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5 Best Treatment Options for Dysbiosis (and the implications on Mental Health)

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Key Points:

Emerging research suggests that there is a link between dysbiosis and mental health. The gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis, and communication between the two is thought to play a role in regulating your mental health and wellbeing.

Several studies have found that dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria, may be associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. For example, a 2020 review of 26 studies found that people with depression tended to have lower levels of certain beneficial gut bacteria, and higher levels of harmful bacteria, compared to people without depression.

Studies suggest that dysbiosis may contribute to mental health issues by altering the gut-brain axis and causing inflammation and oxidative stress. This, in turn, can lead to changes in mood, behavior, and cognitive function.

While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between dysbiosis and mental health, there is growing interest in the potential of probiotics and other gut microbiome interventions as a new approach to treating mental health conditions.

What is dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis is a term that refers to an imbalance or disturbance in the composition and function of the microorganisms in your body. Dysbiosis can occur in your gut, skin, groin, or oral cavity. In the context of human health, dysbiosis often refers to an imbalance in the gut microbiota, which can result in a variety of health issues.

The gut microbiota is a complex ecosystem of microorganisms that play a crucial role in mood, hormone health, digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune system function. When this ecosystem is disrupted, it can lead to dysbiosis, which may be caused by factors such as poor diet, stress, antibiotics, infections, or other environmental factors.

What are the symptoms of dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis has been linked to a range of health problems, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, autoimmune disorders, obesity, and metabolic disorders. Researchers are still working to understand the complex relationship between the gut microbiota and human health, but it is clear that maintaining a healthy microbiota is essential for overall health and well-being.

Symptoms of gut dysbiosis vary depending on the underlying causes of dysbiosis, the type of bacteria that are present, and other individualizing factors, but some common signs and symptoms of dysbiosis may include:

  1. Mood changes: The gut microbiota plays a role in producing and regulating neurotransmitters that affect your mood, and behavior, so dysbiosis can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, and issues with sleep and attention.
  2. Digestive issues: Dysbiosis can cause a range of digestive problems, including bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, reflux, and even symptoms often attributed to irritable bowel disease (IBD).
  3. Food intolerances: Dysbiosis can lead to the development of food intolerances and sensitivities, as the impaired gut microbiota may be unable to digest certain types of food.
  4. Changes in bowel movements: Dysbiosis can cause changes in the frequency, consistency, and color of bowel movements.
  5. Fatigue: Dysbiosis can cause fatigue and low energy levels, as the body may not be able to absorb nutrients effectively, detoxify harmful chemicals properly, or make the proper amounts of hormones and neurotransmitters.
  6. Skin problems: Dysbiosis can lead to imbalances in the gut-skin axis, resulting in skin problems such as acne, eczema, and rosacea.
  7. Autoimmune disorders: Dysbiosis has been linked to autoimmune disorders such as lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

Dysbiosis Checklist: Signs of dysbiosis

Instructions: Check the box(s) that relate to you and total your score in the space provided.
◻ You have taken antibiotics or proton pump inhibitor medications in the last five years

◻ Mood changes including anxiety, depression, and inattention

◻ Immune system issues resulting in allergies, autoimmunity or chronic inflammation

◻ Skin changes including rash, eczema, psoriasis and acne

◻ Digestive disturbances: Stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

Total: ____/5

Scoring: If you checked more than 2 boxes, getting screened for dysbiosis. Remember, checked boxes do not mean you have dysbiosis, but can help point you towards doing deeper digging.

How do you know if you have dysbiosis?

If you are wondering if you have dysbiosis or find yourself asking “how dysbiosis is diagnosed,” you’ll want to know about 4 types of assessments for dysbiosis. It is important to keep in mind that diagnosing gut dysbiosis can be challenging, however, here are 4 approaches that may use to assess the gut microbiota and determine whether dysbiosis is present. These include:

  1. Stool testing: A stool test can be used to analyze the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota, as well as the presence of harmful bacteria, yeast, or other pathogens. My favorite test is a comprehensive stool analysis, which you can get access to in the Holistic Wellness Collective.
  2. Breath testing: A breath test can be used to detect the presence of certain gases produced by gut bacteria, which can indicate an imbalance in the microbiota. An example of a breath test is the urea breath test which is used to screen for the bacteria H. Pylori.
  3. Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to assess markers of inflammation, immune system function, and nutrient deficiencies, which can be associated with gut dysbiosis.
  4. Clinical evaluation: A healthcare professional may also conduct a clinical evaluation to assess your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to gut dysbiosis.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of gut dysbiosis can be similar to those of other health conditions, so a proper diagnosis is essential. By knowing if you have dysbiosis, and what type of dysbiosis you are dealing with, you will be better equipped to select treatments for dysbiosis that work.

What causes dysbiosis?

There are several factors that can contribute to dysbiosis, including:

  1. Antibiotics: Antibiotic medications kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut, disrupting the delicate balance of the gut microbiota. An example is the common infection with anxiety-producing clostridia (C. Diff), which can occur post antibiotic use.
  2. Other medications: Certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can disrupt the gut microbiota and cause dysbiosis.
  3. Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, simple carbohydrates, and saturated fats can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
  4. Stress: Chronic stress can disrupt the gut-brain axis and alter the balance of the gut microbiota.
  5. Infections: Certain infections can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, leading to dysbiosis.
  6. Environmental toxins: Exposure to toxins in the environment, such as pesticides, can also disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota.

Is dysbiosis the same as leaky gut?

Common gut-related questions asked are: “What is leaky gut?” and “are dysbiosis and leaky gut are the same condition?” This section should offer clarity. Dysbiosis and leaky gut are related conditions, but they are not the same thing.

Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in the gut, which can result in an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can lead to a variety of symptoms, including digestive issues, immune system dysfunction, and inflammation.

Leaky gut,” on the other hand, refers to a condition in which the lining of the intestinal wall becomes more permeable, allowing substances such as toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response and lead to inflammation throughout the body.

Dysbiosis can contribute to the development of leaky gut by disrupting the delicate balance of the gut microbiota, which can lead to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. However, leaky gut can also occur without dysbiosis, and dysbiosis can occur without leaky gut.

What are the best treatments for dysbiosis?

There are several treatments for dysbiosis, including:

  1. Probiotics: These are live microorganisms that can restore the balance of gut bacteria. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, or taken in supplement form. My favorite brand for Probiotics is Omni-Biotic, they have a quiz on their website to help determine which one is right for you. Use code DrCain15 to get 15% off all orders!
  2. Prebiotics: These are non-digestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in your gut, helping them to thrive. Prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, asparagus, and bananas.
  3. Antibiotics: In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary to treat dysbiosis caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. However, antibiotics can also disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria, so they should only be used when necessary and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
  4. Dietary changes: Eating a healthy, balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in processed foods can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  5. Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT): This involves transferring fecal matter from a healthy donor into the gut of someone with dysbiosis. FMT has shown promising results in treating certain conditions, such as recurrent Clostridium difficile infection.

Concluding remarks

The prognosis for dysbiosis treatment depends on three factors:

  1. Correctly identifying the underlying cause of dysbiosis
  2. Matching treatments to the severity of the dysbiosis,
  3. The effectiveness of the treatment approach.

In some cases, dysbiosis can be treated successfully with simple interventions such as changes in diet, probiotics, or prebiotics. If the dysbiosis is caused by a bacterial infection, other holistic strategies involving elimination of infectious agents in combination with probiotics may be effective in restoring balance to the gut microbiome.

However, in some cases, dysbiosis can be more difficult to treat, particularly if the condition is related to a chronic health condition or underlying disease. In these cases, a multifaceted approach that combines multiple interventions, including dietary changes, probiotics, prebiotics, and medications, may be necessary.

It’s important to note that the microbiome is complex and unique to each individual, and functional testing can help personalize treatments that actually work.

Learn more about healing your gut brain axis by joining the Holistic Wellness Collective.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.