What Causes Digestive Imbalance

Understanding digestive imbalance

Digestive imbalance occurs when the gut microbes undergo abnormal changes that affect their composition. From infancy, over one thousand different species live in the gut and usually stabilise by the age of one when a child has a more solid diet. 

The relationship between a host and its microbiota is symbiotic. The host provides space and nutrients, while the microbiota contributes to host nutrition, physiology, and protection. The gut bacteria supply essential nutrients, produces vitamin K, breaks down cellulose and supports angiogenesis and nerve function.

Microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract are eukaryotes, bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea which form the gut microbiome. The microbiota is vital when discussing health and disease because it is largely involved in energy harvest and storage; metabolic functions that include fermenting and absorbing undigested carbohydrates.

The partially digestible foods enrich the microbial populations that have not been fully concluded by studies. The microbiota is also useful as a defence mechanism against toxins and pathogens that target the host immune system. Apart from this, the microorganisms in the gut also aid its normal function. The composition of the gut flora is dependent on the host environment which is greatly influenced by diet. 

Health is promoted by an increase in good bacteria and a decrease in bad bacteria which is associated with several harmful diseases. The mucosal immune system has the ability to control the intestinal microbiota to prevent overgrowth and translocation to other sites in the body. In addition, it tolerates microbes to prevent the induction of an immune response.

Causes of digestive imbalance

Dysbiosis is the term used to describe an imbalance in the microbiota in the gut. The gut ecosystem undergoes abnormal changes due to the use of antibiotics, illness, stress, ageing, poor dietary habits, and lifestyle.

Antibiotics disrupt the ecosystem balance which can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhoea as the microbiota loses its integrity and barrier function. The host responds to exogenous infectious agents by initiating an inflammatory response, which leads to decreased viability of local microbiota. As a result, the host is susceptible to further attacks by different pathogens due to the instability of the indigenous microbial population.

When the host has an infection, the microbiome signals other organs of the body to secrete immunological reactions that have a protective effect on the gastrointestinal tract, particularly in areas that have lower colonisation than the large intestine.

Changes in diet such as increasing protein or sugar content, consuming unwashed fruit and vegetables and excessive alcohol intake negatively affect  the gut flora. Furthermore, bacterial overgrowth can result from poor dental hygiene along with  increased levels of stress or anxiety that awakens the immune system.

Signs of digestive imbalance

The signs  of digestive imbalance are not easy to differentiate from other conditions. An imbalance in gut bacteria composition

is associated with intestinal symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. 

 Having recurrent infections is also a cause for concern as this highlights a weakened immune system.

Treatment for digestive imbalance

The first line of therapy is based on the treatment of mild digestive imbalance which usually resolves naturally. In order to treat digestive imbalance, probiotics can be used to treat hepatic encephalopathy, inflammatory bowel disease, infection, hypertension, cancer and atopic dermatitis in children.

Faecal microbiota transplant is used to alter the gut bacteria. The faecal donors are screened thoroughly for other conditions before they can donate faecal material which is frozen. The faecal material is then inserted during a colonoscopy to alter the gut composition and improve the health status of the patient.This technique is useful when treating infections caused by clostridium difficile.


In conclusion, the gut microbiota has benefits to the host by providing a barrier for pathogens.  However, when disruption occurs, it can lead to illness which is usually treated by probiotics and prebiotics as a first-line therapy.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Tsitsi Elisa Mbofana

Medical Diagnostics, Engineering, Cranfield University

My name is Tsitsi Elisa and I am an experienced biomedical scientist who has an interest science technology and search engine optimisation. I have recently taken up writing as a way to share my knowledge about the articles I have read to help readers gain information about their health concerns.

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