As the number of COVID-19 cases reaches over 100 million worldwide, scientists are scrambling to gather data on the potentially deadly virus. Most headlines we see are related to vaccines and treatments. Less sensationalized are the findings of why some bodies are more resistant or resilient than others.
Recently, it has been proposed that gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the intestinal microbial community, may be a factor leaving some more susceptible to severe or long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms .
What is a Microbiome?
It may sound unbelievable, but each human hosts up to five pounds of microorganisms within the gastrointestinal system. In fact, the number of microbial cells inside our bodies outnumber our human cells 10 to 1 . A “microbiome” is the collective genetic material contained in all of the bacteria, yeast, protozoa, and viruses living on and in one person’s body. Each of our microbiomes is unique to us, like a fingerprint, but it is constantly changing, influenced by your family and those you spend time with, your environment, what you eat and drink, whether or not you take probiotics, and other factors.
Contrary to the way many of us have been taught to fear “bacteria”, we actually rely on these microorganisms for our health. Some microbes can break down structures in our food that human digestive secretions cannot. Bacteria can also provide us with valuable B-complex vitamins and vitamin K .
The population dynamics of yeast and bacteria living within us can significantly benefit our digestion, nutrient absorption, energy level, neurotransmitter production (mood), and immune system. Unfortunately, this also means then when there is an imbalance in the gut community, it can wreak havoc on our digestion, nutrient absorption, energy level, neurotransmitter production, and immune system.
What is Dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis is an imbalance or unfavorable change to the microbiotic population of the body. In other words, not enough “good” bacteria and too many “bad” bacteria. While dysbiosis of the skin is possible, usually dysbiosis refers to an imbalance occurring in the gut. Dysbiosis can occur as a result of a sudden change in your diet, especially from a significant increase in protein, sugar (including alcohol), certain food additives, or chemical pesticides from unwashed fruits and vegetables . Often when you start a course of antibiotics for a specific infection, the biotic species of the gut are also targeted, which can cause dysbiosis . The hormones and body chemicals that accompany chronic stress and anxiety can also have a negative impact on microbiotic balance .
Dysbiosis symptoms can be obvious and severe, presenting as nausea, painful cramping, and diarrhea . Biologically, this makes sense, as diarrhea is an effective way of clearing out a destructive gut community, making way for more beneficial bacteria to re-populate. However, symptoms of dysbiosis are not always obvious. Dysbiosis can also present as subtle bloating, bad breath, general fatigue, depressed mood, or mental haziness . In other words, it is possible to live with a dysbiotic gut, thereby missing out on the benefits of a healthy microbiome, without knowing it.
If you think you may be experiencing dysbiosis, you can ask your physician for a test. Your doctor can test your out-breath for certain tell-tale gases caused by pathogenic bacterial species, or sample your stool and urine for certain dysbiotic red flags.
What do we know about COVID-19 and dysbiosis?
COVID-19, caused by the “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2 or “coronavirus”), is often thought of as just a respiratory disease. Not only is “respiratory” in the name, but the news generally focuses on hospital ventilators and patients suffering from a lack of oxygen. Technically, however, the pathophysiology of COVID is characterized by aggressive, systemic inflammation . As researchers gather more data around the virus, the more they see multiple organ failures and detrimental effects of inflammation throughout the body. These are not just effects of a virus, they are a combination of viral infection and the host immune system’s inability to respond appropriately .
It has long been understood that the health of the microbiotic community in the gut is directly related to the health of the host’s immune system. In the case of COVID, it has once again been documented that a strong presence of certain beneficial bacterial species in a host’s microbiota is correlated with the presence of fewer inflammatory cytokines, or signals of an inflammatory response, as well as reduced severity of symptoms . It has been postulated that a healthier gut community may mitigate the severity of COVID symptoms through its role in immune response, preventing inflammation from running out of control . If this hypothesis is true, analysis of an individual microbiome could be used as a risk assessment tool for whether or not a patient is likely to suffer significantly from COVID-19.
People over 65 have a higher risk of death from COVID-19 and are more likely to experience diarrhea as a symptom than their younger counterparts . It is also known that the diversity of the microbiome tends to naturally decrease with age . Taken together, these factors also indicate a role for dysbiosis in disease severity for COVID-19.
This phenomenon is not unique to COVID. Dysbiosis, as an indicator of an unhealthy microbiome, has been linked to many chronic conditions also associated with inflammation, including asthma, arthritis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes .
Dysbiosis may be a risk factor in disease severity, but it seems to also be a possible lasting symptom of COVID-19. One study showed that even 30 days after clearing SARS-CoV-2 (testing negative after a period of testing positive), the gut microbiota of patients was still significantly altered from their pre-COVID microbiome . As recovered patients report experiencing persistent symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty breathing, and joint pains, sometimes several months after the initial onset of symptoms, it has also been proposed that a dysbiotic gut microbiome could be at least partially to blame .
What can you do about dysbiosis?
Depending on the cause or severity of your dysbiosis, your doctor may want to start by prescribing an antibiotic to clear out the pathogenic bacteria dominating your gut environment. An alternative route would be to try a natural dysbiosis formula, such as Metabolic Maintenance’s Happy Belly®. Happy Belly®, containing caprylic acid (a fatty acid produced by the body in small quantities), has antifungal and antibacterial properties and can target Candida, Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus pathogen overgrowth . Garlic (Allium sativum) and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) extracts exhibit antifungal and antibacterial activities, respectively. The blend also contains Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium), two herbal extracts that contain berberine, an antimicrobial alkaloid that can cause structural modulation of gut microflora, leading to reduced inflammation . Olive (Olea Europaea) leaf extract contains oleuropein, a gastroprotective compound, that strengthens the mucosal barrier and can protect the gut against colitis . You should stay away from sweets and alcohol while on a course of Happy Belly®, as sugar feeds pathogenic microbes, working against the antimicrobial activities of the formula.
Once you have taken steps to rid your gut of pathogenic microbial species, you need to make sure you are ready to replace them with diverse, beneficial species. An effective, efficient way to do this is with probiotic supplements, such as BioMaintenance™ Shelf Stable Probiotic, and Saccharomyces Boulardii. BioMaintenance™ Shelf Stable Probiotic contains 12 specific strains of beneficial bacteria to rapidly replenish the gastrointestinal system microbiome. Along with warding off dysbiosis and its symptoms, probiotics encourage bowel motility, balanced immune function, and resistance to infection. The 12 strains in this particular formula were carefully chosen for their individual benefits, resistance to digestion, adherence to intestinal cells, and stability (without requiring refrigeration).
S. Boulardii is actually a yeast species (not a bacteria), and it is resistant to antibiotics, stomach acid, and temperature change, making it an excellent choice when your doctor prescribes antibiotics. S. Boulardii has antifungal properties that can target Candida yeasts particularly well, preventing its translocation to the digestive tract and inhibiting the growth of existing Candida in the intestines. In addition, S. Boulardii benefits the integrity of both the intestine and the immune system.
Because probiotics are alive, we must remember to feed them regularly! That may sound crazy, but just like sugar feeds the pathogens, prebiotic fiber feeds probiotic microbial species. Prebiotics (such as BioMaintenance™ Prebiotic + Fiber) is a mix of isomaltooligosaccharides, xylooligosaccharides, and fructooligosaccharides; carbohydrates that cannot be digested by humans, only the microbes we want to promote living in our gut. When probiotic microbes break down these foods, they are able to function in ways that benefit the human body and keep pathogenic, dysbiotic species of bacteria at bay.
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