Hundreds of trillions of microorganisms, like archaea, fungi, and bacteria live within your body. Jointly, these microorganisms are referred to as ‘microbiomes.’ Microbiome testing, however, focuses on the microbiome located in your gastrointestinal tract.
Microbiome testing is gaining in popularity in recent years. And while the contributions of each microbe in human health are far from fully understood, the crucial role microbiome plays in human physiology is undisputed. Your microbiome helps your body protect itself against pathogens, helps the immune system, aids in synthesizing vitamins and amino acids, and other functions.
So, what exactly is microbiome testing?
Microbiome testing means fecal matter (your poo) sample is collected, put in a safe (and airtight) container, and sent to a lab to be tested and analyzed. The analysis is likened to a urinalysis; microbiome testing also tests for bacteria that can trigger infection. There are companies, like My Psomagen, who offer to analyze the makeup of the microbiome in your gut.
The result of this analysis will show the number of bacteria that are present through DNA analysis (sequencing), as well as an estimate of the types of different bacteria that are in your stool sample. There are also tests that measure other indications of your gut’s health, like having a high level of calprotectin, which is a sign of inflammation in the gut.
These companies, after the initial analysis, also propose a ‘solution’ to help you manage the levels of some bacteria detected in your gut. The solution these companies propose, which is often dietary advice, would address the need to stimulate the growth of some beneficial microorganisms.
They would then retest your stool to see how the solution has affected your gut microbiome; that is if their suggestion had a positive impact on your gut microbiomes’ health. The test would also highlight any bacterium species that are either too low or too high. With this test, you’ll find out which bacteria live in your gut; they’d then advise you on your diet based on your microbiome’s bacterial composition.
Sequencing your gut’s microbiome as an important tool for diagnosis and treatment is now becoming popular.
The analysis of your sample will require the lab to tag bacteria that are known to cause certain diseases. A lot of these bacteria, however, could cause easily recognizable symptoms like diarrhea; the test aids your physician in prescribing the correct medicine or to exclude a bacterial infection if nothing else is discovered. Hospitals do these tests, too, when they analyze your stool, and if they suspect that you might have some kind of infection in your stomach.
Other tests extract DNA from your stool. Using DNA sequencing tools, they can tell what bacteria are in your sample. The test result would also give you a list of the types and how many bacteria are currently living in your gut.
What To Learn From The Test
Your gastrointestinal tract is a complex system, so a test could be used to find many other things, like:
The lab will look for signs of parasites. They could also use the parasites’ DNA to diagnose them. Parasites are more common than you might think—frequent infections include Dientamoeba fragilis and Blastocystis hominis. These parasites could cause stomach pains and nausea.
- Too Much Yeast
Excessive yeast, like the common yeast Candida albicans, can cause a broad range of not only gastrointestinal symptoms, but also other symptoms like brain fog, acne, and weight gain.
- Bacteria Growth
The test would also show the presence of the potentially pathogenic and pathogenic bacteria. Potentially pathogenic bacteria are bacteria that could become harmful if they multiplied uncontrollably; pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, can cause trouble in any number. An example of a pathogenic bacteria is salmonella.
If the test shows that you have an elevated level of this bacteria, you need to consult a GI specialist pronto. Calprotectin is connected to irritable bowel disease and tumors.
- Protein And Fat
The presence of protein and fat in the tested fecal matter can also indicate how efficient or inefficient your stomach is digesting and absorbing your food.
- Pancreatic Elastase
This refers to an enzyme from your pancreas responsible for breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the food you eat. An insufficient amount of this enzyme means your pancreas isn’t functioning well. With a healthy pancreas, the enzyme is passed in the stool; if the enzyme is absent or only a very small amount is in your stool, it could indicate pancreatic insufficiency and would mean your food is not being digested properly.
- Immune Markers
Microbiome testing could also find out if your immune system is overactive or in a weakened state. Inflammatory markers like lgA could indicate a food sensitivity, bacteria, or fungus in the GI tract that’s causing an immune response. If eosinophils—a type of white blood cells that fight diseases—are high, it could indicate either an allergy or a parasite.
- Good Bacteria
The presence of good bacteria in your sample means you have a healthy microbiome. Too little good bacteria mean you’d have difficulty digesting food. Plus, you’d suffer symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.
Microbiome testing can provide a treasure trove of information that can make treatment more specific. If you’re low in good bacteria, you’d be advised to eat foods high in fiber and eat more probiotic foods. You can have a diet tailor-made for you that would address the imbalance detected in your microbiome during the testing.
But keep in mind that the science surrounding this is still relatively new and there are not enough studies to make an emphatic verdict. Do microbiome testing under the supervision of a doctor who could give you an accurate interpretation of the result. Otherwise, you could jeopardize your health by self-diagnosing.