How Do You Test Your Gut Microbiome?
Your gut microbiome is a huge reflection of your health. Made up of both "good" and "bad" microbes; the gut microbiome relies on a balance in microbe populations. An imbalanced gut microbiome can lead to an overgrowth in harmful microbe colonies, including yeasts like Candida and bacteria like E. coli. There are ways to test what's in your gut and see if you have a microbial equilibrium, including an at-home test you can do without having to send anything to a lab.
What's a Gut Microbiome Test?
Your gut microbiome consists of over 200 different strains of microbes, and microbiome testing can tell you what types of microbes are present in your GI system.
As opposed to testing at your doctor's office, a gut microbiome home test kit lets you conduct at-home testing. After you receive the kit, you can send a stool sample to the lab and wait for your results. It may take days or even weeks to hear back as the sample is analyzed. Whereas at-home microbiome tests are less likely to be covered by health insurance, they typically cost less than $200 to order to your home.
What Your Gut Microbiome Test Result Tells You
By analyzing the species of microbes and inflammatory markers in your GI tract, gut microbiome tests screen for gut problems by looking at inflammatory markers and identifying gut flora strains. Inflammation can be a sign of potential food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Celiac disease, and more. However, a home microbiome test can't be used to self-diagnose any disease or condition.
Limitations of Microbiome Testing at Home
If you have chronic digestive ailments or suspect you have a gut-related disease, you should skip self-testing and go see your doctor. If your doctor suspects food sensitivities or allergies are the cause, a blood test is more suitable to diagnose them. In any case, getting a diagnosis typically requires multiple tests and doctor's visits. Home microbiome testing kits aren't FDA approved, so there's limited regulation around the tests to confirm they meet quality standards.
Signs and Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
An imbalanced gut means the friendly gut flora populations can't contain the bad gut flora and stop it from wreaking havoc on gastrointestinal health. It can cause Candida overgrowth, for example, when acid-producing yeast takes up residence in the GI tract. Signs of an imbalanced gut can include stomach ailments like frequent bloating, acid reflux, flatulence, constipation, or diarrhea.
However, gut microbe imbalance can also reflect in your energy levels and mood, as well as worsen mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. In fact, gut microbe imbalance can even play a role in the pathology of several diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Best Ways to Improve Gut Health and Balance Your Microbiome
Microbes in your body number in the trillions. According to the National Institutes of Health, they outnumber your human cells by ten to one. They account for an average of two percent of your body's mass and have a huge say in your overall health. That said, your immune system, muscle function, and other bodily actions rely on optimal gut microbiome balance. Here are the best ways you can boost your gut health and promote balance:
Probiotics are friendly bacteria strains in supplement form, and they've been shown to help restore healthy gut microbe balance when taken regularly. Taking probiotic supplements like MTS Machine Uptake or O15 Happy Gutz, can improve digestive symptoms in the short term if you're experiencing symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. Over the long term, probiotics can help rebalance and restore the equilibrium of your gut microbiome.
Whereas probiotics are beneficial microbial strains, prebiotics are beneficial fibers found in certain foods. For beneficial gut flora, prebiotics serve as a food source. Some probiotic supplements contain prebiotics to help improve the absorption and long-term colonization of probiotics. You can also get more prebiotics in your diet by eating more garlic, onions, bananas, apples, and oats. Fermented foods are also a source of prebiotics.
Fermented foods are foods that have undergone a fermentation process, where good bacteria in the foods convert sugars into alcohols or acids. Sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso are some examples of fermented foods. There are also fermented drinks, including kombucha and kefir. Incorporating fermented foods and drinks into your diet can help you get more probiotics and prebiotics in your system to promote equilibrium. They're also nutrient-dense and have disease-fighting properties.
Where gut health is concerned, it's not just about what you eat. What you feel also matters because there's an emotional center in the gut. When nerves in the gut are chronically overstimulated or stressed, the microbiome balance can suffer.
Yoga, breathing exercises, journaling, and other stress management techniques can help bring the nervous system into balance. In turn, microbiome balance can be restored, along with normal hormone function. Getting regular exercise is an important way to manage stress, as it's known to reduce stress hormones and directly improve your mood.