Gut Health Testing 101: What to Know
You’ve heard about gut health testing, but what is it? Learn how you can determine the root cause of your gut symptoms with comprehensive gut microbiome testing and which type to look for.
What Is a Gut Microbiome?
Your gut microbiota, the forgotten organ… wait, are those bacteria, parasites, fungi, etc. living in your gut an “organ”?
Not technically, no.
Your gut microbiome is not an “organ”, but instead is a community of bacteria, archea, viruses, and protozoa (aka parasites and worms) – fancy words meaning there are a whole bunch of organisms living in your gut, and they can benefit you or make you feel like the bottom of a trash can in August.
Symptoms of Poor Gut Health
Since gut health ultimately starts in your intestines, digestive complaints are common in those with poor gut health. Digestive-related symptoms in a gut that needs some work can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Reflux or GERD
- Fatigue or brain fog
- Weight gain or loss, typically unplanned
- Joint or muscle pain
- Panic attacks
- Appetite changes
An altered gut microbiome composition not only has been shown linked to the gastrointestinal symptoms listed above, and disorders such as colorectal polyps, colorectal cancer, and celiac disease, but also is associated with conditions that you don’t commonly associate with your gut health, such as:
- Non-alcoholic liver disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Mood disorders like anxiety and depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Skin conditions
The problem with this list of symptoms is that it’s really general, isn’t it? Similar symptoms can be caused by H. pylori, Candida, histamine-producing bacteria, food intolerances, or even some parasites.
And you can see from our list of potential symptoms, your gut health impacts your entire body, and so then the question is… how do you determine what’s bugging you?
Get it? Bugging… gut bugs… ok. Moving on.
This is Why We Test. Always.
Comprehensive gut microbiome testing is really informative in cases like these because the test is designed to assess your complete gut health.
Gut microbiome tests can inform you what type of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi are in your gut, how many of each are present, and how they might affect your body and your health.
From a gut microbiome test, you can discover what types of microbes live in your gut and their links to your improved or worsened health outcomes, and actually how to fix your symptoms and repair your gut once and for all!
We feel that determining the root cause of gut symptoms is the absolute best way to understand your gut health so that you can finally heal your body.
Our favorite gut microbiome test, the Gastrointestinal Microbial Assay Plus, or GI-MAP, is a clinical test that measures gastrointestinal microbiota DNA from a single stool sample.
It reports actual numbers of what’s in your gut based on the DNA of the bacteria and other bugs in your gut!
Not to nerd out, but that’s pretty freaking cool!
With innovative, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) technology, the GI-MAP accurately detects microbes that may be causing your symptoms. You can learn, with this at-home test, what exactly the root cause of your gut, mood, skin, or digestive problems is and how to correct these imbalances so that you can go on with your life, free of the bathroom sprints, the embarrassing acne, and the anxiety that are so commonly associated.
In a normally functioning small intestine, regular peristalsis, host (that’s you!) immunity, and tightly-controlled pH ensure that harmful bacteria are unable to grow in large quantities.
Any abnormalities in food moving through the digestive tract, pH, or the immune system and, boom… you’re perfectly set-up for potential bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
A considerable list of medications and underlying medical conditions that we see affecting the gut most often are: antibiotics, proton-pump inhibitors, and acid reducers, including antihistamines.
Types of Gut Health Tests
There are many types of gut microbiome tests available, some more comprehensive and accurate than others, some are super expensive and not feasible for the public, and some are a total waste of money.
Let’s dig in.
Standard PCR Testing
This type of testing is not regarded as truly quantitative because the testing technology used to provide your results is less specific than optimal. Results are estimated by comparing it to a standard curve, or average results.
Your result for any given organism is often noted as “positive/negative” and not a specific number. This is problematic because the lab is NOT testing for whether the organism is present or not, but instead, a minimum range that typically doesn’t produce symptoms in most people is used.
For example, say that we’re looking for whether H. pylori is causing your symptoms. A “normal” range of H. pylori by many labs’ standards is 1000 microbes per gram of stool. That is the range at which H. pylori would be flagged as “present” or “positive” on your gut microbiome test. Below that, H. pylori would be flagged as “not present” or “negative”.
So, say that you have 995 microbes per gram of stool, on the standard PCR test, your report would note that H. pylori was “negative” or “not present”, even though not only is the organism there, but at that level, most people are symptomatic.
That’s not good enough for us.
This testing is widely used in biomedical research as well as in clinical diagnostics to accurately identify and quantitate specific organisms present in a sample. With this technology, the DNA of the organism is used to provide an actual count of the number of that specific organism present.
Let’s continue with our H. pylori example from above. With qPCR testing, the lab reference range is also 1000 organisms per gram of stool for that specific organism, H. pylori, to be flagged as high.
But, instead of your report listing H. pylori as “present” or “not present”, you get the actual number! If you have 995 microbes per gram of stool, your report says 995. If you have 300 microbes per gram of stool, you get 300.
The exact number.
No false positive or negative results with this type of testing, just the exact number, and WE interpret whether that is impactful to your symptoms or not.
DNA or RNA Sequencing
This testing determines the order of nucleic acids (remember from biology… adenosine, cytosine, guanine, thymine – A, C, G, T??) in your sample.
This is a targeted approach for obtaining a general, high-level profile of the microbes, but is not specific enough for the purposes of associating symptoms with overgrown or missing organisms.
This testing is similar to other sequencing methods, but only a single gene, 16s ribosomal RNA, is sequenced.
This 16S rRNA gene is common to almost all bacteria and archaea, and therefore CAN be tested successfully, but this method is not as accurate because the 16S gene varies widely in copy numbers.
This methodology detects organisms, like parasites and ova (eggs) in poop samples using microscopic evaluation. Fun to be that scientist, right?
Of course, there are other testing methodologies available, some are cost-prohibitive for the general public, some are simply not accurate enough to be beneficial, while others are difficult to obtain.
Results You Can Trust
If you’ve been around here before, you know that we prefer qPCR testing protocols using the GI-MAP as our gut microbiome testing for the simple reason that it provides the most comprehensive and accurate gut health diagnosis without completely breaking the bank.
Each analyte (marker) on the GI-MAP is individually validated. With every test, the following analyses must be completed:
- Assay specificity – the intended organism is detected and nothing else
- Assay sensitivity – the organism is measured accurately within a certain range of detection
- Assay variation – if the sample is tested multiple times, in different batches, on different days, the result is within a very narrow margin of variation.
We’ve had GI-MAP tests re-run by the lab at no additional cost to our patients to confirm high or low results. This is superb customer service!
The lab tests patient samples alongside control samples, standard samples, and other controls to be sure that quality control requirements are met or exceeded at every step along the way.
qPCR testing is one of the most powerful and sensitive techniques available and is why testing always is our first step on the path to true gut healing for our patients.
Let’s Fix It!
Tired of using Dr. Google to determine why you’re having gut symptoms and what to do about it?!
Let’s figure out what’s bugging you using THIS amazing complete gut microbiome test… no more guessing! Contact EverVital Nutrition and schedule your FREE gut assessment today