Saturday, 16 March 2013

What is Dysbiosis?

As you are probably aware, there are trillions of bacteria in your gut. Everyone’s gut. About three pounds worth. (Approximately 1.4 Kgs.) Yum. Actually, there are more bacteria cells in your body than there are cells that are you. Fascinating. Maybe we’re just vehicles for bacteria. But that’s for another post. All the bacteria in your body together are called the microbiome.

There are beneficial bacteria that help us digest and absorb our food and a few that are normally considered not so beneficial (e coli) but they’re there anyway, and they’re a normal part of the gut microbiome. Sometimes, things can go awry and we get an infestation of the wrong bacteria. When this happens it makes us sick. What kind of sick? Well, it can start with just a little bloating, diarrhea, some IBS symptoms. (Irritable bowel syndrome) This is what some experts think causes IBS in the first place.

If this continues for a long time without getting rid of these bad bacteria we can get very sick indeed. Eventually we get microscopic holes in the gut, which allow tiny undigested food particles to get out of the gut and into the bloodstream, where they wreak havoc. This has the lovely name of “leaky gut syndrome”. This can cause inflammation, which then can cause an autoimmune reaction, where the body’s immune system attacks parts of the body, organs, etc. If this continues unabated, eventually some people with leaky gut may end up with diverticulosis, or ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. These are all examples of ‘Inflammatory bowel disease” or IBD. Some doctors believe these diseases, including IBS, are on a continuum. IBS is at one end and Crohn’s is at the other. There are also those who believe that other chronic or autoimmune diseases are started this way. At any rate, inflammation tends to be involved in all of them.

So how do you know if you have dysbiosis? There is a test known as the hydrogen breath test, that can tell if undesirable bacteria are present. A naturopathic doctor can order this test. Another way is to just start treating the dysbisosis and check for a die-off reaction. This is also known as a Herxheimer reaction, named after the doctor who discovered it, or a healing crisis*. Some doctors think that if you have IBS, that dysbiosis must be present.  If you have ever taken antibiotics, the chances of dysbiosis are greatly increased. Some people have taken course after course of antibiotics without replacing their gut microbes. They will be highly likely to have dysbiosis.

So how do you treat it? One way is with probiotics and oregano oil. The oregano oil acts as a natural antibiotic and probiotics repopulate the gut with desirable microbes. You must not take the two together, or within several hours of each other. The oregano oil can kill off the good bacteria ans well as the bad. When I did the protocol I took the probiotics first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and the oregano oil  twice or three times during the day.

Some doctors like to try antibiotics and probiotics, taken the same way as above. I tried this twice and it didn’t work for me. Other doctors try antibiotics only, although I can’t see this working if the patients don’t repopulate their guts with probiotics. The more probiotics you take, the better. I took huge megadoses, 100 billion or more per day.

Another treatment is an elemental diet. This is often used for inflammatory bowel disease as well. An elemental diet is a liquid diet of predigested food. It isn’t as yucky as it sounds. Usually it consists of whey protein and various required carbohydrates. Some of them can be quite delicious. The elemental diet gives the intestines a rest and allows them to heal. At the same time you must use the oregano oil and probiotics, as well as other recommended supplements. The one I took is called Absorb Plus and is sold by the Holistic Health Shoppe. The website listentoyourgut explains the protocol, and is run by the same people who make the elemental diet shakes. I found the protocol quite easy to follow and highly recommend this website and the ebooks and products. It’s run by Jini Patel Thompson, who is an expert in this field and healed her own Crohn’s disease with this protocol. 

So how would you know if you had dysbiosis? If you have food intolerances, experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation or any combination of the above, the chances are pretty good. You may also experience hunger an hour or two after eating. Nausea and stomach pain can also be symptoms. It’s good to fix the problem before it gets out of hand, and you end up with inflammatory bowel disease. There are a lot of people who have these symptoms and don’t realize what the problem is. If you regularly pass large amounts of gas after eating, especially carbohydrates, this could very well be the culprit.

Why carbohydrates? Because that’s what the little buggers live on. They love to eat starchy, sugary things, and when they do, they multiply, and give off wastes, just like you do. These combine to make lots of gas. That’s where the bloating and flatulence come from. So while doing one of these protocols to kill off the little beasties, you must also stay away from starchy and sugary foods. Yes, that includes alcohol. Sorry. Also chocolate. Rats!

Can you cure the problem without going on an elemental diet and taking all the supplements? Probably, but it will take a long time and you will have to avoid starch and sugar for a year or so. May not be a bad idea to avoid those things all the time, but let’s not get too strict right away. Taking huge amounts of probiotics will also help. Make sure they’re good ones, guaranteed until the expiry date
This is by no means a comprehensive article about dysbiosis. It is meant to give you a point from where to start your own research.

*Healing crisis, or Herxheimer reaction. When the beasties die off, they give off waste products that your body cannot eliminate as fast as they accumulate. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, general lousy feeling, sudden body temperature variations, diarrhea, constipation, sleep disturbances, joint and muscle pain and other unpleasant thing that may feel like the flu. It can last anywhere from days to weeks depending on the severity of the problem and how fast you are killing off the bad bacteria. A week may be considered the usual duration.

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