Have you had a feeling of fullness, abdominal pain or even diarrhea for several days? If these symptoms sound familiar to you, you may be suffering from a disturbed intestinal flora. Unfortunately, this taboo topic is often not addressed and ignored. However, the intestinal flora is of great importance for the body, because it is not only responsible for digestion, but also has many other functions in the body, such as our immune system.
In this article we have summarized the most important things for you, how to recognize symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora and how to treat them correctly.
the essentials in brief
- The intestinal flora is largely responsible for our digestion and also has other functions such as. supporting the immune system, absorbing vitamins and breaking down pollutants.
- A disturbed intestinal flora can lead to complaints such as disturbed digestion, abdominal pain, a weak immune system, but also skin problems, allergies or psychological problems.
- The causes of a disturbed intestinal flora are usually a changed or unbalanced diet, medication such as antibiotics, illnesses or stress.
Definition: What is the intestinal flora?
The intestinal flora is mainly responsible for the digestion of our food. In the large and small intestine there are trillions of bacteria that are responsible for our intestinal flora, ie. These bacteria break down the food into its components and convert the substances in such a way that the body can absorb and metabolize them, while the substances that cannot be used are excreted again. The stomach and intestines alone would not be able to do this without the help of the bacteria.
At the same time, the intestinal flora has other functions:
- Immune System Support (1)
- degradation of pollutants
- absorption of vitamins
- production of vitamin K
- Supply of the mucous membrane in the intestine
You can find more information about the functions of the intestinal flora in the section: Background.
Background: What you should know about a disturbed intestinal flora and the symptoms
Before we explain how you can prevent the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora, we will give you some background information in this section.
In the following section we answer the most important questions about a disturbed intestinal flora and its symptoms.
What is a disturbed intestinal flora anyway?
In a healthy intestine there is a harmonious balance between the various microorganisms, also known as eubiosis. The "good" gut bacteria help break down food so the body can metabolize it.
Abdominal pain is often not taken seriously and ignored. If left untreated, this can lead to serious consequences. (Image source: Darko Djurin/Pixabay)
An unfavorable diet, such as taking medication, an unhealthy lifestyle or food intolerance can disturb the harmony of the intestinal bacteria.
This means that there are too few of one type of bacteria and at the same time too many of another type, and these bacteria spread rapidly. The "good" bacteria are pushed back more and more, so that the protection against disease-causing bacteria is weakened or lost entirely.
What is the function of the intestinal flora in our body?
The intestinal flora is largely responsible for digestion, but as many do not know, the intestinal flora has other important functions that are essential for our body. The intestinal flora has the following four functions in our body:
- Digestion: The bacteria in the intestinal flora break down and process the indigestible food components in such a way that the vital nutrients from the food can be properly absorbed and utilized by the body. There must be a healthy balance of bacteria so that digestion can be guaranteed without problems.
- Intestinal barrier: The intestinal barrier ensures which substances get into the blood and which do not. With a healthy intestinal flora, foreign, toxic substances and pathogens are normally rejected (5). In the case of a disturbed intestinal flora, however, the intestinal barrier does not correctly decide whether substances are “good” or “wrong”. This can lead to inflammatory reactions and secondary diseases (8).
- Immune system: The intestinal flora decides which substances are processed and get into the blood and which are excreted again. Thus, it serves as a "bouncer" for the intestinal flora and protects the immune system against invading bacteria, viruses and fungi. (1)
- Psyche: According to scientific studies, the intestinal flora should also have an influence on our psyche. Thus, a disturbed intestinal flora can also be a cause of depression and mood swings. (3)
As we can see, the topic of intestinal flora is much more complex than you might think. The intestinal flora affects the whole body. It is therefore important for your well-being to have a healthy intestinal flora.
What are the causes of a disturbed intestinal flora?
The causes of a disturbed intestinal flora can have many reasons. Diet, medication and the body and the psyche often play a role.
The following table gives you an overview of the causes and explains them in more detail.
If antibiotics are the cause of a disturbed intestinal flora in your case, you should definitely carry out an intestinal cleansing. A study shows that after a year, the intestinal flora cannot fully recover by itself.(2)
Who is particularly at risk of having a disturbed intestinal flora?
People who have previously had to take antibiotics are particularly at risk of having a disturbed intestinal flora(10). Since the intestinal flora has become more sensitive after taking antibiotics, because the antibiotic kills bacteria without differentiating whether they are "good" or "bad" bacteria. Thus, the bacterial diversity is lower, so that the intestinal flora is weakened.
In addition, people who already have a weaker immune system can suffer more quickly from a disturbed intestinal flora.
What are the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora?
The symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora are very diverse and have very different effects on the body, which is why the diagnosis of a disturbed intestinal flora is often made very late. However, the often "usual" symptoms should not be considered unimportant, since an untreated disturbed intestinal flora can certainly trigger chronic diseases.
The signs of a disturbed intestinal flora include:
- stomach pain
- diarrhea or constipation
- inflammation of the intestines
- Deficiency symptoms, especially of vitamins
- Permanent white coating on the tongue
- Depressed mood (3)
- allergies (4)
- acne, neurodermatitis
However, a weakened immune system, symptoms of exhaustion and an intolerance to food can also be associated with a disturbed intestinal flora. Patients often suffer from these consequences for a long time. You should see a doctor, especially after taking antibiotics.
What are the consequences of a disturbed intestinal flora if left untreated?
If you leave a disturbed intestinal flora untreated, it can have long-term consequences that can progress to chronic diseases, such as irritable bowel disease or chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis)(8).
In the case of irritable bowel syndrome, a cure is no longer possible.
In the case of the so-called irritable bowel syndrome, those affected suffer from constipation, diarrhea, flatulence and abdominal cramps, as does the disturbed intestinal flora. Symptoms can only be reduced with home remedies, medication or a healthier lifestyle.
Symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora: what to do when symptoms occur
If you have the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora, you can take special action with the right diet and lifestyle. We have summarized the most important questions for you so that you can continue to prevent a disturbed intestinal flora in the future.
Roughage, for example from vegetables, which arrive undigested in the large intestine, form the nutritional basis for the beneficial microorganisms located there - in favor of the intestinal flora. (Image Credit: Deborah Breen Whiting/Pixabay)
How can I prevent symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora?
In order to prevent the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora, you should pay particular attention to the things that cause a disturbed intestinal flora. That means eating certain foods, taking certain medications, and the general well-being of the body.
Here we give you a few tips that you can take into account so that you don't have to fight any problems with the intestinal flora in the future.
In the following view under "Benefits" you will find all foods that should support your intestinal flora. All foods that could cause a disturbed intestinal flora are listed under the "disadvantages".Advantages
- fruit and vegetables
- Potatoes, Fermented Food
As you can see, nutrition is an essential aspect for a healthy intestinal flora. Make sure that you are eating a diet that contains fiber and is rich in vitamins. Flaxseed and psyllium, legumes such as lentils and whole grain products, fruit and vegetables are particularly high in fiber.
Also, fermented, non-preserved foods like sauerkraut, plain yogurt, kefir, miso, or kimchi can help because they contain natural bacteria. (5)
Antibiotics, cortisone, proton pump inhibitors, ASA, diclofenac, ibuprofen are the well-known drugs that confuse the bacteria. We recommend that you exercise caution when taking these medications and consult a doctor to avoid potential problems.
Stress alone can affect the intestinal flora and lead to an imbalance in the intestinal bacteria. The central nervous system is connected to the gut via what is known as the gut-brain axis. To reduce stress and improve your well-being, we advise you to exercise, get enough sleep and maybe meditate as a balance.
Can I treat the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora myself?
Since diet has a major influence on the intestinal flora, you can first try to change your diet. It should be easily digestible, low in fat and high in fiber. Also pay attention to a balanced composition of the food. The goal is to restore a healthy intestinal environment.
Probiotics and prebiotics are particularly helpful in restoring the bacterial balance (5). By ingesting these bacteria, which are present in many of the foods that we will list below, you can restore the balance. The effect is particularly strong in small children, since the intestinal barrier is not yet fully developed due to age. (7)
The table gives you an overview of the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics and in which foods they are present.
|probiotics||Strengthening of the intestinal barrier, defense against pathogens, keeping nerve cells healthy, protection against allergies (9)||Kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut, plain yogurt, miso, kimchi|
|prebiotics||Multiplication of "good" bacteria, against constipation, against diarrhea, against constipation||Linseed, psyllium, lentils, whole grain products, vegetables (chicory, salsify, artichokes)|
We also advise you to take the following measures:
- Nutrition rich in vital substances
- Avoiding foods that are difficult to digest or bloating
- Avoid coffee and alcohol
- Do not eat large portions of meat and fish
- little sugar
If these measures do not help you, we advise you to consult a doctor to avoid serious consequences. An untreated disturbed intestinal flora can develop into chronic diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis).
When should I see a doctor if I have symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora?
If the symptoms of a disturbed intestinal flora apply to you, you should take the measures listed above. If the symptoms persist or worsen, we advise you to consult a suitable doctor (gastroenterologist).
The intestinal flora analysis enables you to detect the intestinal flora disorder at an early stage.
Using a detailed analysis of the intestinal flora, the doctor can use a stool sample to determine whether the cause of your symptoms lies in a disturbed intestinal flora and take certain measures so that microbiological therapy can be carried out in good time without the disturbed intestinal flora becoming chronic disease progressed.
The intestinal flora is often underestimated without reason, but its functions are more than important. It affects digestion, the immune system and mental health. Those who do not take the symptoms seriously often suffer for a long time from flatulence, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, allergies and depression to chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.
If the symptoms are diagnosed in good time, however, it can be counteracted with the right diet and lifestyle. A diet rich in fiber and vitamins should be followed. In addition, a healthy lifestyle, which means sufficient exercise and sleep. It is crucial that you make long-term changes to your eating habits and lifestyle. Once the symptoms go away and you slip back into your old habits, the symptoms will come back and things will get back to normal.
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