Almost two decades ago, the term “gut microbiome” was coined to describe the trillions of microbes that reside in your gut. Scientists once thought that these microbes were just hitching a ride and you’d be better off without them. However, we now know they are critical to your overall health and wellness.
Clocking in at 3 to 5 pounds, your gut microbiome weighs as much or more than your brain. This ecosystem of microbes must coexist in harmony for you to feel your best. When it is out of balance, it leads to dysbiosis, which is linked to many kinds of health issues.
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What Is Dysbiosis and Why Does It Matter?
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of gut microbes or a maladaptation (a trait that is more harmful than helpful) within the gut microbiome.1 Since there are trillions of microbes that make up your gut microbiome, there are many ways gut microbiome imbalance can come about. Diet, antibiotics, toxins, stress, and other factors can throw off the harmonious balance of your gut microbiome and make you sick.
Since your gut contains trillions of microbes, it is not surprising that an imbalance of these microbes can lead to illnesses of the gastrointestinal tract. What might be more surprising is that your gut microbiome controls the majority of your immune system, and uncorrected gut dysbiosis can have profound effects in many different parts of the body, not just the gut.
There are many conditions that at first glance have nothing to do with the gut, but are actually intimately related to your gut microbiome. Various symptoms and ailments are rooted in dysbiosis. This is why it’s so important to never ignore gastrointestinal symptoms; they are often signs of a much bigger problem.
Gut microbiome imbalances are linked to many conditions that are not obviously associated with the gut. Why does it matter whether an illness is associated with an imbalance in the gut microbiome, you ask? Understanding the underlying mechanism by which illness occurs allows medicine to develop more precise interventions to help those with various diseases.
As you can imagine, the potential role of the gut microbiome in disease can lead to a major shift in focus in many fields of medicine. We already can target gut microbiota to alter disease progression, as has been shown in many studies through the use of probiotics.1
So what are some of the unexpected conditions associated with dysbiosis? Here are 13 surprising conditions linked to the gut microbiome. Keep an eye on these – new research is coming out daily and it’s very exciting!
Eczema results in dry, flaky, and downright painful patches of skin that can be overwhelming and embarrassing. Eczema is caused by an overactive immune system, which is why doctors often prescribe powerful immunosuppressive drugs for treatment. But patients can’t take immunosuppressants on a long-term basis because it prevents the immune system from being healthy.
Studies are finding that restoring microbial balance can be effective in rebalancing the immune system.2 Another interesting observation is that people with eczema have a decrease in microbial richness.3 Could restoring the gut microbiome bring eczema patients relief? Scientists are hopeful.
Rosacea is a common skin condition that results in redness, skin thickening, and sometimes small pus-filled bumps on the face. Rosacea is also associated with the gastrointestinal condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.
Doctors are finding that sometimes when patients with SIBO is treated, their rosacea also clears up. One study even found that patients who successfully treated their SIBO also saw a reversal of their rosacea symptoms.4 This is an exciting development, offering potential hope for those suffering from rosacea.
Gut dysbiosis in many forms can lead to psoriasis – a condition that causes painful, scaly patches of skin. Candida overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease are all associated with psoriasis. Individuals with psoriasis are more likely to have gut microbiome imbalances and higher inflammation levels.5 Given that both dysbiosis and psoriasis are strongly associated with inflammation, these findings suggest new therapeutic approaches for psoriatic patients could involve re-establishing balance to the gut microbiome.
4. Dermatitis Herpetiformis
Dermatitis herpetiformis is a recurring rash often seen on the knees and elbows of people with celiac disease. This skin condition is actually caused by imbalances in the gut and therefore benefits from a change in diet—especially the removal of gluten.6
Anxiety is among the most common disorders in the Western world. Through manipulation of the gut microbiome, anxiety pathways can be targeted and help those who are struggling.7 The mind-gut connection is a powerful and effective way for people to ease their anxiety more naturally.
Research has found that diet and gut health are intertwined with mental health through the gut-brain axis – the communication that occurs between your gut microbiome and your brain via the vagus nerve. Alterations in the gut microbiome have been shown to lead to depression. There are even specific microbial species that have been identified as contributing to severe depression.8 These findings have led to gut microbiome research becoming the newest and fastest growing field in treating psychological disorders.9
7. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.10 Drug after drug has failed to successfully improve this condition. New research has found that the gut microbiome is directly linked to the progression of this disease.11 Specifically, the gut microbiomes can trigger metabolic pathways and inflammation known to contribute to dementia. Researchers are exploring treatment options for Alzheimer’s that begin in the gut.
8. Parkinson’s Disease
The link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease is undeniable.12 New research is constantly emerging linking gut health to Parkinson’s disease.13 These findings pave an exciting new path to follow, allowing researchers to discover novel therapeutic approaches to treat those suffering from Parkinson’s.
9. Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system runs rampant and begins attacking healthy tissues. Because 80 percent of our immune system lives in the gastrointestinal tract, dysbiosis and autoimmunity are linked. Dysbiosis can lead to a breakdown of the lining of the gut, and when the gut becomes leaky, it allows particles to pass through the lining that shouldn’t. This leads to increased inflammation, immune system dysregulation, and autoimmune disease.14
Autoimmune disease is on the rise in the United States and includes more than 100 different conditions depending on which tissues are being attacked. Some of the most common include:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Graves’ disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Lupus erythematosus
- Multiple sclerosis
Because leaky gut can lead to autoimmunity, manipulating the microbiota is a rapidly growing field of autoimmune disease research.
Allergies develop when your immune system mistakes certain foods (like peanuts) or environmental factors (like pollen) for harmful pathogens. The immune system ramps up to attack these “invaders” and in the process causes stereotypical symptoms like an itchy throat, runny nose, and red or watery eyes.
The rise in allergies is believed largely to be due to decreased diversity of the gut microbiome.15 Factors including an increase in cesarean sections, bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding, and blasting the gut microbiome with antibiotics have increased the prevalence of allergies.16
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. This epidemic has largely been blamed on poor life choices, but what if the gut microbiome were making it near impossible for someone with obesity to lose weight? It turns out dysbiosis is usually found in those who are obese, and restoring balance is a promising possibility to improve weight management.17
12. Type 2 Diabetes
Another metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, and gut microbiota are strongly linked. New treatments and therapies for type 2 diabetes are focused on making changes in diet and targeting the expressed genes of the gut microbiome. This field of research is called microbial genetics.18
One of the main reasons why dysbiosis can cause so much trouble is that it creates significant inflammation throughout the body. Osteoarthritis develops when there is cartilage destruction and ongoing inflammation of the joints, which can eventually lead to debilitating pain. When the gut microbiome is balanced, inflammation in the body decreases. For this reason, scientists are exploring gut microbial balance to prevent and treat osteoarthritis.19
Listen to Your Gut
With so many conditions associated with the gut microbiome, it’s a good idea to be more aware of what you are putting into your body to feed and fuel yourself. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, consider speaking to your healthcare provider about changing your diet as a way to aid any other treatments you may be receiving.
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*Editor’s Note: Viome is not claiming to cure any of the diseases above. They are a health and wellness company determined to help you find the diet perfect for you and your gut microbiome. The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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