How to Tell if the Gut Microbiota is Damaged

22 September, 2020
Bloating, gas and slow digestion can be symptoms of an imbalance in the gut microbiota. In today's article, we'll tell you of how to identify microbial imbalances what to do to adjust it back to normal.

Symptoms such as unexplained abdominal bloating, prolonged periods of diarrhea, constipation, and foul-smelling stools can be indicative of impaired gut microbiota.

This community of microorganisms is essential for the proper functioning of the human body. After all, as various studies have underlined, it promotes the digestion of food substances and the specialization of the immune system, among other functions.

Do you know what leads to an imbalance of the gut microbiota? Have you ever wondered what to do if it’s damaged?

Fixing it is essential for the proper functioning of your intestinal tract and your overall well-being. Keep reading to find out more!

About dysbiosis

The imbalance of the gut microbiota has a specific term: dysbiosis. According to microbiological studies, this word refers to an imbalance of the normal gut microbiota due to qualitative or quantitative changes in its composition, functioning, distribution, and metabolic activities.

There are three types of dysbiosis:

  1. The loss of good bacteria that promotes the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract
  2. An overgrowth of human pathogenic bacteria
  3. The loss of general bacterial biodiversity

The normal microbiota is a set of bacterial microorganisms that populate various areas of the human body. The most relevant one is present in the gastrointestinal tract, no doubt. According to the study cited above, there are more than 1014 bacterial cells in the intestine and more than 1000 different species. The Bacterioidetes and Firmicutes groups are the most dominant ones.

There’s a balance between intestinal bacterial colonies in a healthy individual. Many are self-regulating and the host’s immune system also maintains normality. Thus, dysbiosis occurs when the homeostatic balance is broken either by external or internal factors. This leads to the following series of complications.

An illustration about damaged gut microbiota.
The mismatch of the bacteria that make up the intestinal flora is known as dysbiosis.

To learn more What’s the Difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

How to tell there’s damage in the gut microbiota

As we already anticipated, microbiological studies show the intestinal microbiota stimulates the immune system. It synthesizes vitamins, inhibits pathogens, and digests compounds from plants, among other functions.

These microorganisms are essential in the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain its balance.

Causes of intestinal dysbiosis

Several causes can lead to an imbalance in the normal gut microbiota. Here are some examples:

  • The use of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections can create imbalances in the microbiome. Ampicillin, or amoxicillin, among others, have negative effects on the composition of the gut microbiota.
  • Animal studies determined that stress and anxiety cause variations in the gut microbiota for several days. Stressful states decrease the production of intestinal mucin (protective layer of tissue), which promotes the adherence of pathogens.
  • Other sources stress that diet plays an essential role in the gut microbiota. Sulfate foods, for example, promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestinal tract. Also, some believe that diets high in protein could have negative effects.

All of these factors are important in people of normal health. Immunocompromised individuals or those with associated pathologies are also in high-risk groups. This is because their immune system may not adequately regulate the growth of pathogenic bacterial species.

Finally, as detailed in an article published in Psychopharmacology, the consumption of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco also seems to have negative effects on the microbiome.

Symptoms of intestinal dysbiosis

Knowing if the intestinal flora is damaged is no easy task as many of the apparent symptoms are similar to those produced by other gastrointestinal pathologies, among them:

  • Abdominal swelling and the presence of gas for no apparent cause
  • Intestinal cramps, ventral punctures, and a feeling of tightness
  • Bowel movements and gas with a particularly bad smell
  • Alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea
  • Greater vulnerability to viral and bacterial infections

Also, the commented studies suggest more serious diseases may be linked to intestinal dysbiosis. Pathogenic strains such as Escherichia coli, Mycobacterium Avium paratuberculosis, and Clostridium Difficile seem to be connected to these imbalances.

A woman with a belly ache.
Prolonged periods of diarrhea or constipation can be a sign of altered or damaged gut microbiota.

What to do about intestinal dysbiosis

Anyone who doesn’t take antibiotics or has associated pathologies must adjust their diet to restore their gut microbiota. Probiotics, for example, are a proven method for boosting gastrointestinal wellness.

Probiotics are usually composed of strains of the bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and natural inhabitants of the intestinal tract. Some examples are kefir, kombucha, and other Lacto-fermented foods. You can also find them as pills.

Prebiotic foods – that is, normal foods that promote bacterial growth – will also help restore damaged gut microbiota. Food high in fiber and starch content are good representatives of this. Of course, it’s always a good idea to consult with your family doctor or a dietician before adopting drastic changes in your diet.

You may be interested in Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates (MACs)

Things to consider regarding damaged gut microbiota

Unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, and using drugs can modify the gastrointestinal microbiota, among many other associated pathologies. Also, continued stress can cause an imbalance of this group of bacteria present in the intestine.

Researchers have also observed that the use of antibiotics can cause dysbiosis. Unfortunately, a patient can’t control these types of side effects. In any case, a healthy lifestyle and the use of probiotics and prebiotics can help maintain and restore your gastrointestinal well-being.

  • Maslowski, K. M., & Mackay, C. R. (2011). Diet, gut microbiota and immune responses. Nature immunology12(1), 5-9.
  • DeGruttola, A. K., Low, D., Mizoguchi, A., & Mizoguchi, E. (2016). Current understanding of dysbiosis in disease in human and animal models. Inflammatory bowel diseases22(5), 1137-1150.
  • Myers, S. P., & Hawrelak, J. A. (2004). The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: a review. Altern Med Rev9(2), 180-197.
  • Disbiosis, wikipedia. Recogido a 5 de julio en https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disbiosis
  • Bailey, M. T., & Coe, C. L. (1999). Maternal separation disrupts the integrity of the intestinal microflora in infant rhesus monkeys. Developmental Psychobiology: The Journal of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology35(2), 146-155.
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  • Cussotto S, Clarke G, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Psychotropics and the Microbiome: a Chamber of Secrets…. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019;236(5):1411-1432. doi:10.1007/s00213-019-5185-8