More attention, than ever before, is being paid to the issue of undesirable gut flora (dysbiosis). It is linked to several health issues ranging from minor digestive problems like bloating, cramping, constipation, reflux to more serious ones like affecting the immune function.
The digestive system is home to trillions of bacteria, the gut flora, some beneficial and some harmful. Beneficial bacteria aid in digestion, manufacture vitamins and stimulate immune cells, while harmful bacteria disturb the activity of the useful bacteria and produce undesirable health effects.
Imbalance in the gut flora in the small intestines is known as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). It can be a result of several factors. Often, food sensitivities (gluten, dairy etc), unbalanced diets (high in sugar, preservatives, pesticides and artificial sweeteners), chronic alcohol use, excessive medication, antibiotic abuse, stress, hormones, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, aging itself can disturb the balance of the gut flora, leading to SIBO.
Certain diseases including constipation, pancreatitis, liver disease, kidney disease, immune-deficiency, diabetes are also predisposed to SIBO. Symptoms of SIBO are non-specific and range from bloating, abdominal distension, abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhoea to fatigue, and weakness.
Long-standing SIBO leads to changes in the gut (intestinal lining) leading to inflammation. Inflammation is a starting point of several maladies including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Changes in the intestinal lining is also referred to as leaky gut, which is associated with chronic fatigue, foggy brain, neurological disorders, migraines, food intolerance, food allergies, lowered immunity and auto-immunity, skin problems eczema, psoriasis, hyper-pigmentation, fibromyalgia (muscle pains, joint pains).
Other features of SIBO include malabsorption, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic and bone disorders and neuropathies (numbness and tingling sensation in the extremities). Common deficiencies include iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamins A,D, E and K to name a few. The non-specific nature of SIBO makes it difficult to distinguish and diagnose.
Treatment includes correcting the underlying cause; addressing food sensitivities, providing nutritional support, improving gut flora through prebiotics and probiotics, reducing alcohol, limiting sugars, processed foods, trans-fatty acids and including intake of antioxidant rich foods and good fats (omega-3 fatty acids). Supplementation with specific nutrients is important to heal the gut. So ensure you take good care of your gut as it can spell the difference between heath and disease.