Feeling bloated and fatigued all the time? Suffering from chronic infections? Perhaps you're dealing with unexplained brain fog? All of these symptoms, and plenty more, could be down to the state of your gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome refers to all of the microbes in your intestines. Research has found there are around 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body, compared with just 30 trillion human cells. So technically, we're more bacteria than human. “I like to think of us not as containing a microbiome but contained by a microbiome,” explains Catarina Veiga, a functional medicine practitioner and resident microbiome expert at Omnos.
The gut microbiome affects your body from the moment you’re born and forever after by impacting your digestion, immune system, central nervous system and lots of other functions within the body. Your microbiome will constantly have to adjust as you change your living environment as well as your diet. So, it makes sense that when things go wrong with our gut, the health implications can be far-reaching.
In this article we’ll take a look at how gut microbiome testing can help improve your understanding of what is going on with yours and look at some strategies you can use to improve the health of your gut.
Why should you take a gut test?
You might like to consider a gut bacteria test if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Autoimmune disease
- Food sensitivities
- Bloody stool
- Stomach pain
- Fever or vomiting
- Sleep issues
- Low libido
- Poor energy
- Mood issues
- Chronic or acute diarrhoea or constipation
- Blood sugar regulation problems
What does a gut test tell you?
Wondering ‘is there a test to check your gut bacteria’? The short answer is – yes! You can take a gut microbiome test which will give you plenty of insight into what is going on in your gut and how it affects your overall health.
For example, Omnos’ most comprehensive gut microbiome test tests for 112 biomarkers. It also looks at various strains of bacteria (and will explain which ones you are lacking in and which ones you have an overgrowth of), as well as viruses, parasites and yeast.
The test also includes looking at markers for pancreatic function, the inflammatory state of your gut lining as well as other functional digestive markers, e.g. inflammation, absorption, and immunity.
“If we find pathogenic bacteria, we have an immediate action to take: that is to remove that pathogen from your body. There is no point in starting to, for example, improve our intake of fibre if you have this compromising the whole system. You need to address the root cause to fix the gut,” explains Catarina.
How do I test my microbiome?
Before you undertake your gut health test, you need to decide which test you’d like to do. At Omnos, we currently offer:
Zonulin is a protein which can be used as a biomarker of impaired gut barrier function. Elevated levels of it in your sample help highlight if you have intestinal permeability (leaky gut).
H. pylori is a type of bacteria which can live in your digestive tract and damage the tissue of your stomach and part of your small intestine. This can cause inflammation and ulcers.
When it comes to how to test gut microbiome, both tests are straightforward. Once you’ve ordered the test, we will send you a testing kit. You will take two stool samples over two days, and then return it to our lab where we’ll get to work testing it. We’ve got a detailed instruction video you can watch to learn more: How to Take Omnos Microbiome Test at Home.
As for when to take your gut test, it's important you take your test between Saturday and Tuesday, and ship out your sample no later than Wednesday to ensure your sample is in good condition when it reaches the lab for examination. If you’re on any prescription drugs, please contact us before you take the test as, depending on what the medication is, you may need to pause them for the test if possible.
What issues might a gut test highlight?
Some of the most common gut imbalances we see are a leaky gut and dysbiosis. “We know now that gut dysbiosis and leaky gut are connected to major diseases, and our lifestyle and choices and place of living will impact and modulate this imbalance,” explains Catarina.
Leaky gut (or gut permeability)
A healthy gut works like cheesecloth, allowing nutrients to pass through while blocking big food particles, pathogenic bacteria, yeast and parasites out. In a leaky gut though, the intestinal wall becomes compromised and everything can get through which can have major consequences on immunity, brain and even ageing.
Perhaps you already suspect you have it and are wondering what are the symptoms of a leaky gut? Some of the most common symptoms of a leaky gut include:
- digestive issues (like food allergies)
- chronic fatigue
- skin issues
- joint problems
“Dysbiosis is an imbalance in your gut flora. You can have an overgrowth and that is called SIBO, but you can also have undergrowth as well. You can also have a combination of the two,” explains Catarina. Some of the symptoms of dysbiosis include:
- bad breath
- constipation or diarrhoea
- mood issues like anxiety and depression
What to do with the results
You’ve sent your test off and your results are in - now what? It can be a bit overwhelming to wrap your head around 112 different biomarkers, but fortunately your report will break them down into a list of priorities for you.
“We give you a step-by-step process that looks at the recommendations and ranks them in order of priority. If for example there is a pathogenic status to be removed, that’s the first priority. So, you’ll look at the recommendations made for that, which is to remove sugar and see a microbiome specialist,” explains Christian Thomson, Head of Product at Omnos.
“Then you can move on to priority two and we start to look at other things that would be good for you to do. So, you can choose how many things you want to incorporate into your life, and you can see which things are the most important to start with first,” he adds.
General advice for improving your gut microbiome
While implementing individualised advice following testing is likely to give you the best results, there are steps you can take now to improve your gut microbiome.
“You get your microbiome from your mum during birth and then it’s essentially a report of your life, the people you’ve been in touch with, your household, the food you ate, where you travelled, the soil you touched, the water you drank, the air you breathe – and all of that will impact your microbiome and how your other organs are working,” explains Catarina. So, while you initially inherit your microbiome, where and how you live play a huge role in determining the ongoing health of it.
Here are three changes you could make today, to improve your gut microbiome in the future:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
“One of the proven interventions for microbiomes is omega-3, it’s known to have a very positive impact in reverting the microbiotic composition and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory compounds like short-chain fatty acids. This will boost immunity and help maintain the integrity of the intestinal walls,” explains Catarina. Opt for food sources where possible; cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are a good source.
- Dietary fibre
“Dietary fibre is something you can hopefully include in your diet every day and will work against any leakage or damage that your intestinal wall might have,” advises Catarina. Aim to increase whole food sources of fibre, like potatoes with their skins on, pulses like lentils and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
“Polyphenols are bioactive compounds that are proven to regulate inflammation, to modulate gut microbiome and also to work on the intestinal permeability,” explains Catarina. This includes foods like artichokes, dark chocolate, blackberries, green tea, blueberries and chicory.
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