Dysbiosis is the disturbance of the normal bacteria in the gut, with reduced levels of the essential bacteria. The concept of dysbiosis is largely ignored by the medical profession in the UK, but is widely accepted on the continent, particularly in Germany. Veterinary practitioners also recognise the significance and importance of the bowel bacteria, and preparations containing these are commonly added to animal feeds. Much evidence exists to show that dysbiosis is the underlying cause of considerable numbers of illnesses, not just those associated with the intestine. These conditions may be caused by the result of the dysbiosis rather than being a direct effect.
The causes of dysbiosis
The most common cause of dysbiosis – and the reason why it is so common in the west – is the inappropriate use of antibiotics. Viral illnesses are commonly and immediately treated with antibiotics, but this is usually ineffective. Whilst this may be effective in dealing with an acute bacterial infection, these so-called wide-spectrum antibiotics kill off a large range of bacteria, including the normal healthy bugs in the gut. This is why disturbed bowel action, particularly diarrhoea, commonly follows a course of antibiotics. Ironically, the overuse of antibiotics increases the need for future antibiotics, as the dysbiosis induced by them suppresses the immune system.
Other medications enhance the development of dysbiosis. Hormones, particularly those taken to treat menopausal symptoms, appear to encourage dysbiosis and make it more difficult to treat. This only applies to hormones taken by mouth, and not those administered by an adhesive patch.
Stress, too, has a role in increasing the development of dysbiosis. This may not be a direct effect, but one which results from poor dietary intake and inappropriate eating habits. Convenience foods, together with rapid and infrequent meals, do not help normal bacteria to develop.
The symptoms of dysbiosis
The main symptom of Dysbiosis is disturbed bowel action – which may be either diarrhoea or constipation, or a combination of both – together with excessive wind and abdominal distension. Other symptoms that are a result of the dysbiosis may be present, and may be so severe that the underlying dysbiosis is ignored.
The treatment of dysbiosis – the role of the probiotics
Clearly, the treatment of dysbiosis involves the replacement of the correct bacteria into the gut, but this is not as easy as it appears. Many bacteria taken by mouth do not even reach the intestine, as they are killed by the stomach acid. In addition, as there are trillions of bacteria in the gut, a large dose – and over a prolonged period – is necessary. The type of bacteria is also important, and depends on factors such as dietary habits. In the majority of probiotic formulations the beneficial bacteria are in a dormant state and only become active on exposure to a moist environment.
Preparations that attempt to replace the bowel bacteria are collectively known as probiotics, as they encourage rather than discourage (as with antibiotics). To be successful, therefore, a probiotic must fulfil several criteria:
•It must contain sufficient numbers of bacteria to ensure that enough reach their destination (passing through the stomach without too great a loss)
•The bacteria must be of types applicable to the individual. If possible, they should also be strains that are specific to the human
•They should be presented in an acceptable and palatable form
•The low pH of the stomach can affect the viability of the probiotic strains, so the use of micro-encapsulated strains to enhance colonisation in the gut is an advantage. Also, taking probiotics with your main meal of the day, or just after, will have a buffering effect on the low pH of the stomach.
Clearly, a preparation which is suitable for all is an impossibility, as individuals vary in their needs according to their lifestyles and dietary habits.
Article written by Dr. David Dowson