What are the major causes of intestinal dysbiosis?
- Diets that are quite poor or imbalanced (largely comprised of carbohydrates, fat, or animal products) and lacking nutritional supplementation
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Frequent antibiotic or drug therapy, such as Prednisone
- An immune system that is suppressed; this can occur for a number of reasons, including emotional distress
- Intestinal infections
- Parasite infestation
It’s important to emphasize that if our intestinal tract were balanced, infestation would rarely occur — even if we were exposed to parasites — as the immune system would work naturally to keep the parasite population under control. However, eating spoiled or heavily infested food will make even a healthy system sick.
Like your hormones, the flora in your digestive system are easily prone to upset and disruption by external sources. This is where stress, self-criticism and anxiety come into play by changing the pH level (the acid/alkaline balance) in your intestines. The intestinal tract is noticeably one of the first areas of the body to react to fear or personal stress (think of the nausea and/or loose-bowel feeling that can accompany stage fright). In a balanced system, once the stress is reduced, the pH balance straightens out and symptoms disappear. In a weakened system, such as occurs under unrelenting stress, the intestines stay irritated and contribute to chronic discomfort.
The link between dysbiosis and heartburn/acid reflux
Most of us think of IBS in relation to our intestines. It’s useful to know that many women with a diagnosis of IBS also complain of symptoms in their upper GI tract: heartburn/acid reflux, nausea, and stomach pain. These symptoms are related to the rate at which the stomach empties. If the gastric environment is out of balance, the stomach tries to squeeze out its partially digested contents from both ends as quickly as possible. This leads to a burning sensation that many of us self-medicate with antacids. In my experience, acid reflux and chronic heartburn can actually be the result of too little acid in the stomach — not too much.
Overuse of antacids will initially lend some relief only to end up aggravating the underlying condition. In addition, antacid use can lower the acidity of the stomach to such a degree that it loses its ability to protect us from bacterial infection. It is now widely recognized that bacterial infection can cause ulcers. For more information, read our article, “The Link Between IBS, Acid Reflux and Antacids.”
Of course, if you are currently taking prescription medication for heartburn like Nexium or Prilosec, do not stop taking it except with the advice of your primary care provider. If you’d like to seek an alternative (of which there are many), look for an alternative practitioner in your area.
Why are women more prone than men to GI distress?
In the United States and other Western cultures, women are 2-3 times more likely to seek out medical help for digestive disorders than men. There is still a lot of research to be done on this topic, but preliminary data suggest that ovarian hormones (estrogen/progesterone) play a decisive role in digestion.
Most of us are familiar with the bloated feeling that occurs around our period. Some of this feeling may be attributed to how quickly our stomach and intestines empty in the last two weeks of a cycle compared to the first two weeks. Research points to the fact that transit time slows significantly during the last two weeks of a woman’s monthly cycle (luteal phase) with a marked rise in digestive complaints right before a period starts. It also seems clear that post-menopausal women see a similar delay. It would appear that a decline in ovarian hormones is strongly linked to a rise in symptoms of GI distress.