The Problem With Labeling Gut Troubles ‘Dysbiosis’

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“… In their 2017 paper, Hooks and coauthor Maureen O’Malley analyzed more than 500 journal articles about the microbiome that used the word dysbiosis. They found that more than half of the papers defined dysbiosis as an imbalance. Other common definitions were either a general change, or a change in a specific bacterial type.

“I came to think ‘dysbiosis’ is a placeholder,” Hooks says. “But unfortunately it is also a lazy choice.”

Shanahan and a coauthor made a similar argument in a 2019 paper. So did the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scott Olesen and Eric Alm in 2016, calling the idea of balance in the microbiome “a holdover from prescientific thought,” akin to balancing the humors. Olesen is now the scientific director at OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank that collects and processes donor feces for use by doctors and researchers. He says he and Alm felt frustrated by how other researchers were talking about dysbiosis.

“It’s not a thing,” Olesen says.”

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