GUT MICROBIOME TESTING
The microbiome is the word used to describe the trillions of bacteria, fungi, microbes etc that live on our skin, mucous membranes and all through our digestive tract. There are actually more bacteria in our microbiome that cells in our body. We are mostly not us!
The bacteria in the microbiome help digest our food, regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria that cause disease, and produce vitamins including B vitamins, B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K, which is needed for blood coagulation. As well as these important functions, the bacteria housed in our gut microbiome have been linked to mental health, gut health, weight loss and gain, and the occurrence of many chronic diseases and autoimmunity.
Prior to the discovery of DNA testing, scientists thought that our microbiome was predominantly made up from commonly known bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, which grow easily in culture in a petrie dish. However, in later years, when they started DNA testing stool samples, they found thousands of different bacteria that do not grow well in culture and discovered that bifidobacteria and lactobacillus were less than 1% of the population of the microbiome. Since then, science has made huge headway in linking different bacteria to health benefits and also chronic disease.
Every single one of us are completely unique (even identical twins’ DNA differentiate as they age), and so is our microbiome. No two people have the same mix of bacteria living in their gut. Research has shown that diversity in the microbiome is linked to good health. That means that we want as many different species living in our gut as possible – this diversity is driven by diversity of plant food in our diet. There really isn’t such a thing as bad bacteria – most bacteria that live in our gut can be beneficial in small amounts. However, when our microbiome takes a hit through the use of antibiotics, medications, excess alcohol, a plant depleted diet (our beneficial bacteria love plant foods and are not very happy at all if they are consistently subjected to junk!) etc, some of the less beneficial bacteria can take over and cause issues in the body such as IBS, IBD, autoimmunity, mood disorders etc. This non beneficial mix of gut bacteria is known as dysbiosis. I always assume that all of my gut clients have some form of dysbiosis and use diet and supplements to bring it all back into balance.
If I feel that I am not getting results from dietary changes and supplementation, I often ask my clients to do microbiome testing. They send a stool sample to a lab, and it provides me with a report of how their microbiome is looking at that present time. The reports are incredibly detailed, and provides relevant, current information regarding the probability of any bacteria in the sample causing health issues. For example, one of my clients was having a green smoothie every morning for breakfast and was generally experiencing gut pain by lunchtime every day. Her microbiome test found that she had very low levels of oxalobacter formigenes, a gut bacteria that helps us process oxalates. Spinach is very high in oxalates and there was a lot of spinach in her smoothie. We adjusted her smoothie and started working on bringing oxalobacter back in her microbiome and problem solved.
The science of the microbiome is still in early stages and I am very excited to see the discoveries that will take place over the next few decades. We may find that instead of giving antidepressants, doctors may provide specific beneficial bacteria to those with depression or probiotics will be used to help treat heart disease and cancer. At the moment, I always have the state of my client’s microbiome at the forefront of my mind, and microbiome testing can provide the key to their long-term health.