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Mariah's avatar

What can you tell me about intestinal bacterial imbalance and how it relates to diet?

Asked by Mariah (18402 points ) August 16th, 2012

I will be asking my doctor about this, so you don’t need to tell me to. I wanted other opinions, however, as I feel doctors are often a bit close-minded about diet’s effect on disease.

I have just started a course of antibiotics. I’m only about a day in, and already I have seen an enormous difference in my digestive health. Antibiotics commonly upset people’s guts, but these have had quite the opposite effect on me.

It has me wondering. If antibiotics are making me more regular, wouldn’t that seem to imply that I had some kind of bacterial imbalance to start with? Can diet contribute to this? I eat a lot of carbohydrates because people with my condition are often helped by eating carbs. Now I’m wondering if that’s a mistake.

A long time ago I read that carbs make great food for certain harmful bacteria in the gut. I learned about the specific carbohydrate diet, in which one refrains from eating any carbs whatsoever. I absolutely could not live on a diet like that, but might it help to at least reduce my carb and sugar intake?

As many of you know, I have a long history of digestive disease which adds many layers of complexity to the story. I don’t expect anyone to have knowledge about any of that, so feel free to answer as though I were a “normal” person and just tell me what you know.


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6 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t have a lot of information but I have been collaborating with a research team that studies neurovisceral disorders, and I have been surprised to learn how much the gut microbiota can influence general health. It sounds entirely plausible to me that your issues might be caused by a certain bacteria or group of bacteria and doctors just have no way to know which one and knock it out. And of course, there could be a different population of bacteria that normally keep the bad bacteria in check, and for some reason in your gut, the good bacteria don’t survive as well. So maybe the issues could be resolved either by antibiotics to get rid of the bad ones, or probiotics to help grow the bad ones? Have you had experiences with probiotics? Here’s a study that showed decreased inflammation in UC patients using probiotics, and another review that might be helpful.

I see @Rarebear is here with actual expertise, so I will stop there :) I’m glad your antibiotics are helping!

Rarebear's avatar

Mariah. On my iPhone so can’t link properly but look up bacterial overgrowth syndrome to see if that might be appropriate

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I grabbed this from Wiki on Bacterial Growth Overgrowth BOS for Dr RB.

whiteliondreams's avatar

“The human ‘metagenome’ is a composite of Homo sapiens genes and genes present in the genomes of the trillions of microbes that colonize our adult bodies (the ‘micro- biome’). Our largest collection of microbes resides in the gut, where an estimated 10–100 trillion organisms reside (the gut microbiota; see Table 1 for a glossary of terms). The gut microbiome encodes metabolic capacities that remain largely unexplored but include the degradation of otherwise indigestible components of our diet (Backhed et al. 2005; Sonnenburg et al. 2005; Flint et al. 2008).”(Turnbaugh & Gordon, 2009)

“Colonization of adult germ-free mice with a distal gut microbial community harvested from conventionally raised mice produces a dramatic increase in body fat within 10–14days, despite an associated decrease in food consumption (Backhed et al. 2004). This change involves several linked mechanisms including microbial fermentation of dietary polysaccharides that cannot be digested by the host, subsequent intestinal absorption of monosaccharides and short-chain fatty acids, their conversion to more complex lipids in the liver; and microbial regulation of host genes that promote deposition of the lipids in adipocytes (Backhed et al. 2004). Additionally, germ-free mice are resistant to diet-induced obesity caused by consumption of a high-fat/high-sugar ‘Western’ diet (Backhed et al. 2007). Other studies of lean and genetically obese (ob/ob) mice (Ley et al. 2005; Turnbaugh et al. 2006), as well as lean and genetically obese (fa/fa) rats (Waldram et al. 2009) have revealed differences in their metabotypes that have been ascribed in part to differences in their gut microbial ecology (these differences involve the representation of members of the Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Actinobacteria phyla of bacteria).”(Turnbaugh & Gordon, 2009)

“Although the primary cause of obesity is excess caloric intake compared with expenditure, one intriguing hypothesis that follows from these studies links differences in gut microbial ecology between humans to energy homeostasis; i.e. individuals with a microbial community more efficient at energy extraction from the diet, or with an increased ability to promote adiposity through manipulation of host genes and metabolism, may be predisposed to obesity. This hypothesis predicts that obese and lean individuals will have distinct microbiotas, with measurable differences in their ability to extract energy from their diet and to deposit that energy in fat.”(Turnbaugh & Gordon, 2009)

“Additionally, there are a number of unresolved questions regarding the organismal and genetic diversity of the human gut microbiome. How diverse is the human gut microbiome between individuals and how does it vary within an individual over time? How is a microbiota and microbiome transmitted to an individual following birth: what is the relative role of early environmental exposures (to microbes and diets) versus our human genotype in defining postnatal microbial community assembly, and the structures of our adult microbiota? Is there a core microbiome shared between humans, and should this core be defined in terms of organisms, genes, or functional characteristics? And finally, are there genes and/or metabolic pathways in the human microbiome that can be identified as being associated with obesity?” (Turnbaugh & Gordon, 2009)


Turnbaugh, P. J., & Gordon, J. I. (2009). The core gut microbiome, energy balance and obesity. The Journal of Physiology, 587(17), 4153–4158.

I hope this helps, I found this long ago for an assignment I had to do.

Mariah's avatar

Thanks so much everybody. I have a lot of thinking to do. This development, while I’m thrilled about it, has me pretty confused!

@nikipedia, I was taking a prescription strength probiotic before starting the antibiotic. It didn’t help much, but maybe the “bad” bacteria were already too well established. My GI told me to start it back up again when I’m done with the course of antibiotics.

_Whitetigress's avatar

With my basic knowledge if these “friendly” bacterias have become obsolete then there might be trouble breaking foods down further in the intestine. (From my high school biology memory)

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