Your Microbiome

Over thousands of years, our bodies have developed a symbiotic relationship with organisms living in and on our bodies, generally supporting each other’s health and well-being. Research links your microbiome—and changes in it—to several types of cancer and how well you respond to some conventional cancer treatments.

How can you find out if your microbiome is out of balance?

Each body area—your small and large intestines, your mouth, lungs, vagina, skin, and so on—typically has its own healthy combination of microorganisms. Dysbiosis—an out-of-balance microbiome—shows these characteristics:

  • Reduced diversity of microorganisms
  • A loss of beneficial microorganisms
  • An increase in those that can become harmful under certain conditions.

What are the symptoms of an out-of-balance microbiome?

The symptoms vary, depending on what part of your body has an imbalanced microbiome. Some common symptoms of dysbiosis of your intestinal microbes:1ScienceDirect. Dysbiosis: An Overview. Viewed June 28, 2021.

Intestinal symptoms

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Spasms
  • Constipation
  • Insufficient uptake and use of nutrients from food
  • Inflammation resulting from increased leakiness of the intestines, allowing potentially harmful molecules to leak into the bloodstream before being processed to their elemental state, such as proteins from gluten, soy, or dairy; this is commonly referred to as “leaky gut”

Regional symptoms

 Symptoms specific to one or more organs near the digestive tract:

  • A build-up of blood (congestion) that can’t properly exit an organ near or connected to the intestines, including your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas

Systemic immune symptoms

Partially digested food molecules can leak into the bloodstream improperly when your microbiome doesn’t maintain the lining of your gut. Common reactions to this situation, called “leaky gut”:

  • Worsening of disorders you’re already experiencing related to inflammation, such as autoimmunity, arthritis, or migraines
  • Central nervous system problems such as brain fog, irritability, mood changes, and anxiety
  • Inflammation of your glands, altering your ability to produce or secrete hormones to adapt to stress and illness

Additional common symptoms can occur related to dysbiosis in your mouth, bladder, vagina, heart, lungs, skin and other places, in addition to your intestinal tract:2Jewell T. What causes dysbiosis and how is it treated? Healthline. February 1, 2019. Viewed June 28, 2021.

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Vaginal or rectal itching
  • Chest pain
  • Rash or redness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What tests can diagnose an out-of-balance microbiome?

If your physician suspects you have dysbiosis based on one or more of the symptoms described above, he or she may do a physical exam to detect yeast and bacterial overgrowth in the mouth, vagina, or skin. For example, your urine may have a telltale smell and appearance. 

After going over your medical history and assessing your symptoms, your doctor may order one or several of the following diagnostic tests. Lab analysis of swabs of mucous membranes or urine may detect microorganism overgrowths.  

Organic acids test

Your doctor will collect a urine sample and send it to a laboratory. The lab technician will test for certain acids that bacteria can produce. If these acid levels are abnormal, it may mean that certain bacteria are out of balance.

Comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA)

Your doctor will have you take home special equipment to obtain a sample of your stool. You’ll return this sample to your doctor for lab testing. The lab technician will test the stool sample to see what bacteria, yeasts, or fungi are present. The results can tell your doctor if there’s an imbalance or overgrowth.

Hydrogen breath test

Your doctor will have you drink a sugar solution and breathe into a special balloon. The air in the balloon can then be tested for gasses produced by bacteria. Too much or too little of certain gases can indicate a bacterial imbalance. This test is often used to test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Your doctor may also take a sample of bacteria or tissue (biopsy) from an area of an active infection to see what bacteria are causing the infection.

Helpful link

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Andrew Jackson, ND

Research Associate
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Andrew Jackson, ND, serves as a CancerChoices research associate. As a naturopathic physician practicing in Kirkland, Washington, he teaches critical evaluation of the medical literture at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. His great appreciation of scientific inquiry and the scientific process has led him to view research with a critical eye.

Andrew Jackson, ND Research Associate

Last update: November 28, 2023

Last full literature review: July 2021

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