Early in the 20th century, Dr Elie Metchnikoff popularised the theory that disease begins in the digestive tract because of an imbalance of intestinal bacteria. He called this state dysbiosis, which comes from “symbiosis” meaning living together in mutual harmony and “dis” which means not.
Dr Metchnikoff was the first scientist to discover the useful properties of probiotics. He won the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his work on lactobacilli and humoral immunity and was a colleague of Louis Pasteur, succeeding him as the director of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Dr Metchnikoff found that the bacteria in yoghurt prevented and reversed bacterial infection. His research proves that the lactobacilli could displace many disease-producing organisms and reduce the toxins they generated. He believed these endotoxins (toxins produced from substances inside the body) shortened lifespan and he advocated the use of lactobacillus in the 1940s for all manner of infections. Whilst there are many causes of dysbiosis, we generally bring it on ourselves. Constant high levels of stress, exposure to manufactured chemicals, poor food choices, oral contraceptives, surgery and use of antibiotics and painkillers all change the healthy balance of the digestive tract.
What causes Dysbiosis?
The most common cause of dysbiosis is the use of antibiotics which change the balance of intestinal microbes. Not terribly specific, antibiotics simultaneously kill both harmful and helpful bacteria throughout our digestive system, mouth, vagina and skin, leaving the territory to bacteria, parasites, viruses and yeast that are resistant to the antibiotic that was used. In a healthy gut, parasites may be present in small numbers and not cause problems but if allowed to flourish they can cause diarrhoea, illness and weight loss. Most people can recover fairly easily from a single round of antibiotics but even those with strong constitutions have struggled regaining balance from repeated use of antibiotic drugs. These microbes produce toxins that cause symptoms. The bacteria form chemicals that are poisonous to the cells around them and to the person they live in. A wide variety of substances are produced and these substances may hurt the intestinal lining directly by damaging the brush border and become absorbed into the bloodstream, causing system-wide effects. Initially, our body rushes white blood cells to the injured tissue to eat up the bacteria and produces an inflammatory reaction. Inflammation, pain and swelling are nature’s message to stop and let your body heal but we often ignore this basic instinct and reach for pain medication so we can continue our lives. If the pain and inflammation were initially caused by microbes and you never dealt with the cause, more endotoxins will be produced, causing chronic pain and inflammation and setting up a continuing cycle.
Often the pain medications we take become a factor in the continuation and severity of the problem. It becomes a vicious circle: the drug causes damage to the intestinal lining, causing more inflammation, irritation and pain; so we take more pain medication which causes further damage. One of the most common pain medications are corticosteroids and, because cortisone and prednisone have such powerful inflammatory effects, they are used long term by people with chronic illness. Long term use of cortisone and prednisone depresses the immune system, causing side effects such as lowered resistance to infection, parasites, stomach and duodenal ulcers, thinning of bones and dozens of other problems. Steroids are contraindicated for anyone who has a fungal infection because they provide excellent nourishment for fungi. Because cortisol steroids are so strong, they suppress your body’s ability to work through an illness on its own. They are best suited for an emergency, not daily use.
Many other factors contribute to dysbiosis. Low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach encourage bacterial overgrowth. Poor transit time in the intestinal tract also encourages proliferation of bacteria. For example, in 24 hours, one E. coli bacterium produces nearly 5,000 identical bacteria. The longer they sit inside us, the greater their potential to colonise.
The vast majority of email and phone calls we receive, dysbiosis and leaky gut are at the cause whether its autoimmune conditions or gastrointestinal discomfort.
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The London Clinic of Nutrition is a multi-disciplined health practice offering personalised nutritional medicine and naturopathy using the functional medicine approach.
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