Gut health is not a new topic, but its prevalence in the medical world, especially in integrative medicine, is reflective of its importance in your overall health.
Along with maintaining our intestinal mucosa and facilitating digestion, your gut microbiota (a community of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, yeasts, protozoans, and fungi) plays a role in mood regulation, hormone metabolism, vitamin production, skin health, immune function, weight management, and blood sugar regulation.
That’s a lot of responsibility for a small part of your body.
Each of these different functions relies on the proper balance and diversity of microbes within the small and large intestine. If the balance is off, more than one area of your body could start to show dysfunction. And that’s where a microbiome gut health test can come in.
Finding the Right Gut Health Test for You
The first step in ordering a microbiome test is knowing what information is going to answer your health question. The stool test we’re going to be talking about today only looks at the large intestine, and doesn’t tell us anything about your small intestine or potential food allergies. On a macroscopic level, you can test anything from h. Pylori and candida, to digestive function markers and gut inflammation. Getting the right test is important!
Culture-Based Testing Vs. DNA-Based Testing
In our office, we mainly use culture-based testing. What that means is that the lab takes your stool sample and tries to grow the bacteria that’s living in your gut in petri dishes to detect the strains and balance of your microbes. If they find anything “bad,” testers will try to kill it with natural substances and conventional medication. Then, they can tell you how susceptible that bacteria or yeast was to their treatments. That translates to a more personalized plan that’s right for your specific gut health issues.
The other big way of testing for bugs (at the lab) is through PCR/DNA-based testing. In this test, the lab takes your stool, and tries to identify the DNA of bugs that are living in there. One big downside to PCR testing (and ultimately the reason we don’t use it often) is that you get a lot of false positives. Dead or alive, bacteria and yeast have DNA—but only alive bacteria cause problems. See what I mean?
Types of Gut Health Tests
The basic test first detects the good, bad, and ugly of what’s living in your gut. It’ll identify bacteria, yeast, and even parasites that are flourishing, as well as tell us how much of each type. It’ll detail the species that are growing, and allow us to do a little research.
If there are enough of the bacteria or yeast, the lab will actually try to kill it with natural and conventional substances and let us know how well it worked. That way we know exactly what will kill the specific bacteria that’s living in your gut.
A Little More Information
You can also add on other aspects of the stool panel, such as parasitology. We don’t do this one too often unless it sounds like your symptoms fit the clinical picture. But this add-on can detect any ova or parasite that’s hanging out. It’s not always the most common to have parasites in our country, but for those who travel a lot or eat undercooked foods, it might be a good idea to let your practitioner know, especially if your symptoms line up.
The Full Monty
The most comprehensive microbiome test you can get also has digestive-function markers. This reveals information like short-chain fatty acid percentages that tell us how well you digest fiber, or meat fibers that give us an idea of how well your stomach acid is breaking down protein.
This extra info can be invaluable to those who may have issues with digestive function, like lingering or difficult to clear SIBO or acid reflux. It also gives us inflammation markers such as calprotectin to let us know if there is any inflammation (like in an IBD) on your intestinal wall.
When you have a clear plan to figure out whats going on with your microbiome, using stool testing can give you a ton of great information that is actionable. It offers a customized treatment plan that provides deeper insight into the root issue, and can help alleviate symptoms on your health journey.
Interested in a gut health microbiome test? Contact us to learn more.
Jenikka Tomashek is a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a doctorate degree in Nursing and 10 years of experience. She has a broad perspective on patient care: She started her career in small-town nursing in northern Minnesota and transitioned to inner-city emergency medicine. After four years in the ED, she made the switch to Internal Medicine where she has now been practicing for five years. During that switch was when she completed her doctorate at University of Minnesota.
Nursing, which Jenikka’s experience is grounded in, is founded on compassionate, dedicated patient care that also cares deeply about the individual and their story. She believes in the philosophy of finding and treating the root cause of symptoms, educating patients, and focusing on the prevention of future disease. Find out more about Jenikka and her expertise (she’s a diagnostic magician!) to see if she’s a fit for you.