The human body is made up of a diverse colony of micro-organisms that live predominately in the mucous membranes of our gut. The adult intestine contains 300 to 500 different species of bacteria, with 30 to 40 species comprising up to 99% of the total population.
There exists a balance of good and bad bacteria. In healthy people the good bacteria outweighs the bad. The most common forms of micro-flora that exist in our gut include:
- Bifidobacterium (good)
- Lactobacillus (good)
- Various anaerobic gram-positive cocci
Medical scientists are now acknowledging gut dysbiosis as a phenomenon in disease. A recently published definition of dysbiosis was: a breakdown in the balance between protective versus harmful intestinal bacteria
Our good gut bacterium has several functions.
- To grow and proliferate
- Energy salvage (fermentation of non-digestible dietary contents and endogenous mucus) and production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA)
- Production of some vitamins, e.g. K and B12
- Synthesis of amino acids from ammonia or urea
- Control of epithelial cell proliferation and differentiation
- Metabolism and enterohepatic circulation of xenobiotics
- Immune system development and regulation
- Resistance to infection – crowding out pathogenic organisms
- Prevention of bacterial translocation
- Control of ion concentration and absorption
- Control of colonic motility and transit time
- Control of colonic pH
What causes Dysbiosis?
When there is an imbalance of good to bad bacteria, dysbiosis is the result. This can occur from many factors such as:
- Antibiotic use
- Contraceptives (the Pill)
- Altered gastric secretion
- Spastic colitis
- Diet including sulphur, excessive protein, excess refined carbohydrates, lack of fibre, excess fat
- Decreased immune status (especially low secretory IgA)
Why is Dysbiosis bad?
The good bacteria in the stomach are very important for our guts immune health and to protect against invading bacteria. Bowel flora play an important role in our ability to fight infectious disease, providing a front line in our immune defence, provide a passive mechanism to prevent infection, and produce many vitamins – Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K. Acid-producing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria increase the bioavailability of minerals, which require acid for absorption–calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese. Without a healthy colony of bowel flora, we cannot expect robust health and wellbeing.
There are many health conditions associated with dysbiosis. Recent research has revealed that dysbiosis is strongly linked with all chronic gastrointestinal, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. It may also be very important in conditions such as fatigue, poor immunity, cancer and allergies.
The breakdown products of gut bacteria (endotoxins) are involved in immune reactions. High endotoxins are associated with chronic diseases such as psoriasis, pancreatitis, SLE (lupus) and liver disease.
The more minor symptoms of dysbiosis include bloating, flatulence, nausea, bad breath, vomiting and diarrhoea and/or constipation.
How do I know if I have Dysbiosis?
A test is available in naturopathic consultations which can assess the presence of bad bacteria in the gut. This test is called the ‘Urinary Indican Test’ or ‘Obermayer test’. It is performed by mixing a urine sample with two reagents and assessing the colour change according to a chart. Dysbiotic bacteria in the intestine produce a chemical called indole. A portion of this is reabsorbed and metabolised to a indoxyl sulfate (or indican) which is then excreted in the urine where is can be assessed by this test. The test takes approximately 10 minutes and costs $16.50. The night before the test is performed ensure that you consume some protein and also avoid alcohol and iodine containing foods and supplements as these may give a false positive.
UPDATE: This test is no longer available.[fb_button]