What happens when your body’s engine breaks down?
Scientists have repeatedly observed, all over the world and in different age groups, that people with chronic diseases like Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, celiac disease, and others have distinct patterns of microbes in their guts that differ from healthy people. Sometimes the people with the disease have proportionally more of one species, and sometimes they have less. But in all cases, the disrupted or disease-associated microbiota is called “dysbiosis.”
Scientists define dysbiosis as a disruption of the complex gut microbial community. There is an almost infinite number of ways the gut microbial community can be disrupted and thus dysbiosis could look very different, depending on the disease and many other factors. Dysbiosis is best understood as a label of “abnormal” without being too specific—like pass/fail on a test. A gut microbiota that is dysbiotic is one that’s measurably different from others that qualify as normal.
Clearly, (see chart below) the diseases linked to the gut microbiota are not all digestive diseases; some of them are diseases with effects throughout the body (i.e., systemic), and some are even brain-related conditions. This isn’t surprising, considering the close relationship of the gut microbiota with the immune system and, in turn, the immune system’s role in many chronic disease processes.
Again, microorganisms that cause disease are nothing new. The game- changer is that many of the conditions in the above list may not be caused by the presence of a single kind of pathogenic bacteria. Instead, they could be caused by the absence of certain beneficial bacteria or just the wrong proportional mix of bacteria.
Conditions Associated with Microbiota Dysbiosis
Ulcerative colitis Asthma
Type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Alcoholic liver disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Autism spectrum disorder
Severe acute malnutrition
Systemic lupus erythematosus
These reactions and interactions are enormously complex. So how will we figure them out? Scientists are currently developing computer analysis techniques that will help them figure out the patterns of gut microbiota development that signal disease.
Even better, the patterns that signal the changes in gut microbiota that may foretell a sickness long before its symptoms appear. Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are a key part of this process. Given a massive amount of data, the AI systems will find the patterns that exist and help scientists zero in on the complicated balance of factors that cause disease.