Why test your gut microbiome?

Author: Dr Alena Pribyl and Rebecca Morehouse

17 September 2019 Education
gut microbiome test

There's growing interest and excitement around the idea of microbiome testing. Thanks to developments in medical technology over the past decade, gut microbiome testing is easy, efficient, highly detailed, and far more accessible than ever before.

In fact, today you can access world-leading insights into the unique microbial community in your gut without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

However, despite the progress, questions still remain for many people as the technology and conversations surrounding microbiome testing continue to evolve.

“Although it may be easy to test my gut microbiome, why should I? What is the benefit? What sort of information will I be able to discover? Is it worth it?”

While the detailed answers to these questions will vary from person to person, there are some general and compelling reasons for testing your gut microbiome.

Understanding your gut microbiome can provide insights into your wider health and wellbeing.

There are strong links between your gut microbiome and your health and wellbeing. The microbial community in your gut can perform a wide range of metabolic functions, from digesting fibre and protein, to producing thousands of substances that can interact with our immune, metabolic and nervous systems, all the way to transforming the medicines we take.

By testing your gut microbiome, you can learn more about the functions of your own gut microbiome and check that it is helping to keep you healthy and not contributing to making you sick. Using a metagenomic gut microbiome test, you will learn:

Your microbial diversity level
Access highly detailed information about the diversity of microorganisms inhabiting your gut.

Your potential to breakdown nutrients
Discover the potential of your gut microbiome to breakdown macronutrients such as, fibre, protein, simple sugars and fats.

Your potential to produce substances associated with health
Uncover the gene potential of your gut microbiome to produce substances linked to health, such as folate.

Obtain a comprehensive list of the microbial species present
Whether it’s a well known species or newly discovered, you will get a full list of the different bacteria and archaea present in your gut.

Receive tailored guidance from a Microbiome Coach
Gain a deeper understanding of your Insight™ report and discuss your personalised shopping list of food suggestions with a qualified health professional.

Interested to see the potential of your microbiome to breakdown nutrients and produce beneficial substances? Learn more about Microba Insight™.

Although we are only at the tip of the iceberg in discovering the numerous ways our gut microbiome can influence our health, there is already a compelling amount of evidence to suggest gut health is closely linked with the following health areas:

Diabetes and obesity
Research has revealed an interplay between the gut microbiome, our metabolic system, and metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Studies have indicated that the gut microbiome in people with metabolic disorders have a reduced ability to produce beneficial substances derived from bacterial fibre digestion such as the short chain fatty acid butyrate1–3 and indolepropionic acid4,5, and an increased ability to produce branched chain amino acids1,3 and the pro-inflammatory substances lipopolysaccharides3,6,7 and trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO)8. Human trials have successfully used diet intervention (fibre) to modify the gut microbiome in type 2 diabetes patients, improving blood-glucose regulation9. Research has also demonstrated that the type 2 diabetes drug, Metformin, works through beneficially modifying the gut microbiome10,11.

Anxiety and depression
Mental conditions such as anxiety and depression have been linked to the gut microbiome12,13. Exactly how the gut microbiome may be influencing anxiety and depression is still being investigated. Thus far we know that some gut bacteria can produce or consume neurotransmitters such as GABA, norepinephrine and dopamine and that some bacterial substances can increase the production of serotonin in the gut14,15. However, the effects of bacterially produced neurotransmitters in humans have not been well studied yet. This is an area to keep watching!

gut microbiome test

Cardiovascular disease
The connection between the gut microbiome and cardiovascular diseases is becoming increasingly strong16–19. Cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis have been associated with decreased gut bacteria diversity16, decreased gene potential to produce the beneficial short chain fatty acid butyrate17, and increased potential to produce the pro-inflammatory substances trimethylamine-n-oxide16,17,20 and lipopolysaccharides16.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are among the first diseases to be linked to the gut microbiome and among the best studied. Common patterns observed in people with IBD include decreased bacterial diversity21–23, decreased gene potential to produce the beneficial short chain fatty acids butyrate and acetate22–25, decreased potential to break down fibre23, and an increased potential to produce lipopolysaccharides22,23. Researchers are currently investigating if targeting the gut microbiome could help prevent and treat IBD.

Sports nutrition
A new area scientists are investigating is how exercise may impact the gut microbiome, and conversely, if the gut microbiome can influence athletic performance. Thus far, small scale studies have shown that regular exercise can increase the production of beneficial short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiome26,27. And recently, it was discovered that marathon runners have a higher abundance of a specific bacterial species that can convert lactic acid into the beneficial short chain fatty acid, propionate, which helps prevent drops in blood sugar levels28.

And more
The influence of the gut microbiome on our health is a rapidly developing area and new connections are continuously being uncovered. To find out more, take a look at the latest scientific literature.

While the research continues to develop and change, so does your gut microbiome.

Like all ecosystems, your microbiome is in a constant state of change. However, once you have a snapshot of your baseline, you can make evidence-based decisions to maintain or promote a positive balance over time.

Your microbiome can be influenced by numerous factors. The most influential factor is what you eat, however other lifestyle factors such as stress, medications, exercise, age, sleep and your environment can also influence your gut microbiome. This means that changes to any of these circumstances may shift your gut microbiome.

In general, studies have observed that people maintain a set of “core” species29, but the abundance of those species will shift with changes to the listed lifestyle factors30,31. With gut microbiome testing, you can closely monitor the impact of any changes you may make to your lifestyle.

When you understand your microbial community, you can:

Take positive steps to reinforce existing, ‘positive’ bacteria
With the information in a gut microbiome report, you can make informed decisions to promote a positive microbial balance in your gut. For example, if your gut microbiome shows a decreased potential to produce beneficial short chain fatty acids, however you have several beneficial species that produce short chain fatty acids at low abundance, you can take steps to change your diet or other lifestyle factors to promote the growth of those beneficial species.

Keep your gut microbiome in balance
You want to make sure your gut microbiome has an even balance of species and does not have a high potential to produce substances that can promote inflammation or are associated with disease states. If your gut microbiome starts to show an overgrowth of a species or a high potential to produce substances associated with poor health (such as lipopolysaccharides or trimethylamine), you can evaluate recent changes to your diet and lifestyle and make tweaks to bring your gut microbiome back into the healthy range.

Interested in establishing a baseline snapshot of your gut microbiome? Or monitoring changes over time? Learn more with Microba Insight™ home testing kit.

You can use your insights for informed conversations with health professionals.

Once you’ve established your initial insights, you can use them with the support of a relevant healthcare provider who is familiar with the role of the gut microbiome in health.

In partnership with the right health professional, a report outlining the balance of your gut microbiome and its potential to produce health-associated substances can be a valuable tool in your overall health care.

Please note, if you have a medical condition or take regular medication, it is important to speak to your medical practitioner(s) before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.

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