What is gut dysbiosis?
There are trillions of bacteria living in our bodies, especially in our gut. These tiny organisms are a complex and diverse group that live in our digestive tracts, and are commonly known as microflora or gut flora, but often referred to as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria.
As the names suggest, good bacteria help protect our health, while bad bacteria are out to harm us. When the balance between good and bad bacteria is ‘out of whack’, it’s known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis causes inflammation of the gut, which can lead to intestinal permeability (see Leaky Gut here) but can also have a much broader impact on our health.
Good bacteria versus bad bacteria
Good or friendly bacteria perform a multitude of tasks within our body, such as:
- Regulating the gut by neutralising toxic by-products of digestion
- Preventing the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria
- Controlling metabolism
- Absorbing energy and nutrients from the foods we eat
- Training the immune system and communicating with our brain!
Bad bacteria are microbes that are capable of causing disease in the body by producing infection and potentially even more serious conditions.
Research has found that the presence of harmful bacteria in mice leads to:
- Damage to normal metabolism
- Insulin resistance (Insulin is the hormone that helps transfer digested glucose from the bloodstream to body tissue for energy). Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and increase the risk of heart disease. And may be related to the development of obesity and other weight disorders
Why is gut health important?
Apart from its obvious role of digesting food, the gut has many other functions. It also:
- Neutralises toxic by-products of digestion
- Prevents the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria
- Helps control metabolism
- Absorbs energy and nutrients from the foods we eat
- Trains the immune system
- Communicates with our brain! (No, you didn’t misread that)
You may also be surprised to learn that about 70 percent of our immune system resides in the gut. It’s one of our first lines of defence. So, if our gut is not performing at its best, it compromises our natural defence mechanisms against sickness and disease.
Poor gut health is also implicated in the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
What causes dysbiosis?
A number of factors are known to disrupt the natural balance of gut microflora:
- Antibiotics and antibacterial medicines
- Increased consumption of sugars, refined starches and processed foods
- Increased consumption of food additives such as preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners
- Traces of harmful chemicals in our foods (from pesticides or toxins on unwashed fruit and vegetables)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Poor dental hygiene, allowing bad bacteria to grow in your mouth
- High levels of physical or psychological stress
How to prevent or treat dysbiosis
There are a number of steps you can take to help prevent dysbiosis – and improve your health overall
Try to add more of the following into your diet and life:
- Foods high in fibre such as vegetables and fruits (good sources of prebiotics)
- Use wholemeal options for breads and cereals
- Nuts – good source of fibre and protein
- Leafy greens
- Fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and natural sugar-free yogurts (good sources of probiotics)
- Choose healthy oils (eg olive oil)
- Exercise – good for mind and body to relieve stress
Try to avoid the following:
- Foods high in sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined carbohydrates such as plain white bread or rice – choose wholegrain options
- Processed meats
- Processed foods containing preservatives
- Antibiotics (unless they are absolutely necessary – and follow up with probiotics to replace the good bacteria)
- Excessive alcohol consumption