We once heard a wise nutritionist say, “when in doubt, heal the gut.” It’s true, too. When you look to the root cause of any health condition or symptom, compromised gut health almost always plays a role. Studies suggest that autoimmune conditions, allergies, acne, eczema, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even depression and anxiety all begin in the gut. More specifically, they could all be linked to a bacterial condition that affects approximately 30 million Americans called gut dysbiosis (1).
What is Gut Dysbiosis?
Gut dysbiosis means you have an imbalance of microbes like bacteria and yeast living in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
There are approximately over 400 species of bacteria in your system that make up your gut microbiome. You actually have more bacteria in your gut than you do cells in your body! These bacteria help you digest food, synthesize vitamins, and fight off harmful pathogens. In short, gut bacteria are a fundamental part of your health, and without them, you wouldn’t be able to survive.
Out of these 400 species of gut bacteria, there are certain types that are considered beneficial and certain times that are considered “bad” or opportunistic. And your body requires a very specific balance of both. Bad bacteria and yeasts generally aren’t problematic and typically work in harmony with the rest of your gut bacteria — as long as you have an adequate amount of beneficial bacteria to prevent the stuff ones from overpopulating your system. It’s only when the bad bacteria begin to outnumber the good bacteria or an overgrowth of yeast occurs that problems start.
Gut dysbiosis causes changes to your gut microbiome, which can prevent you from properly digesting food. This can cause food in your GI tract to ferment and putrefy, which is the perfect environment for harmful bacteria and yeast to grow and multiply.
All of this can lead to intestinal inflammation that could damage the gut lining, which not only leads to painful digestive symptoms, but also contributes to chronic digestive conditions such as SIBO, leaky gut syndrome, candida, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and irritable bowel diseases (IBD).
And these aren’t the only problems that stem from gut dysbiosis. Since nearly 80% of immune system cells are found in your gut, changes to gut bacteria can weaken your defense against illness and disease (2). Research also shows a direct link between the gut and skin (known as the gut-skin axis), and the gut and the brain (the gut-brain axis). That means gut dysbiosis can affect your body in countless ways — from acne, rashes, and eczema to mood disorders (3)(4).
Symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis
The most common symptoms that suggest your gut bacteria is out of whack include:
- Frequent gas, bloating, belching
- Loose stools, diarrhea, constipation
- Acid reflux
- Unexplained weight gain and/or difficult weight loss
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Depression and/or frequent low mood
- Halitosis (chronic bad breath)
- Brain fog
- Joint pain
- Skin conditions (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- Low energy and chronic fatigue
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune condition (such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis)
- Allergies and food sensitivities
- Chronic yeast or fungal infections
Potential Causes for Gut Dysbiosis
Gut dysbiosis can be caused by certain factors in your diet and lifestyle. They include:
- Frequent antibiotic use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Frequent use of antacids
- Chronic stress (physical and psychological)
- Previous bacterial or parasitic GI tract infections: e.Coli, salmonella, parasites
- A diet high in refined sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated fats, and trans fats
- A low-fiber diet
- Environmental toxins, such as pesticides
Studies are also looking at the impact of birthing methods on gut flora in newborns. It’s suggested that being formula fed rather than breastfed and delivered via C-section instead of through a vaginal birth, can cause changes in the type of strains of beneficial bacteria in newborns, and may contribute to gut dysbiosis (7).
Testing for Gut Dysbiosis
If you suspect you have gut dysbiosis, it is possible to test for it.
Two of the most common methods used for detecting bacterial imbalances in the GI tract are the hydrogen breath test and the organic acids test. Both of these tests can be ordered online and done in the comfort of your own home, or administered by a licensed healthcare practitioner. However, like most medical tests, neither of these tests are perfect and may not provide 100% accurate results.
As a general guideline, if you have three or more of the symptoms above, it’s worth making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle that will support your overall gut health. You may also want to work with a practitioner who specializes in gut dysbiosis to come up with a protocol that’s best suited to you. Otherwise, here are a few general guidelines for gut dysbiosis treatment.
Gut Dysbiosis Treatment
Healing gut dysbiosis begins by replenishing your natural stores of beneficial gut bacteria while eliminating problematic bacteria, parasites, and yeast overgrowths.
The foods you eat have the power to heal or destroy your gut, so the first place to start healing gut dysbiosis is through your diet. However, lifestyle factors, such as chronic stress, can also deplete beneficial gut bacteria. Therefore, effective ways to relieve stress (such as increasing exercise) should be taken into consideration for a gut dysbiosis treatment plan, as well.
The Gut Dysbiosis Diet: Foods to Avoid and Foods to Eat
To begin healing your gut, we recommend following a leaky gut diet. We’ve created a leaky gut diet plan infographic and downloadable PDF for you. But here’s a quick summary of the foods you’ll want to avoid for healing gut dysbiosis, and why.
Foods to Avoid
- Refined Sugar – All forms of sugar feed yeast and other problematic bacteria, so it should be avoided at all costs during gut healing. Refined sugar goes by many names, including cane sugar, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and glucose, to name a few. Natural sweeteners such as raw honey and maple syrup should also be avoided during the initial stages of gut healing. Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, should also be avoided, as studies suggest they can interfere with digestion and may cause further changes to gut bacteria (8).
- Fruit – Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can feed yeast and problematic bacteria. However, fruit seems to be a grey area on a gut dysbiosis diet, depending on what specialist you ask. If you struggle with several symptoms of compromised gut health, the recommendations seem to be consistent with avoiding all fruit in the early stages of a gut healing protocol until symptoms begin to clear.
- Grains – The carbohydrates in grains break down into sugar and can feed yeast and other bad bacteria. Gluten, a protein found in grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley, has also been shown to cause changes to the gut lining and lead to leaky gut syndrome (9).
Foods to Eat
To begin healing gut dysbiosis, you’ll need to include nutrients in your diet that support the regrowth of good bacteria in your system, and help reduce inflammation in the GI tract, such as:
- Lightly steamed vegetables
- Grass-fed bone broth
- Grass-fed meats
- Wild fatty fish (and fish oil supplements)
- Other healthy fats, such as avocado, coconut oil, and coconut meat
- Fermented foods, such as beet kvass, kimchi, coconut milk yogurt, sauerkraut
The best foods to eat for healing gut dysbiosis are the same as the foods to eat for healing leaky gut syndrome, so you can also refer to our downloadable leaky gut diet foods PDF.
Gut Dysbiosis Cleanses and Supplements
There are gut dysbiosis cleanses you can do, such as candida cleanses and parasite cleanses. However, it’s important to check with a qualified healthcare practitioner who is familiar with your health history and symptoms before jumping into a cleanse or extreme diet. The healing protocol you require will depend on the severity of your case and the factors that contributed to causing your gut dysbiosis in the first place. A healthcare practitioner can also prepare you for any side effects or symptoms that may occur during the initial stages of healing.
Understanding how gut dysbiosis affects your health can feel like finding the missing pieces of a puzzle — especially if you’ve been struggling with your symptoms for a long time. But the amazing thing about healing your gut is that you can experience a domino-like effect throughout the rest of your body. Brighter skin, more energy, restful sleep, fewer sick days, sustainable weight loss — these are just a few “side effects” you may experience from healing gut dysbiosis.