Dustin Saksek

What is Gut Dysbiosis?

May 14, 2020

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About 100 years ago, a few isolated studies discovered a connection between mental health and diet. Today, we’re beginning to understand just how complex that relationship is. There are trillions of microbes inside of your body actively contributing to your physical, mental, and emotional health. They play a starring role in exactly how your diet affects your health. If things aren’t going so well, you might be dealing with gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in your gut microbiome. This can contribute to everything from difficulty losing weight to possibly playing a pivotal role in how cancerous conditions occur.

But what is dysbiosis?


What is Dysbiosis? A Few Wrong Answers

In Elliot E. Furney’s 1891 novel, A Modern Method, he used the word dysbiosis in relation to using human and chimpanzee cells to genetically engineer a race of chimera organisms to use as servants. In case you had any doubts, this couldn’t be further from today’s definition.

The Russian zoologist Élie Metchnikoff brought us closer to a scientific definition in the late 19th century. While he didn’t use the term “dysbiosis,” he was among the first to call attention to the microorganisms inside the human body and the different effects they may have on the body. Not having the tools to realize better, however, he incorrectly believed most bacteria were shortening the human life-span. In fact, he was concerned that the large intestine, providing favorable conditions for bacteria, needed to be surgically removed as a standard health procedure.

The "Dysbiosis” revival in scientific literature came through with Helmut Haenel’s studies in the 1970’s. A “microecologist” in postwar Potsdam, Germany, Helmut used the term “dysbiosis” as a state of imbalance. This is in contrast to him defining a “normal” state as “eubiosis.” In his studies, Haenel discovered that children he looked at who were recovering from diseases, while deemed “clinically healthy,” had “faecal microbiocenosis” (microbiotas/microbiomes) so different from those he understood as healthy that he could only consider them dysbiotic. At this point in time, it wasn’t yet understood that everyone’s gut microbiome is different with unique nutritional needs.

At this point, Haenel was close to how we view the microbiome today, but without the right tools to better observe what was actually making up individual gut microbiomes and what those microbes were doing, he could only speculate.


Bridging the Gap

In 2000, Viome’s own Dr. Stephen Barrie published an article titled Intestinal Dysbiosis and the Causes of Disease where he renewed serious interest in how the microbes in our gut can affect our health.

In it, he defined dysbiosis as “a state of living with intestinal flora that has harmful effects” and proceeded to outline what was then the current understanding of the relationships, causes, and treatment options for dysbiotic related conditions.


Gut Dysbiosis: Today’s Definition

“Dysbiosis is a disruption of the complex gut microbial community.”

That definition isn’t very helpful without more context. What a healthy gut looks like is different for each person based on a countless number of factors including everything from where you live, what you eat, whether you had a pet as a child, and even the method of how you were born and if you were breastfed.

Because of this, there’s a near-infinite number of possible combinations of bacteria,fungi, and viruses that live (or exist) on and inside of you, symbiotically. This makes it impossible to say there is a single type of “healthy” gut microbiome. This also makes it much more difficult to provide a hard definition of exactly what dysbiosis actually is across the board.

 At Viome, the definition we use when referring to dysbiosis is:

“A state in a microbiome, such as the gut microbiome, where the diversity and populations of the microbes present is such that it produces compounds that are harmful to human health at a frequency that is both higher than the creation of compounds helpful to health, and that is faster than the body’s ability to mitigate damage said harmful compounds can cause.”

To summarize, we analyze your microbes’ activity to assess what may be causing you inflammation and other issues inside of your body. When you understand what your microbes are doing, you can begin to take action and control of your health.


Focusing on What Your Microbes Are Actively Doing: Function Over Composition.

Viome’s high-resolution technology allows us to see down to strain-level how active any bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, and viruses are in your gut. What is especially exciting, is that we can also see what metabolic and signaling pathways are being activated and to what degree – in other words, what your microbes are doing.

We have a proprietary method of analyzing and scoring biological pathways. Our assessment of these custom-built biological pathways is another reason you see the word “activity” a lot. When you see the phrase, “Pathway Activity,” it’s referring to what your microbes are actively doing. 

What your microbes do in the colon depends on:

  • what we give them (like food components, elements in drinks, etc.)
  • what we expose them to in the gut environment, like toxins, or substances of our digestive system (bile acids, cholesterol, etc.).

To see this information and tell you what happens next, we identify and examine pathways. In short, your microbes tell the story of your health.

  • Which beneficial products might be made by your microbiome and from what materials?
  • What are your microbes busy processing or degrading?
  • What kinds of signals are they communicating with each other and with you?
  • What are your microbes using for energy?
  • Which carbohydrates are they consuming, glucose or fructose, or more complex starches?
  • Which microbial activities may be harmful to you?
  • What do the microbes reflect about your diet and your GI environment?

At Viome, we believe that information without an actionable plan doesn’t help our customers. We are committed to uncovering more about the various ecosystems of your body and helping you optimize your health with nutrition and lifestyle recommendations designed for YOU.


Symptoms of Dysbiosis

Read on below about how research is uncovering the connection between dysbiosis and common chronic diseases:





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What is Gut Dysbiosis?

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