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What is gut dysbiosis and how does it affect your gut microbiota?

Your gut is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms - this is your gut microbiota. These gut bacteria have been living with you all of your life, and we have only recently begun to understand the true extent of their role in human health, both mental and physical.

What is dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the number and diversity of bacteria in your digestive tract, leading to bad gut bacteria outnumbering the good. Your digestive system contains trillions of bacteria with over 500 different species all playing vital roles in your gut health. Ideally, you want most of your gut bacteria to be beneficial types, with fewer of the less beneficial types of bacteria that tend to produce gas and unpleasant digestive issues. 

Dysbiosis can result in negative effects on your immune system and is associated with many health problems and diseases, including Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and central nervous system disorders.

What is gut bacteria and what does it do?

Good gut bacteria

Bacteria get a bad rep, but not all bacteria are bad. You actually have billions of beneficial bacteria living within you at all times. Not only do you live in harmony with these bacteria, but they are essential to your survival and play many important roles in human health.

Gut bacteria & digestion

One of the main roles good bacteria play in your body is supporting healthy digestion. Good gut bacteria help your body digest food and absorb nutrients, as well as producing several vitamins in the intestinal tract, including folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12

Gut bacteria & the immune system

They also play a role in supporting your immune system. Healthy gut bacteria in your gut microbiota account for roughly 70% of your body’s immune response and help regulate inflammation. They provide a strong barrier against invading bad bacteria and toxins and produce acids that prevent bad bacteria growth, both of which help protect and support your gut lining and gut microbiota.

Additionally, they activate neural pathways that travel directly between your gut and brain and produce important neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Bad gut bacteria

Bad bacteria can exist in your body at low levels without causing much harm. However, an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria, known as dysbiosis, can be bad for your health. This imbalance can be caused by many things, including age, diet, medications, and presence of an infection or illness.

Bad gut bacteria produce toxins that cause unpleasant symptoms affecting digestion, like diarrhoea, stomach cramps and bloating. They can also be a root cause for certain diseases, so knowing the causes of gut dysbiosis is essential.

What causes dysbiosis?

Communities that still live hunter-gatherer or rural agrarian lifestyles today have more diverse gut microbiotas than those living the more common, Western lifestyle.

Some features of the modern lifestyle that directly contribute to an unhealthy gut microbiota include: 

  • Poor diet: Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods and low in fermentable fibres and diversity

  • Dietary and environmental toxins: BPAs in plastic, heavy metals, etc.

  • Chronic stress or infections

  • Over exercising

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Poor sleep hygiene

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Medications such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, steroids, antacids, etc.

  • Lack of breastfeeding as a baby

  • Caesarean section (C-section) birth

  • Overuse of antibacterial soap

  • An overly clean environment 

Research also shows that babies that aren’t breastfed, born by caesarean section or born to mothers with impaired gut flora are more likely to develop bad gut bacteria. Understandably, some of these things are out of our control, as we can’t change our own births or how we were fed as infants. Similarly, breastfeeding is not always possible for many women and c-sections have their place in ensuring the safety of both mothers and babies during childbirth. In these situations, it's helpful to understand gut health can be compromised and there are many things you can do to resolve the issue!

How can we help prevent dysbiosis?

Antibiotics are extremely necessary in some circumstances, and when used correctly are life saving. However, they do have huge implications on gut health. If you do require antibiotics, we can help to restore the balance of your gut flora with probiotics, which are essential when taking antibiotics. The diversity of your gut microbiome following antibiotic use is not recoverable without these interventions.

One of the most significant ways we can help maintain a balanced microbiota and prevent dysbiosis is through our diet. Minimising our intake of sugars, processed foods, GMOs and alcohol is a good start, but there are plenty of foods we can eat to help maintain a healthy balance of good gut bacteria and a healthy microbiota. Healthy gut bacteria thrive on fibre rich foods, so try to eat as many different types of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans as possible!

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiota and high levels of good bacteria might seem like a difficult balancing act, but understanding the role of our gut bacteria and the ways we can affect it are a key step towards a healthy, functioning gut!

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