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Gut Dysbiosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Updated on February 13, 2024
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Microbiome
Gut Dysbiosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
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Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the mix of microorganisms in your gut, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This imbalance can happen because of your genes, health issues, diet, or even the medication you take.

Colonies of good and bad bacteria comprise the normal gut microbiome or gut microbiota. The gut microbes typically contribute to your normal body processes, like digestion and immune response.

The microbes found in your gut microbiome are typically harmless. However, a balance must exist between good and bad bacteria in the gut to maintain normal gut health.

Bad bacterial overgrowth may cause gut dysbiosis, which can lead to different symptoms.

Gut dysbiosis is linked to some immune, metabolic, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric diseases.

Gut Dysbiosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment 3

What is Gut Dysbiosis and Its Signs and Symptoms?

Gut dysbiosis happens when gut microbes get out of whack, disrupting the delicate balance of your gut microbiome.

Any of the following conditions can throw off the balance of microbes in your gut:

  • A colony of harmful or disease-causing bacteria grows more in population than the good bugs
  • Not having enough good bacteria strains
  • Lack of diversity in gut microbes 

Any way you slice it, gut dysbiosis can cause you to experience unwanted symptoms. It may even contribute to diseases if left unchecked.

Summary

Gut dysbiosis occurs when there's a disruption in your gut microbiome. It can lead to unwanted symptoms and contribute to different health conditions.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis

The most common symptoms linked to gut dysbiosis are mild and temporary, including:

  • Bad breath
  • Belching
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal pain

In most cases, mild symptoms of dysbiosis won’t need treatment.

However, these are not the only symptoms that you should look out for. You can experience gut dysbiosis but not show any digestive symptoms.

Summary

Most symptoms of gut dysbiosis are mild and temporary, like bad breath, bloating, belching, and others. However, you may also experience non-digestive symptoms that are linked to gut dysbiosis.

Other Potential Symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis

You can experience gut dysbiosis but have signs and symptoms that are not digestive in nature. Some of these symptoms may even be harder to pin down.

These are some of the potential gut dysbiosis symptoms you should look out for:

  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune problems
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog or having trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Skin issues, such as allergies, rosacea, or rashes
  • Intense carbohydrate and sugar cravings
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vaginal or rectal itching

Summary

Gut dysbiosis can have signs and symptoms that are non-digestive in nature, like fatigue, insomnia, or anxiety. Some signs of gut dysbiosis can be difficult to detect.

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What Causes Gut Dysbiosis?

A disruption in the healthy balance of your gut microbiota can cause gut dysbiosis. It commonly occurs when the good gut bacteria are outnumbered by the bad.

Different risk factors may contribute to gut dysbiosis, such as:

  • Significant dietary changes
  • A weakened immune system
  • Accidental consumption of chemicals, such as pesticides
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Certain medications
  • Unprotected sex that exposes you to harmful bacteria
  • Certain medications that can alter your gut flora, such as antibiotics, antacids, oral contraceptive pills, steroids

Summary

Gut dysbiosis happens when the gut microbiome becomes imbalanced. Several factors can increase your risk of having gut dysbiosis, including dietary changes, medications, infections, and lifestyle behaviors.

What Conditions are Linked with Gut Dysbiosis?

Research suggests that gut dysbiosis affects not only the digestive system but also other organ systems, like your immune system.1

Several studies link gut dysbiosis to a wide range of health problems, including inflammatory diseases, chronic conditions, and others.2,3

It’s because your gut houses 80 percent of your immune system. Your gut microbes help strengthen your immune response to pathogens and foreign bodies.

Beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These SCFAs support the cells in the gut lining or intestinal barrier.

Imagine if there were less beneficial bacteria and more harmful ones. The SCFA levels in the gut lining will go down, affecting the strength of the intestinal barrier or gut lining.

Dysbiosis also leads to increased intestinal permeability. It happens when the gut barrier becomes too permeable to allow foreign bodies, undigested particles, and bacteria to easily “leak” into the bloodstream.

Increased intestinal permeability can trigger inflammation throughout the human body.

Some medical conditions closely linked with gut dysbiosis include:

  • Yeast infections like those caused by Candida
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Metabolic diseases, like diabetes and obesity 
  • Celiac disease
  • Colon and rectal cancers
  • Eczema
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), like Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Liver disease
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Summary

Gut dysbiosis is linked to many conditions, including digestive issues. But it's also linked to inflammation since it disrupts the gut immune system and intestinal barrier.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases vs. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBD and IBS are chronic conditions that affect your digestive system. 

IBS doesn’t cause damage to the structure of your gastrointestinal tract. It’s more of a functional disorder. It affects your gut's function, causing changes to your bowel movements.

On the other hand, IBD causes inflammation that can damage your intestinal barrier. It can lead to symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Summary

IBD and IBS are chronic conditions that affect the digestive tract. Only IBD causes physical damage to your gut lining, but both conditions cause symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Other Conditions Linked to Gut Dysbiosis

The most common condition linked to gut dysbiosis is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But there is more to gut dysbiosis than digestive-related conditions.

For instance, some studies link gut dysbiosis to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease.4

Dysbiosis is also linked to central nervous system disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Stroke 

Researchers have not fully understood the exact mechanism of how gut dysbiosis can lead to cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, most of the studies mention the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis describes the communication pathway between your gut and the enteric nervous system or the “second brain.”5

Summary

Gut dysbiosis has been linked to neurological disorders, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, anxiety, and depression. Studies suggest it's potentially through gut-brain communication pathways. However, more research is needed to understand the connection fully.

Is Dysbiosis The Same As a Leaky Gut?

No. Gut dysbiosis is not the same as a leaky gut. However, if you have gut dysbiosis that is left untreated, it can develop into a leaky gut.

Your intestinal wall has tight junction proteins that are like seals between the cells in the gut lining. They regulate the permeability of the intestinal barrier.

Good gut bacteria help enhance the functions of these seals by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Any disruption to this process may cause the intestinal walls to become overly porous or hyperpermeable.

A leaky gut is caused by increased intestinal permeability. When you have a leaky gut, bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles can easily leak into the bloodstream.

Your body recognizes these substances as “foreign.” It will trigger immune responses, launching an attack to fight them. This may cause chronic inflammation throughout the body over time.

Summary

A leaky gut is not the same as gut dysbiosis. A leaky gut allows bacteria and toxins to leak into the bloodstream.

How Can You Heal Gut Dysbiosis Naturally?

Several factors cause gut dysbiosis. The best way to treat this is through a comprehensive approach to address the signs and symptoms.

There is no cookie-cutter treatment plan when dealing with gut dysbiosis. It should be tailored according to the patient's needs, symptoms, and lifestyle.

There are many components of the gut dysbiosis treatment plan. Here are some of the most common ones:

Dietary Modification

Gut Dysbiosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment 4

Your diet plays a major role in the health of your gut. If your poor eating habits cause dysbiosis, a nutrition plan will work best for you.6

The right amounts of essential nutrients will keep your gut bacterial balance in check. These nutrients include:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamins B6 and B12
  • Zinc

Summary

Diet plays a major role in your gut health. Changing your diet to include essential nutrients will keep your gut bacterial balance in check.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Eating the right kinds of food will help you achieve a healthy gut. It can also help diversify your gut microbiome.

It is highly recommended that you include the following fruits and vegetables in your diet:

  • Almond milk
  • Carrots
  • Collard greens
  • Ginger
  • Green beans
  • Green tea
  • Kale
  • Mackerel
  • Non-processed meat
  • Okra
  • Pepper
  • Potatoes
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

Add Probiotics and Prebiotics To Your Diet

Eating more probiotics and prebiotics helps encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. 

Probiotics are live strains of beneficial microorganisms. They help boost or maintain the population of good gut bacteria to avoid bad bacterial overgrowth.

You can get them from fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, and miso. 

On the other hand, prebiotics are special fibers that become food to the friendly microbes in your colon. They are found in fiber-rich foods and foods high in resistant starches.

Summary

Probiotics and prebiotics help maintain the balance of your gut microbiome. They encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Other Diet Tips to Improve Your Gut Health

Additionally, your doctor may ask you to:

  • Stop eating processed meats, such as canned, salted, and deli meat
  • Avoid overeating carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread, oats, and corn
  • Eat apples, bananas, and grapes in moderation
  • Limit your intake of dairy, including cheese and milk
  • Avoid foods high in sugar, such as maple and corn syrup

Lifestyle Changes

Excessive alcohol consumption and poor dental hygiene can cause gut dysbiosis. Drinking in moderation and good oral hygiene help ensure a healthy balance of bacteria.

Sleep

Sleep is a critical factor in the treatment of gut dysbiosis. A research study shows that total sleep time and increased sleep efficiency have positive correlations with total microbiome diversity.7

This means you need better sleep quality and longer hours for a healthy gut microbiome.

Summary

Your sleep quality also affects your gut microbiome. Better sleep quality and longer sleeping hours help improve your gut microbiome.

Stress Management

Learning how to manage stress and anxiety is crucial in healing gut dysbiosis. Try doing the following:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Yoga
  • Deep breathing exercises

Use of Medicines

Certain medications negatively impact gut health. This leads to dysbiosis in the intestinal microbiota.

A multi-drug meta-analysis reveals that 18 commonly used drug categories cause almost imperceptible damage to the gut microbiome. Antibiotics, laxatives, and proton pump inhibitors topped the list.8

These drugs, especially antibiotics, affect the balance of your intestinal flora in various ways. Some of them cause small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In contrast, others increase the production of fatty acids.

It's important to talk to your doctor about taking probiotics after finishing antibiotics treatment.

Summary

Many common medications, like antibiotics, can disrupt gut health by eliminating good bacteria. It's important to be aware of their effects on your gut microbiome.

Dysbiosis Prevention Tips

Here are some tips on how to prevent intestinal dysbiosis and ensure good gut health:

  • Listen to signals from your body like fatigue, cravings, or digestive issues. Don't ignore or downplay them, as they could indicate dysbiosis.
  • Make necessary lifestyle changes, like getting enough rest, limiting your alcohol consumption, and managing your stress.
  • Eat a gut-healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Take probiotic and prebiotic foods to support the microbial diversity of your gut microbes.
  • Consult a doctor if you're experiencing symptoms of gut dysbiosis.

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Updated on February 13, 2024
Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.
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