What is dysbiosis?

How many of us, as we eat our food, consider the processes involved that lead to good health? Many of us have heard phrases such as gut microflora, microbiota, dysbiosis, and optimal health, but how many of us understand what these phrases mean?


The population of microorganisms in our gut are an important part of helping us break down our food. This process enables us to absorb the nutritional elements that our bodies require for good health. If we ingest inappropriate nutrition with missing nutritional elements, there will be consequences.

During pregnancy, the foetus can ingest microbes from the amniotic fluid and their guts are further populated during birth as they are exposed to microorganisms during delivery.

A baby’s intestinal microbiota develops for approximately one month after birth as they breastfeed and have exposure to their environment. It can take longer, even up to six months, if a baby is born by caesarean. Caesarean-section babies must gain their microbiota from the world around them, for example through breastfeeding cuddles and kissing. If that environment is too sterile it can affect their gut bacteria development.

Processed baby foods and milk may deprive the baby's gut of exposure to bacteria, which, over time, could lead to a weak immune system. Then as we move on to weaning further microbiota are introduced through whole foods. Unfortunately, where some children develop limited eating habits, the knock-on effect is a debilitated gut.

Why are gut bacteria so popular?

There are as many as a thousand types of bacteria in our guts, some strains being more dominant than others. Also, their population will depend very much on our digestive systems health our lifestyle and the food that we eat as we develop.

From the moment our food enters our mouths, the digestive process begins. As our food is chewed, enzymes are introduced which facilitate the breakdown of food. The food then passes through the digestive system, also known as the GI tract, and various microbes continue to process the food into the micronutrients that we require for optimal health.

An interesting fact is that the GI tract can contain as many as 100 trillion microorganisms. This is 10 times more than the number of cells found in our bodies.

What is their purpose?

  • Undigested carbohydrates become fermented leading to the production of energy.
  • Short-chain fatty acids can be absorbed leading to the processing of various vitamins.
  • Protect against harmful bacteria.
  • Some of the vitamins are synthesised including B12, B6, B5, B3. Vitamins K and A.

The gut and brain connection

An example of the gut-brain axis is when at times you feel fluttering in your stomach when you are nervous. Although this is a ‘feeling’ it is also a physical reaction and this is known as the gut-brain axis.

There is growing scientific evidence that the health of our gut has a profound effect on our emotional well-being. Poor nutrition, negative behaviours and feelings can result in poor immune health and intestinal health.

Another example: Have you ever been on holiday and ended up with an upset stomach? We often blame this on the water or dehydration but at times this can be due to a change in diet which would mean a change in ingested microbes. This change in microbiota will have upset our normal balance and this is dysbiosis.

Other causes can be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, physical stresses, emotional stresses, use of antibiotics, alcohol and drug abuse and various other medications. In short where a ‘thing’ upsets our balance our gut becomes upset.

Sulphate warning

Bacteria from the desulfovibrio family can be found in the colon. These bacteria’s purpose is in part to process sulphur compounds however they are also known to encourage the development of ‘bad’ bacteria.

A byproduct of these bacteria is hydrogen sulphide which can lead to bloating (associated with IBS). Worryingly they can also reduce lipid synthesis.

Sulphates can also be ingested through food which can exacerbate symptoms:

  • cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
  • packet baked products such as biscuits, pastries and white bread
  • cows cheese and milk
  • eggs
  • dried fruit
  • dried vegetables including pulses
  • fruit drinks

Interestingly, patients with ulcerative colitis have, in some cases, found that removing some of the above has helped control their symptoms.


As adults, we have had no control over our early years and the resultant introduction to the world of bacteria, but as adults, we can manage our diets and lifestyles to ensure our guts are protected.

By eating a variety of whole fresh foods and ensuring our lifestyle includes some rest we are taking simple steps to safeguard our gut's environment. There may be times of ill health or stress when we need to consider supporting our bacteria population. There are many bacteria supplements available in the shops and online, so it can be worth consulting a nutritionist to decide whether a supplement is necessary, and which one is best for your gut.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Faversham ME13 & Folkestone CT19
Written by Victoria Shorland, Nutritionist, Allergy Testing, Phlebotomist, Faversham, Kent
Faversham ME13 & Folkestone CT19

Victoria Shorland runs The Therapy Clinic Rooms from Faversham, Kent. The clinic offers integrated services:

Blood Testing.
Food intolerance testing available with instant results.
Specialist IBS/IBD clinic.
Candida/FODMAP clinic.
Consultant Nutritionist clinic.

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