Dysbiosis is a term we use when we are referring to the population of “bad bacteria” in a person’s digestive system, when the delicate balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive system becomes imbalanced. It generally implies that the balance has been disturbed by any number of factors and that the “bad” bacteria have taken over and overpowered the beneficial bacteria.
A candida overgrowth is very much a case of dysbiosis, and no candida treatment plan is complete unless the correct balance is restored. The correct balance is achieved by these four things:
- Stop feeding the bad bacteria, parasites and yeasts in the first place.
- Reduce the population of the bad ones to bring about a more harmonious intestinal balance.
- Re-populate the intestinal tract with beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
- Ensure a correct diet and lifestyle is maintained to prevent a re-occurrence.
A major factor which is responsible and the one common to most cases of dysbiosis is the use of antibiotics, and you can read plenty more about antibiotics and their influence in causing yeast infections in chapter 2.
Let’s explore the term dysbiosis somewhat further. The skin is your body’s largest organ and its surface is covered with bacteria, and the same holds for your digestive system, from the mouth right through to the anus, and it has been rightly said that these two particular areas in particular hold some of the largest concentrations of bacteria in your entire body. The digestive system, respiratory tract as well as the ear, nose and throat and vaginal area in women are also areas colonised by literally billions of bacteria.
You have probably heard about the beneficial effects of the good or beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. When I first started to practice natural medicine in the 80’s, probiotics were around but not a very popular item like multivitamins or perhaps vitamin C was. Today probiotics are big news and it’s not hard to see why, they have become increasingly important because we are leading increasingly unnatural lifestyles. The great number of bacteria residing in your body’s digestive system are referred to collectively as the intestinal flora and they are responsible for many important activities including the regulation of various aspects of your immune system, the production of different vitamins and even assisting in detoxification.
It has been estimated that up to an amazing sixty percent or more of your body’s immune activity is inside your small intestine, in fact most of these bacteria are in a 75 millimeter concentration of the duodenum, the first part of the small bowel. Up to five hundred species of bacteria, perhaps more, live in your heavily populated digestive system and the quality and quantity of each species is determined by many factors which make up the delicate balance. Each species will either proliferate or decline depending on the conditions and many different factors. Even the subtle changes in your lifestyle like moving to a new country can have an effect. I have frequently heard patients tell me over the years how their digestive health changed when they moved to New Zealand from another country like Canada or England. Or likewise, when they emigrated from New Zealand to Europe or North America. I would say that it was a combination of a diet change, climate and lifestyle changes as well as the many emotional and psychological stress factors involved in such a relocation.
The major factors in my opinion which account for dysbiosis include high levels of stress (which can be low-grade yet for long periods of time), poor or irregular diets, exposure to synthetic chemicals, oral contraceptives, pharma drugs and antibiotics which are some of the biggest culprits. Most of us, because of the way we live in this modern world of stress, antibiotics and processed foods, are at risk, and if conscious efforts are not made to watch our lifestyles, we can easily slip into a state of ill health. Although antibiotics do work-they kill bacteria that are harming us, unfortunately they kill most all bacteria, including the good bacteria that balance the bad.
When good bacteria and their moderating influences are destroyed, more bacteria move in and destroy the neighborhood. This ruined neighborhood can result in ruined health.
Antibiotics commonly lead to dysbiosis
As I mentioned earlier, and for the risk of repeating myself – the 3 biggest factors accounting for the large increase of patients presenting in the clinic with dysbiosis has been the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in general medical practice as well as in the food chain (commercially raised poultry), the oral contraceptive pill and the sheer quantity and frequency of alcohol consumed by patients. The delicate ecological balance of the intestinal flora is easily disturbed and if antibiotics are prescribed, the harmful bacteria proliferate more rapidly than the beneficial bacteria can replace themselves. Add to this the ongoing low grade stress, alcohol and a diet which is reliant on more refined foods than it ever used to and before you know it the yeasts start to thrive in the intestines. Antibiotics like Amoxicillin (penicillin) upset the bacteria in the bowel and vagina in particular. A vaginal thrush infection with a whitish discharge is commonly known to many women, but there is no such discharge from the intestines so it is less apparent and in the early stages of a Candida infection there are hardly any symptoms at all.
I think that there is another reason why people many years ago did not really have a problem with yeast infections, otherwise known as Candida. And that is because they ate more live or cultured foods like sauerkraut, and many made up their own yoghurt containing many times more beneficial bacteria than found on the supermarket shelves today. People also ate more home cooked meals and ate out less, and certainly consumed a lot less highly refined meals than they did today.
Cultured foods are best
Why the cultured foods? The reason why these cultured foods, like yoghurt (many countries), quark (Germany, Switzerland), kefir (Turkey), tempe and miso (Japan) kim chi (Korea) are so beneficial is that they produce acids in the body like lactic acid which inhibits the harmful bacteria and yeast such as those responsible for thrush. The bad guy bacteria simply cannot grow and multiply in an environment which becomes higher in lactic acid.
Beneficial bacteria, such as the Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus species play a vital role in a healthy digestion. Studies have shown that people with large amounts of the beneficial bacteria in their digestive systems have a more efficient movement of food and waste (bowel motions) through their intestines (called “peristalsis”) These co-ordinated and rhythmic movements are vital in order for your bowel to move waste efficiently through the system and out, and those routinely suffering from constipation often have poor peristalsis and increasing amounts of the bad bacteria. When I studied naturopathy, my teacher pointed out that the most important way to get people to have easier bowel motions was to get them to drink eight glasses of water daily as well as to increase their fibre intake. I have since learned that many studies have shown that the bacterial population of the bowel including stress has a greater effect on the bowel than either water or fibre. Doctors are always telling patients to eat bran, psyllium fibre and to drink more water, but we are seeing more people than ever with constipation. The other interesting link you may not be aware of is the link between poor bowel flora and bowel cancer, this is especially as New Zealand officially holds the title for having the most amount of women per head with bowel cancer than any other country in the world.
I read an interesting book called Digestive Wellness a few years ago by Dr. Liz Lipski. Liz conducted studies in which she revealed that dysbiosis is a prime cause of arthritis, autoimmune illness, vitamin B deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome, acne, eczema, food allergies and sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and psoriasis. A common bacterial problem due to dysbiosis is the Candida or yeast infection and intestinal parasites. These bugs are more likely to be opportunistic, or “hangers-on” which proliferate in a digestive system which allows this to occur. Despite the seriousness of the effects of dysbiosis, leading to Candida, it can be remedied – after all, we bring it on ourselves.