Most people think of dysbiosis as a disease of the digestive tract. However, dysbiosis can occur anywhere in the body where the population of normal microbes in that region is altered by an overgrowth of other organisms. Here’s what you need to know about dysbiosis.
A diverse collection of microorganisms live on our skin surface, in our digestive tract, and in multiple other areas of our body. The community of microorganisms that lives in any one place on or in our body is referred to as the microbiome of that area. Microbiomes are made up of a variety of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and sometimes mites and other organisms that are unique and different in each region of the body. When the population of microbes in a particular area of the body is normal for that location, those organisms help contribute to the immunity and general health of that region of the body. When the composition of that population is altered and associated with disease, this condition is referred to as dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis | Skin vs. Digestive Tract
Two areas of the body where dysbiosis has been intensely studied are the skin and the digestive tract. The microbiome of our gut has an important influence on our immune system and therefore is important for our general health and the health of our skin. The lining of our digestive tract is not only important for regulating the digestion and absorption of nutrients but also is an important barrier between the inside of our body and the outside world. When this barrier is not working, infectious agents and food allergens can penetrate through the protective layer of our gut and cause disease; this increase in the permeability of the digestive tract is known as leaky gut syndrome, and is associated with a variety of illnesses, especially autoimmune diseases. For example, increased gut permeability has been associated with atopic dermatitis (eczema) and psoriasis.
Dysbiosis is also common in skin disease. When the microbiome in a particular area of the skin changes and certain microorganisms increase in number to the point that they dominate the population in that area, skin disease can develop. For example, infants who have a higher prevalence of the bacteria staphylococcus aureus on their skin are at increased risk of developing atopic dermatitis. In patients who have atopic dermatitis, an increase in staphylococcus aureus is associated with flares of their disease. This may explain why dilute bleach baths (which should only be administered under the guidance of a physician) and antibiotics can be helpful in treating eczema. The barrier function of our skin is as important as the barrier function of our gastrointestinal tract. Increases in skin permeability are thought to be an important factor in the development of atopic dermatitis. Moisturizing regularly is one of the ways we can help maintain a healthy skin barrier.
Probiotics and prebiotics are other ways we can positively influence the microbiome in our digestive tract and on our skin. My next blog will discuss how these good bacteria can be used to improve our health and the condition of our skin.