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(Woodpath is an education site focused exclusively on gut health. Our articles are researched by clinical nutritionists and contain citations at the end of the page.)

As we become more aware of the role that gut health plays in creating and maintaining a strong immune system, it's increasingly important to pay attention to our digestive system and how it affects most aspects of our health.

Within the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), there are trillions of microorganisms called gut flora, which influence many functions of our body relating to health.

  • When this gut microbiota is well balanced, it generally imparts a positive effect on our health.
  • When it is out of balance, it may negatively impact various aspects of health.

This imbalance of gut bacteria is called dysbiosis, which may occur in the small intestine (as in SIBO) or in the large intestine (sometimes referred to as LIBO).

At the bottom of this page we make specific supplement recommendations. But first, let's learn about the science and research behind dysbiosis, so you know which supplement to choose.

Dysbiosis & Your Immune System

As much as 70 to 80 percent of immune system cells are found in the human gut. Any instability in gut microbiota may compromise your body's natural defense mechanisms against sickness and disease. (Vighi et al., 2008)

Studies show that gut bacteria teach our immune system how to work from the moment we are born and have a "deep impact on the composition of the intestinal microbiota at the very beginning of human life." (Biasucci et al., 2008)

The latest gastroenterology studies published in 2019 further support findings that dysbiosis of gut bacteria is associated not only with intestinal disorders but also with numerous other conditions such as metabolic and neurological disorders. (Rinninella et al., 2019)

Research also shows an undeniable link between the gut, brain, and skin (known as the gut-brain-skin axis), which further illustrates how gut dysbiosis can be tied to conditions that, on the surface, are seemingly unrelated to digestion — skin problems like acne and eczema as well as mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. (Bowe & Logan 2011)

Causes

Any disruption to the human microbiota can cause dysbiosis.

  • An overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria or too much yeast (such as candida) and not enough beneficial bacteria can create intestinal dysbiosis.
  • Microbes that should be living in the large intestine travel upwards and excessively populate the small intestine (i.e., SIBO).
  • Genetics, diet, physical and psychological stress, and environmental factors are also culprits in gut dysbiosis.

Factors that can lead to dysbiosis

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Frequent antibiotic use
  • Regular intake of antacids
  • High levels of stress or anxiety
  • A low-fiber diet high in sugar and processed foods
  • Poor dental hygiene

Symptoms

If you suffer from a few of the following symptoms on an ongoing basis, you might have dysbiosis:

  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Excessive gas
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Joint pain

Conditions Associated with Dysbiosis

Some 60 to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, which include and can contribute to the conditions listed below.

While these are the most common illnesses associated with dysbiosis, it's by no means an exhaustive list. Research studies show that microbiota dysbiosis is also closely linked to a host of autoimmune diseases, obesity, and liver disease. (Lee et al., 2017)

  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Crohn's disease
  • Leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability)
  • Ulcerative colitis (inflamed lining of the colon)
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Periodontal disease
  • Skin conditions (rash, eczema, acne, psoriasis)

Diagnosis and Treatment

Depending on your symptoms, different diagnostic and treatment options may help get your gut microbiome back on track.

Discuss these options with your doctor or health practitioner to see which might be best for you.

Hydrogen and Methane Breath Test

Depending on which sugars are used, this test measures both hydrogen and methane in the breath to diagnose conditions in the GI tract including lactose (or other sugar) intolerance, SIBO, all of which are related to microbial dysbiosis.

The process involves ingesting a small amount of a particular sugar so that the presence of hydrogen and methane can be measured over the next 2-3 hours.

While the breath tests are not 100% accurate, it is the most accessible method to diagnose SIBO, lactose malabsorption or fructose malabsorption (Rana & Malik, 2014)

Organic Acids Test

The organic acids test is a urine test that looks for abnormal acids, which could mean certain bacteria are out of balance.

In addition to evaluating intestinal yeast and potentially pathogenic bacteria, it provides a comprehensive metabolic picture of a patient’s overall health. It features over 70 markers that can address numerous conditions ranging from mood changes, weight loss resistance, and acne to gut inflammation, joint pain, eczema, and more.

Even easier than the hydrogen breath test, this method is a simple, cost-effective, and non-invasive way to garner lots of useful information.

Stool Test

A stool test such as Genova GI Effects or Diagnostic Solutions GI Map is not a diagnostic for SIBO, but can detect overgrowth or dysbiosis in the large intestine (LIBO). In some cases, labs report that those who show excessive overgrowth of bacteria in the large intestine are often positive for SIBO when a breath test is performed.

Diet

Loading up on nutritious foods that are rich in probiotics, prebiotics and polyphenols is an effective and natural way to help balance gut microbiota.

  • Probiotic foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and beet kvass
  • Prebiotic foods include garlic, onion, Jerusalem artichoke, green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, and legumes such as lentils
  • Polyphenols include black grapes, cherries, black rice, red rice and red quinoa

Opt for dark, leafy greens, wild-caught fish such as salmon, grass-fed meat, and healthy fats like avocado.

You should avoid highly processed foods including deli meats, refined sugars, dairy products, and carbs such as bread and cereals. They feed yeast and dubious gut bacteria.

You should also consider avoiding artificial sweeteners — they can disrupt digestion, cause "metabolic derangement," and negatively impact gut bacteria. (Suez et al., 2015)

Check with your healthcare practitioner before starting any new eating plan, but a diverse diet rich in nutrient-rich foods is a common-sense approach that could benefit even healthy individuals.

Supplements

A healthy balance of prebiotics and probiotics is the cornerstone of a healthy digestive system.

  • Probiotics are the good bacteria that help the body absorb nutrients, reduce inflammation, and keep a smooth-running system.
  • Prebiotics provide the food these probiotics need to survive.

Research shows that probiotic supplements can offer beneficial effects to combat gut dysbiosis. (Bull & Plummer 2015)

However, it's not just a matter of taking probiotics — the right combination and dosage of these microbes are crucial to how effective the supplement will be.

When probiotics and prebiotics are administered simultaneously, it's known as synbiotics. Clinical studies indicate that such synergistic formulations can increase the levels of beneficial bacteria, as with subspecies of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, and improve the survival of the probiotic bacteria along with other positive reactions that help balance gut microbiota. (Bull & Plummer, 2015)

These studies show that it's "much more profound than simply the digestion and assimilation of food." Rather, "probiotics and prebiotics may offer tools to manipulate the gut microbiome, potentially opening a new channel for health care." (Bull & Plummer, 2015)

Finding Balance

Whether you've been dealing with chronic symptoms for a long time or want to prevent future complications, learning more about gut dysbiosis is vital to understanding the connection between gut health and overall well-being.

While more studies on the human microbiome must be conducted, mounting evidence suggests that a healthy gut can have countless benefits from better mood, increased energy, clearer skin, and a robust immune system.

That said, the human gut microbiome is unique to every person. What might work for someone else, may not work for you. If something doesn't feel right, trust your gut and talk to your doctor. Your body will thank you.

Recommendations

If you decide supplements are right for you, we recommend:

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Research Citations

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