Next to ashwagandha, the keto diet, and TikTok, one might say that gut health is all the rage these days.
Fermented foods (like kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha), prebiotics, probiotics, and even postbiotics are quickly becoming a hot commodity across the nation.
You may have even heard the famous quote attributed to Hippocrates — aka, the "Father of Modern Medicine" — stating that "all disease begins in the gut."
What's more, research continues to show the influence the gut and digestive tract have on one's overall health. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense why the gut is often referred to as the body's "second brain.”
That said, while certain symptoms — such as skin woes, mood swings, and digestive upset — could indicate imbalances in the gut, these exact connections can only be truly understood through testing. What kind of testing, you ask? Microbiome testing.
Interested in learning more? We can help. Read on to discover everything you need to know about testing the health of your gut.
Why Is Gut Health So Important?
Before we dive into all things microbiome testing, let's first chat a bit about the gastrointestinal tract — why is gut health so important anyway?
Well, for starters, did you know that your gut health affects just about everything in your body?
Yup, it's true — the gastrointestinal system is essentially the main "portal" for taking in and processing essential nutrients. It also acts as a trainer, teaching immune cells (called T-cells) to distinguish foreign entities from tissue. This means your gut does more than regulate that occasional bloating, constipation, or other digestive issues.
A happy and healthy gut plays a massive role in your overall well-being from your nervous system and immune system to your digestive function and mental health.
What Is a Gut Microbiome?
The term gut microbiome refers to the trillions of itty-bitty gut microbes that exist in your digestive system, including your intestines, stomach, colon, and esophagus.
Over the years, the importance of the gut microbiome has become increasingly apparent. That said, while the contributions of microbes in human health are still far from being fully understood, the gut microbiome appears to play a role in a number of bodily functions, such as:
- Digesting your food
- Synthesizing vitamins and amino acids
- Producing neurotransmitters
- Modulating your immune system
- Protecting against pathogens
- Generating important metabolites
Much more research is needed on the gut microbiome, but despite not having all the answers just yet, we do know that healthier people tend to have richer and more diverse gut microbiomes.
In fact, according to experts, a diverse microbiome seems to function much better than a microbiome with only a few kinds of bacteria. Why? Because if one microbe is not able to fulfill its function, another is available to step in and take over.
What Can Affect Gut Health?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to poor gut health; however, some of the most common include:
- Poor diet
- Exposure to pathogens
- Psychological stress
- Certain meds (such as antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors)
- Tobacco use and alcohol consumption
- Physical activity
To improve the health of your gut, the key is fueling up on unprocessed whole foods with plenty of prebiotic fiber. Many experts also recommend taking a good quality probiotic — like Gut Feelings Probiotics.
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What Is a Gut Microbiome Test?
Also referred to as "gut flora testing," a microbiome test reveals the different types and levels of bacteria and other microorganisms present in the GI tract, particularly in the large intestine.
Whether you decide to get tested in a doctor's office or from the comfort of your home, microbiome tests are conducted via stool (aka, poo) samples.
The main purpose of this type of stool testing is to test and analyze microbes and potential imbalances in your gut. In addition, a stool sample analysis can typically provide clues of potential autoimmune diseases or inflammatory conditions, such as Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
What Does the Gut Testing Process Look Like?
When it comes to gut testing, there are a lot of options available, so it's of the utmost importance to do your research prior to making a purchase.
You will want to ensure that your gut health test kit provider tests bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and digestive markers. It's also important that you stick with a company that will help you understand what your test results mean for your health once testing is complete.
That said, if you go through commercial testing, a healthcare professional may extract the DNA from your stool sample as opposed to looking for markers that may indicate illness or a condition.
By using DNA analysis via a DNA gut health test, you will be able to see both the types as well as the number of all bacteria in your stool sample.
What Do the Experts Say?
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of research that has been done in this specific area, so many gut health experts aren’t totally on board with gut health testing — but that’s not to say that they won’t hop on the bandwagon in the near future.
In addition, different gut health tests with different methodologies will give different results. Plus, due to the lack of complete research, many experts aren’t completely sure what “normal” looks like when it comes to tests like these.
With that in mind, the decision to test your gut health is ultimately up to you. That said, we’d suggest taking your test results with a grain of salt.
If anything comes back as a red flag — don’t panic. Simply get with your doc for further testing.
A Final Word
So, what exactly is microbiome testing, you ask?
Simply put, a gut microbiome test is a method of analyzing the health of the gut microbiota — aka, the population of bacteria that reside in the gut. These popular tests look at the composition of microbes found in a small sample of stool.
If you’re thinking about taking a gut health test, it’s important to keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved these popular tests, meaning that they have not been tested for accuracy or safety.
In other words, if your test comes back with alarming results or something that doesn’t quite make sense, don’t panic — simply make an appointment with your primary care provider for further testing.
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