At one time, conventional physicians simply did not believe in the concept of intestinal dysbiosis, in which the intestinal tract has an unhealthful mix of the 100 trillion bacteria thriving within it. This population of bacteria is called the microbiome, a word for years ignored in medical schools and barely recognized by gastroenterologists.
It was through the efforts of so-called alternative practitioners– chiropractors, naturopaths, nutritionists, and others–that we were reminded of a quote attributed to Hippocrates: All disease begins in the gut.
New patients often arrive at WholeHealth Chicago for diagnosis and treatment of chronic symptoms after other sources have been exhausted. They’ve heard “We can’t find anything wrong with you—all your tests are normal” once too often and say to themselves, “There must be something else.”
We’re the something else, and we’re delighted to be your third (or even fourth) opinion.
Dysbiosis is an unbalanced microbiome
The list of conditions linked to an unbalanced microbiome/dysbiosis is surprisingly long. First, the usual suspects directly associated with your GI tract:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (diarrhea dominant, constipation dominant or a combination of the two).
- The relatively new term visceral hyperalgesia. It means increased sensitivity to pain in the abdominal cavity (stomach, intestines, pancreas) and is likely another term for irritable bowel syndrome.
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Food allergies and sensitivities including eosinophilic esophagitis (click here for more on this condition).
As science grew increasingly aware of the brain-gut connection, it became clear that the microbiome is also linked to:
- Mood disorders (depression, anxiety, OCD).
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Parkinson’s disease.
Keeping in mind that the lining of your intestine is anatomically a continuation of your skin, dysbiosis is also linked to:
- Psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
Dysbiosis is one of several triggers for the once-controversial diagnosis leaky gut (intestinal hyperpermeability), which is connected to:
- Virtually all of the 120 autoimmune diseases, from multiple sclerosis and lupus to rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s.
Lastly, the wrong bacteria in your gut predispose you to:
- Chronic liver disease (fatty liver).
How might dysbiosis start?
Not wanting to bash my profession too much, but, really, physicians do more damage to human microbiomes than anyone besides their owners (our unhealthful eating habits are truly destructive).
A single course of antibiotics can be a veritable Rambo-mycin, killing trillions of good bacteria and throwing your intestines into turmoil. Using a well-intentioned but misguided ultrapotent antibiotic like Levaquin to get rid of a minor bladder infection is overkill. If there are any bacteria left behind after the Levaquin, the same doc may add another, like Augmentin, leaving you with Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) diarrhea from hell, which requires even more antibiotics to clear.
If you’re curious, there are 450,000 cases of C. diff annually and nearly 30,000 deaths a year from it. A death like this is called iatrogenic, defined as “something induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures” (which might mean the doctor just killed your mom).
How WholeHealth Chicago evaluates gut health
Here at WholeHealth Chicago, when we’re appraising the overall status of your gut health we frequently start with three gold-standard functional medicine tests:
GI Effects You’re given a kit to take home and you collect stool specimens and FedEx them to the lab. The results provide a complete evaluation of your microbiome along with how well you’re digesting and absorbing your food and how much inflammation may be present. Here’s what the report looks like.
Breath test for SIBO If you have symptoms of SIBO, you’ll use a take-home test in which you stimulate the bacteria in your small intestine to produce gas, which you’ll collect it in test tubes for analysis (it’s easier than it sounds). Here’s a sample report.
Leaky Gut Test Especially important for any systemic condition such as autoimmune disease, for this third take-home test you’re given a small box containing a few ounces of a sweet-tasting liquid and a plastic container to gather a small amount of urine. The liquid contains two forms of sugar, one with a large molecule and the other with a small molecule. You drink the liquid and mail a portion of your next-morning urine to the lab. If your results show only the small molecule getting through, but not the large, there’s no leak. If both, there’s a leak. You have to admit, that’s a pretty cool test. Here’s a sample result.
These reports may look a bit daunting but they’re familiar territory to our practitioners and we’ll review them in detail with you.
Once you’ve submitted your specimens, you’ll learn about our Gut Restoration Program. Using a combination of supplements and dietary modifications, we’ll guide you through the Three Rs of a healthy gut–recondition, reinforce, and rebuild. When your test results are back from the lab, we’ll be able to adjust the approach to meet your specific requirements.
All of our practitioners at WholeHealth Chicago are highly experienced with this type of functional medicine. You can schedule with Wendy Ploegstra, Caley Scott, Parisa Samsami, Becca Zachwieja, or me.
It’s worth mentioning that even among conventional physicians, attitudes toward the microbiome are changing. Here are three articles from Medscape (the go-to website for physician news). The first addresses the overall importance of your microbiome, the second focuses on the microbiome link to Alzheimer’s, and the third on its link to autism.
David Edelberg, MD