Dysbiosis And Your Gut Microbiome

There has been so much interest in the gut microbiome in the past few years that by now, you’re probably aware that caring for your gut bacteria is an important part of caring for your health. You may have even heard the term “dysbiosis” used to describe an imbalance in the gut. But what does this term actually mean?

What is dysbiosis?

Dysbiosis is a term used to describe a microbial imbalance or dysfunction on or inside the body, such as an impaired microbiome. It can be used to describe an imbalance in any microbial community, including those that live on your skin, in your reproductive tract, mouth, small intestine, or large intestine. This means it is a general term to describe when a microbial community isn’t able to do the things that a healthy community would usually be able to do1.

Is dysbiosis real?

The idea of dysbiosis has been debated in detail, and while it serves as a general term for an imbalanced microbiome, some medical professionals apply caution to using this term. The reason is that until we fully understand what a “healthy” microbiome looks like, it is impossible to know what an unhealthy or dysbiotic microbiome would be. Currently, the term “dysbiosis” is a buzzword generally used to describe the likelihood that someone’s gut microbiome is contributing to poor health.

Researchers have previously highlighted that the microbiomes of healthy people can look dramatically different from one person to the next, in terms of the types of species present2. When one considers that over 5000 species have been identified as inhabitants of the gut microbiome and (depending on the type of microbiome analysis) each person usually has a couple hundred different species detected, this variation in healthy microbiomes is not surprising.

However, with larger datasets now available, recent studies have found similarities in the bacterial species present in healthy individuals, and also in individuals with chronic disease. Although the overall microbiome composition is different between healthy individuals, it appears there may be a subset of bacterial species that are more common in healthy people as well as a separate subset that are more common in chronic disease3,4,5. Often people will have species from both of the subsets, but in general, healthy people will have more species from the “healthy” subset and less species from the “disease” subset. These studies are still based on limited disease types and geographies and cannot accurately predict health or disease, but do indicate that in the future, species will likely play a key role in identifying microbial imbalances.

Another way to understand if there is an imbalance in the gut is to look at the function of the microbiome – or what those organisms are actually doing.

Why are prebiotics important for your gut health? Read the blog.

Species vs Functional Dysbiosis

When it comes to understanding your microbiome, there are two important elements to understand:

1. The species that are present, and

2. The different functions that they can perform.

We know that each person has a unique combination of species in their gut, and that each person’s gut microbiome is different. However, many of those species perform similar functions and now scientists have the technology to look at the functions of those bacteria – i.e. not who they are, but what they can do – we start to see more consistent patterns between healthy people. This means that dysbiosis can also be investigated by understanding which functions are out of balance. What studies are finding is that healthy people’s gut microbiomes tend to perform functions such as breaking down fibre into beneficial short-chain fatty acids6 and producing anti-inflammatory compounds like indolepropionic acid7,8. Their gut microbiomes are less likely to have high levels of bacteria that break down mucin and produce pro-inflammatory substances such as trimethylamine, and the hexa-acylated form of lipopolysaccharide / LPS)9. However, the gut microbiomes of individuals with chronic diseases, including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and mental health disorders, are often observed to have increased levels of bacteria that produce pro-inflammatory substances and decreased levels of bacteria that produce beneficial, anti-inflammatory substances . Thus, assessing the function of the gut microbiome can be a useful indicator of microbial imbalance.

What does dysbiosis look like?

Because the gut microbiome has been shown to be connected to so many different health systems, including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, metabolic, and nervous systems, evolving research indicates that different forms of dysbiosis could manifest in different ways, perhaps even unique to a particular condition.

It is anticipated that the degree of functional dysbiosis may vary dramatically from one condition to the next. As an example, someone suffering from reduced mental clarity or dermatitis may have several minor imbalances that may contribute overall to their condition in multiple ways10,11. For others, there may be more specific imbalances in only one or a few areas, which contribute to very specific conditions like cardiovascular health12 or gastrointestinal disorders like IBS.

Co-Biome and Microba’s research into the functional imbalances of specific health conditions is rapidly developing and, in the future, may contribute to our understanding of different types of functional dysbiosis.

What can I do about it?

If you’re concerned about any aspect of your health, including how your gut microbiome may be contributing to your health, the best place to start is with a qualified healthcare professional. They can investigate your health and work out if there are any major underlying conditions that might be cause for concern.

To investigate your microbiome in more detail and begin to understand if your gut might be contributing to your health, you can take a microbiome analysis that looks at the functional aspect of the microbiome, to see if you have any signs of possible functional dysbiosis. It’s crucial to understand that most gut analyses will only report on the types of bacteria present, and won’t tell you about the function.

To learn more about how your gut microbiome is functioning, you need to use a microbiome analysis that uses a technology called metagenomics, to understand if any functional aspects may be out of balance.

By doing this, you can start to take A.I.M. with your gut health by:

– Assessing the microbiome to better understand your gut and identify any areas that might indicate dysbiosis;

– Implement changes to your diet and lifestyle to shift your microbiome to address any areas of concern (Co-Biome’s reports include science-reviewed personalised diet and lifestyle interventions as well as probiotic, prebiotic, nutrient and polyphenol supplementation to support improved gut microbiome health);

– Monitor your progress and re-test as needed to adjust your course and optimise your gut health.

MetaXplore Sampling instructions for each product

Interested in looking at your gut microbiome? Find out more about Co-Biome’s MetaXplore range from your healthcare professional.

Co-Biome Certified Clinicians are a network of healthcare professionals who can help you understand your gut and how it might be contributing to your health – click here to find out more.


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Chen, S., Henderson, A., Petriello, M., Romano, K., Gearing, M., Miao, J., Schell, M., Sandoval-Espinola, W., Tao, J., Sha, B., Graham, M., Crooke, R., Kleinridders, A., Balskus, E., Rey, F., Morris, A., Biddinger, S. (2019). Trimethylamine N-Oxide Binds and Activates PERK to Promote Metabolic Dysfunction. Cell Metabolism, Vol 30, Issue 6, p1141-1151.