The Microbiome, Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut
What is the Microbiome?
We exist in synergy with trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. This is known as our Microbiome and there are more bacterial cells within our body than human cells.
These microbiota exist in our oral cavity, intestines, vaginal tract and skin.
There are up to 1000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome and each plays a different role in our body.
In the gut, the microbiota ecosystem has many important jobs:
- They help safeguard us from external pathogens.
- They aid in the metabolism of polysaccharides and lipids.
- They modulate intestinal motility.
- They produce short chain fatty acids which feed colonic cells and protect us from disease.
- A source of neurochemicals which regulate a vast array of physiological & psychological processes.
- They modulate mood and behaviours.
- Important to central nervous system function
- They help prime the immune system (70% of which is in the gut) to fight infections
- Bowel bacteria help to regulate the production of serotonin within the bowel wall which regulates bowel contractions.
The two predominant phyla are Firmicutes (60-80%) and Bacteroides (20-40%)
The balance of bacteria within the bowel has a surprising influence on general health, from how well you digest food and absorb vitamins and minerals, to how you process medicines.
What is Dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis is the term for a bacterial imbalance within the digestive tract. Basically too much bad and not enough good!
Ideally, you want most of your bowel bacteria to be beneficial lactic acid producing types, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, with fewer of the less beneficial types of bacteria. Dysbiosis occurs when the balance of bacteria tips so that the less desirable bacteria outnumber the good.
It's not surprising that dysbiosis can produce a wide range of both physical and psychological symptoms, but it is often overlooked as a cause of ill health.
Causes of Dysbiosis?
1) Not eating a diverse enough diet.
2) Lack of good fibres and prebiotics in the diet.
3) Overuse of antibiotics
4) Alcohol use, recreational drugs and smoking.
5) Physical and psychological stress that suppresses immunity.
6) Poor sleep
Symptoms of Dysbiosis
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Bloating and Burping
Anxiety and Depression
Different people will experience different symptoms, based partly on the balance of bacteria present in their bowel, and the way these interact with the genes they have inherited.
Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
What is Intestinal Permeability/Leaky Gut?
The mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract is our “gate keeper” – a barrier between the outer world and toxins/microbes/bile salts/pathogens etc which we don’t want interacting with the epithelial cells below.
In the large intestine there are two layers, a top viscous layer which is washed away every 2/3 hours taking with it the toxins we don’t want. The second layer stays adhered to the epithelial lining. If this top layer begins to degrade too quickly then it can trigger inflammation such as ulcerative colitis etc.
It can be degraded by excess pathogens, excess toxins from dysbiotic bacteria, lack of good microbiome bacteria and low beta defensins (host defences). Many bacteria have learnt to navigate the mucin lining by producing toxins, adhering to the lining and developing strong tails to swim through so they can reach the epithelial lining and induce inflammation.
For this reason, we want a good healthy microbiome and good host defences.
If the mucosal barrier and then the epithelial layer becomes degraded then the tight junctions of the gut wall will start to open allowing food particles, pollens, bacterias, viruses, microbes, bile salts etc to get through into the blood stream. The immune system then sees these items as invaders and can mount an attack. The body can then develop food intolerance, histamine issues and longer term things like auto immune conditions.
How Can We Look for Dysbiosis/Leaky Gut and Barrier Dysfunction?
I will run a good microbiome test depending on where you are looking for the dysbiosis.
Invivo have the Oral EcologiX, the Vaginal EcologiX and the GI EcologiX which will look at the microbiome in different parts of the body.
The GI EcologiX will give me a whole host of information about the GI tract and levels of dysbiosis. This will also give me many markers that will indicate the level of barrier dysfunction, whether this is at the mucosal level or the epithelial level.
For further infomation about the GI EcologiX please click here.