbiosis and as most CFS patients will probably realize, has overlapping symptoms with other conditions such as IBS, celiac disease, thyroid dysfunction, crones disease and many more. Since many, if not all, of these conditions have undergone some kind of research in respect of intestinal disorders, then it’s probably reasonable to consider they are linked to problems resulting from digestive disorder and pathogenic overgrowth.

Can I experience constipation if I have gut problem?

Many people with gut dysbiosis experience constipation, however it is more commonly found with intermittent bouts of diarrhea. This is not to say that it is not constipation but, as with many other symptoms it can be indicative of another condition. If you suffer from prolonged constipation or diarrhea it is always wise to consult with a clinician.

Is fiber good for gut dysbiosis?

Over the last couple of decades most of us have had it drilled into us how essential fiber is in our diet – and of course, it is. But the question is, will it restore normal gut function in cases of dysbiosis? Taking the perspective that many people will keep up a good daily intake of fiber to ‘keep themselves regular’ then we can assume that such people aren’t having digestive issues in the first place. And, since fiber feeds our microflora and is essential to our diet then it makes perfect sense to include it as part of a balanced diet. However fiber is also good at feeding pathogenic bacteria. So, if you have an overgrowth of these bacteria and increase the amount of fiber you eat to try and resolve the issue then it is is quite likely that you are feeding not the suppressed good bacteria but the pathogenic microflora. In the case of fiber I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating – have you ever managed to rectify your digestive issues after increasing fiber intake?

Is garlic good?

Garlic has been appreciated within traditional healing circles and, unsurprisingly, it has continued into the 21st century. Now we can establish what compounds garlic contains and the main phytochemical is allicin which interacts with an enzyme, allinase when the flesh of the clove is broken. Together with numerous other compounds it appears that they are good at destroying the pathogenic bacteria which cause dysbiosis. Some people find that garlic, particularly eaten raw, is highly beneficial. Others find it helps them very little. Obviously trying a little garlic, organic if at all possible, is not going to harm you and could help in restoring the symbiosis of the gut.

Is glutamine good?

Glutamine is an amino acid which is essential in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal wall. This is the same wall that, if it becomes damaged, becomes ‘leaky’ or ‘permeable’ and starts to allow through toxins and bacteria which it normally would not. L glutamine is available as a supplement intended to restore the integrity of the wall and thus reduce the adverse effects. L. glutamine has in fact been used for a long time to treat or relieve the symptoms of IBS. This is one supplement which does appear to have the endorsement of the medical community.

Can I drink kefir?

Although we think of probiotics as being a relatively new scientific development the beginning of their popularity stems back to the early 1900s. After Ilie (Elie) Metchnikoff discovered Lactobacillus bulgaricus many companies starting selling probiotic drinks. In the early 1920s the popularity of L. bulgaricus was usurped by the recent identification of L acidophilus which was discovered to live in the gut. Even the AMAC authorized the use of this probiotic beverage despite the fact there was no scientific research to evidence its effectiveness because such was the positive anecdotal evidence from doctors and laypersons alike, they accepted it as a recommended treatment. Although at the time Kefir was primarily embraced in Russia in much the same vein and has stayed that way, its popularity in the West began to decline in the 1920s. In fact it has taken until the last few years to be acknowledged as being an effective, if not superior, probiotic and as such is claimed to be highly effective at restoring gut symbiosis.

Is kombucha good?

There is little research available on the effects of kombucha on gut dysbiosis. Certainly as a fermented food many people in many nations have been using it for centuries. However it does not seem to be as popular as other naturally occurring probiotics such as kefir.

How long can it take to recover from gut dysbiosis?

Unfortunately this is a, ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. What is known is that you will not recover overnight. Research which has been undertaken, and there is a broad range, usually indicates that with most conditions start to improve within a short period but can take many months to restore successfully.

Is serotonin level related to gut dysbiosis?

It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that around 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. This neurotransmitter is vital in controlling mood. If your digestion is malfunctioning for whatever reason then the likelihood is that serotonin production will also be disrupted or diminished.

Can it affect my thyroid?

Thyroid problems are often classed as an autoimmune condition and it is not unusual for people who have thyroid dysfunction to also have other autoimmune conditions. See the question below for a more detailed answer.

How can it affect my immune system?

At the moment there is much research underway looking into the problems relating to dysbiosis and the immune system. The intestinal wall in our gut allows only nutrients and water into our body and at the same time it repels toxins and pathogens going through. When the intestinal wall is damaged – and this usually occurs in sections called tight junctions – our immune system constantly sends out antibodies to attack the invaders 4. The number of illnesses said to result from autoimmune problems continues to rise, as does the number of people suffering from them and research has shown substantial links between the gut and the immune system.

Is enema treatment a good option?

A lot of the history of gut dysbiosis has its foundation in colon irrigation and some people today still find it to help. However this practice, at best, only removes bacteria in the colon (large intestine or bowel) and does not resolve the problem at source.

Can I leave gut dysbiosis untreated, will it disappear on its own? If I leave it what issues can I experience?

Research suggests dysbiosis can result from what would appear a slight imbalance in the digestive microflora and that those effects can be far reaching. It would appear that once the balance has been tipped it is difficult to regain it and it is unlikely that it will simply improve without some kind of intervention. If left untreated it could result in the illnesses implicated throughout this article, most of which are chronic conditions arising from autoimmune responses. Digestive upset is best restored as quickly and naturally as possible when it occurs.

References

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/
(2) http://www.britannica.com/biography/Elie-Metchnikoff
(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15157791/
(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22782113

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