Dysbiosis and IBS


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Dysbiosis and IBS: A small history lesson

You know it’s just another day in the wonderful world of gut health when we throw another crazy word at you and couple it with an acronym! Dysbiosis and IBS? What is it and why are we talking about it? Well, it starts with our microbiome, and the answers are not black and white.

Evidence of the human microbiome was first discovered by an Austrian pediatrician named Theodor Escherich. He actually discovered a type of bacteria (later named Escherichia coli) in the intestines of both healthy children and children affected by diarrheal disease (IBS-D, perhaps?). After this initial discovery of what seemed to be harmless bacteria, other scientists began to describe other microorganisms that seemed to exist in many other areas in and on the human body. For example; the skin, nose, mouth, gastro tract etc. Over time, the concept of what we now know as the  ‘human microbiome’ was developed in the first decade of the twenty first century.

Thanks to this early discovery, we’ve since learned that the majority of your microbiome sets up house in your digestive tract – specifically your intestine. We call this gut microbiota, which contains tens of trillions of microorganisms. While each of us has a unique gut microbiota, it always fulfills the same physiological functions, with direct impact on our health. Some of the functions are:

  • Helps the body digest certain foods that the stomach and small intestine cannot digest
  • Production of some vitamins (B and K).
  • Plays an important role in the immune system, performing the barrier effect.

A healthy and balanced gut microbiota is key to ensuring proper digestive functioning

So, what the HECK is Dysbiosis, and what does it have to do with IBS?

Now, we’ve come a long way since Theodor Escherich first discovered Escherichia coli, but there is still much we don’t know about the gut microbiota. What we do know, is that people with healthy gut microbiota seem to be filled with happy communities of microbes that work together to maintain your health, both physical and mental. When one of these happy little colonies falls out of balance, it can lead to what is called: dysbiosis. Which is just a fancy way of saying that the microbes living in your gut are all out of whack.

Now, a lot of the time, if a small imbalance occurs, you’ll maybe suffer from something as small as an upset stomach. However, if the disturbance between your microbial communities grows from a small neighbourhood dispute into a full scale war in your gut, watch out. You may be at risk of developing much more serious health complications. Recent studies have linked dysbiosis to gut disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even chronic bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It has also been suggested that while dysbiosis may be the cause of these disorders, it may also worsen symptoms. There’s still much research to be done in this area.

So what causes dysbiosis?

As always when it comes to the gut, nothing is one size fits all, so the answer to this questions is complex and could work differently for everybody.

For example, many experts suggest that a diet high in prebiotics can prevent dysbiosis, however, this would be a challenging lifestyle change for many people with IBS if they have committed to the short term FODMAPs diet. The reason for this, is that many foods high in FODMAPs are dietary prebiotics.

However, there are some typical causes of dysbiosis that are good to be on watch for:


If you’re taking common antibiotics on a regular basis or eating a great deal of meat that has been raised with antibiotics, you are at risk of dysbiosis. Some antibiotics can seriously throw your microbiome out of balance. That’s why misuse of antibiotics should be avoided.

A diet high in simple sugars/carbohydrates

We’ve come to understand that you truly are what you eat! Diet profoundly influences gut microbiota composition and functions, potentially contributing to symptoms of IBS. For example, consumption of artificial sweeteners may lead to a deregulation of the intestinal microbiota.

A high protein diet

Although possibly helpful for short-term weight loss and beneficial to some aspects of metabolic health, high-protein diets might not be ideal in the long term due to their impact on gut microbiotaResearchers have found that high protein intake increased fermentation in the large intestine, generating certain toxic bacterial metabolites related to diseases such as colorectal cancer.

Try experimenting with a more balanced diet. For an easy guide on how to build a more balanced meal, check out Canada’s food guide.

Stress, both physical and mental

It has been observed, that prolonged stress on a person actually inhibits their ability to produce something called immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin A actually plays a super important role. It helps to fight, (you guessed it) those bad microbes, otherwise known as pathogens. This means that while you’re stressing out, your natural defenses against the gut bad guys go down and all hell breaks loose in your microbiome. These pathogens kick the good microbes out and set up shop in a hostile takeover. This is one of the reasons why stress is a huge trigger for people with IBS, which we cover in this article.

Alcohol Misuse

Heavy alcohol consumption (drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day) is known to be a major disruptor of the microbial community living in our intestines. It can increase the proportion of harmful bacteria, reduce levels of beneficial bacteria; and can also provoke an overgrowth of microorganisms, which is associated with liver disease. Because it can interrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut, drink less alcohol or avoid it altogether.

Gastrointestinal Infections

Dysbiosis can also cause what’s called post-infectious IBS. Most people who suffer gut infections (E.coli is an example of one) recover quickly. However, unfortunately, some do not. As your gut microbiota does what it does best (protect you from harm!) they might lose the battle against a particularly sever infection. This can result in dysbiosis, and subsequently cause IBS in some people.

So, does dysbiosis cause IBS?

Short answer – probably. Dysbosis has been shown to be associated with several diseases and conditions, with IBS being one of them. Scientists are currently working on investigating just exactly HOW the microbiota can influence symptoms of IBS. The exciting part about all of this, is that there has actually been very promising evidence recently that states that yes, both males and females with IBS have microbiomes that exist in a state of dysbiosis. This is exciting because this acts as a jumping off point. A way to begin digging deeper into the science and finding the cause and, one day, maybe even a cure.

The trouble is, scientists have yet to determine exactly where and how their microbiomes have gone from dysbiosis to IBS. Which strains of microbes went extinct to cause IBS? Were new pathogen strains introduced? If so how many? And what kind? Did the malicious strain attack and wipe out other strains? Or did the individual’s diet starve out colonies of microbes? Was it stress? Or was it a combination of all these things?

Though the details are still unclear, one thing the data does suggest is  people who live with IBS do have a less diverse and more unstable community of bacteria in their guts than people who do not suffer from the condition.

The future looks bright however. We learn more and more about the microbiome every day! In the meantime, make sure you’re taking care of yours!



Hawrelak, J. A., & Myers, S. P. (2004, June). The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: A review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15253677/

Kennedy, P. J., Cryan, J. F., Dinan, T. G., & Clarke, G. (2014, October 21). Irritable bowel syndrome: A microbiome-gut-brain axis disorder? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202342/

Tamboli, C. P., Neut, C., Desreumaux, P., & Colombel, J. F. (2004, January). Dysbiosis in inflammatory bowel disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1773911/

The Gut Microbiome’s Influence on Non-communicable Diseases and Behaviour: Main Findings Of Mynewgut Project Andreu Prados-Heather Galipeau – https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/the-gut-microbiomes-influence-on-non-communicable-diseases-and-behaviour-main-findings-of-mynewgut-project/

An Interview with Bernd Schnabl: “chronic Alcohol Alters Gut Microbiota and Can Lead To Bacterial Overgrowth” Heather Galipeau- GMFH Editing Team – https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/interview-bernd-schnabl-chronical-alcohol-alters-gut-microbiota-can-lead-bacterial-overgrowth/