What is ‘dysbiosis’ and why should teachers bother about it?

In my previous post, I wrote about the need for schools to take note of what children are eating and also to note what foods are being sold by school tuck shops. Why should this be a teacher’s concern? The answer is simply because bad food causes learning and behaviour difficulties – something that certainly does impact on classroom events. Junk food affects the brain’s efficient functioning. In addition, it also affects the health of the digestive system and this in turn 


is also linked to a healthy brain.

Biology teachers will confirm that we have a virtual universe of bacteria, yeasts and viruses on our skin, respiratory tract, urinary tract and gastrointestinal system.  In fact, we have far more bacteria in our bodies that we have human cells.   In our digestive systems we have about 400 species of bacteria and several of yeast.  Several species of intestinal bacteria play an enormously important role in our health, longevity and brain function.


Ideally, we should maintain a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria (flora) throughout our lives.  But our modern lifestyle can give rise to us losing normal gut flora and replacing them by less desirable cells. When we have a gut filled with hostile bacteria, we have intestinal dysbiosis.


Dysbiosis can begin at birth if babies are not breast-fed, or who are born via Caesarean section. It also occurs commonly after doses of antibiotics, especially after repeated courses of the very broad-spectrum antibiotics that are being used today in the face of antibiotic resistant infections. Mercury fillings in teeth can destroy friendly gut flora and so promote the growth of unfriendly strains. Junk food (that includes so-called fast foods) also stimulates the growth of abnormal gut flora.


Some interesting research into gut health has shown that poor nutrition can have a Jekyll and Hyde effect on gut microbes. If these otherwise harmless organisms sense that their survival is threatened because of a lack of vitamins, mineral or certain plant chemicals, they undergo changes that allow them to grow on the surface of the intestine and even invade intestinal cells.  This can result in what is known as ‘leaky gut’, meaning that the wall of the intestine develops ‘gaps’, allowing food particles and other undesirables entering the blood stream.  Leaky gut places huge demands on the immune system and the detoxification mechanisms of the liver. Under threat, the immune system begins to react aggressively to certain substances, resulting in food allergies, eczema, asthma and other physical discomforts. In addition, it has direct, adverse effects on brain function.


High levels of stress hormones can also increase the aggressiveness of intestinal bacteria, so children who are subjected to continual stressful environments – including school – are vulnerable. Unfortunately, drugs like Ritalinâ also result in the release of stress hormones and subsequently contribute to gut imbalance.  Not surprisingly, many children with ADHD are found to have an overgrowth of Candida Albicans in their digestive tracts, with fewer beneficial bacteria. These are signs of dysbiosis.


Ideally diets should include adequate dietary fibre and diets that lack sufficient fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most common causes of dysbiosis in children. It is not surprising then to consider that many children presenting with learning disorders are the so-called ‘picky eaters’, sometimes refusing all but one or two foods. Unfortunately, those are seldom from any of the ‘healthy’ food groups.


These are the reasons for the emergence of interest in probiotics. Probiotics are ‘friendly flora’ that help us to digest food, generate important nutrients, stimulate the immune system, diminish allergic reactivity and prevent the reproduction of undesirable microbes.  In addition, they neutralize toxins in the gut and stimulate gut wall healing in those with leaky gut.


The medical field doesn’t yet have sufficient information about exactly which probiotics are needed for optimal gut and brain health and it seems that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. This means that as individuals, we have different needs when it comes to having to stock up our digestive tracts with helpful probiotics.  This means that we can’t simply revert to a probiotic supplement and trust that it will turn a child’s health around.  It can certainly help, but a good diet is also needed, and hopefully a reduction in the drugs that are helping to maintain the unwelcome state of dysbiosis.


So when you help a learner who struggles to focus, complete tasks, comprehend concepts and is prone to disruptive, disrespectful behaviour, consider that he may be driven to distraction by the unhealthy state of his gut!


Integrated Learning Therapy considers all possible underlying causes of a child’s learning difficulties in order to offer effective help.  Visit our website for more information about our approach. www.ilt.co.za.  We also offer training courses for teachers that are accredited with SACE and ETDP-SETA, over distance or as attendance courses.  More information about these are on our website or write to us to enquire. info@ilt.co.za.


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[1] Much of this content is based on the writings of Dr Michael Lyon MD – a Functional Medicine Practitioner.

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