Here’s an excerpt from chapter 9, Full Recovery From Post-Traumatic Grain Gut Syndrome, of Wheat Belly Total Health about the exceptionally common issue of dysbiosis:
“Up to 35 percent of people with no other gastrointestinal disease and no symptoms have bacterial overgrowth (dysbiosis) or other distortions of bowel flora composition. Even though many doctors regard irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a benign condition, 30 to 85 percent of people with IBS have varying degrees of dysbiosis at the time of their diagnosis–it is not benign. Overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria is common in people who have low stomach acid due to acid-blocking drugs (such as Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, and Pepcid) or reduced stomach acid provoked by prior grain consumption; people who have taken antibiotics repeatedly or chronically; people with diabetes; people who take narcotics that slow bowel function; people with chronic constipation, which also slows bowel function; and people with fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease and autoimmune diseases. Even rosacea and restless leg syndrome have been associated with dysbiosis. In short, if you have lived a modern life, you probably have some degree of dysbiosis.
“It’s therefore time to repopulate the gastrointestinal tract with healthy species such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Some of this is accomplished simply by an increase in their numbers, while some healthy species also produce bacteriocins–small proteins that act as natural antibiotics on unhealthy bacteria. The most effective species to employ in probiotics may be those that are best at producing effective bacteriocins. A wonderful thing happens when the disruptive effects of grains are removed and healthy bacterial species reenter the picture in large numbers: They outcompete the undesirables for nutrients, reducing their number, while the number of desirable species increase as they feed and reproduce. Bowel health and multiple other facets of health improve as a result.”
The situation is probably worse than the numbers suggest, as these observations come from comparing presumed healthy populations with unhealthy populations, e.g., comparing non-diabetics with diabetics. If 35% of people with no gastrointestinal symptoms have dysbiosis, it is likely that the other 65% still have disruptions in bowel flora composition acquired by living a modern life but just not meeting semi-arbitrary criteria for dysbiosis. The problem is that even people presumed to be healthy living a modern, Western lifestyle have dramatically different bowel flora profiles compared to people who have been unexposed to antibiotics, grains, sugars, herbicide and pesticide residues, BPA and other endocrine-disrupting industrial chemicals, and other factors. This has become clear with examination, for instance, of the bowel flora of the Hadza, natives of Burkina Faso (who consume cornmeal, however) and some of the inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest, whose bowel flora are dramatically different from ours: different species, different numbers, greater divesity of species. But it is not clear whether such differences are responses to local conditions or whether they are truly essential for health. That wisdom is slowly yielding to the work being done in bowel flora research.
Until then, our practical solution is to apply the insights we have in bowel flora and rid your life of bowel flora disrupters as best you can. Start by removing wheat and grains that disrupt gastrointestinal health and microbial species from mouth to anus, minimize the other factors that disrupt bowel flora, then “seed” and nourish the species that we know to be beneficial by treating bowel flora as your “garden,” a very special garden that can provide many wonderful benefits for overall health.