Microbiome testing is a popular way of understanding the health of our gut. The area of gut health has grown recently as gut health has shown to have remarkable effects on overall health.
“Understanding the gut microbiome, its role in modulating the gut immune response, and learning about interactions between microbiome changes and systemic disease is one of the hottest areas of medical research in fields such as gastroenterology, immunology, and infectious disease” says gastroenterologist, Jeff Kreikemeier, MD.
Our intestinal tract houses trillions of microbes that help the body in various ways. Good bacteria found in the gut support metabolism, immune regulation, brain function and a healthy body weight. The gut microbiome is unique for each individual and consists of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. Maintaining a balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria is key to optimal gut and brain health. An unbalanced ecosystem can result in gastrointestinal disorders, food sensitivities, decreased immunity, and mental health disturbances.
How Do I Know If My Gut Is Healthy?
Companies such as Ombre, Viome, Thorne, Wellnicity, Flore, and Biohm are popular microbiome tests available in the market which aim to answer that question. Testing kits range in price from $100 to $330. Through a (your!) provided fecal sample, they claim they can help you understand the balance of your good and bad bacteria. Most companies also offer food and/or supplement recommendations to improve your gut health.
After your initial test, many people correctly wonder: “did my gut health improve?” According to most company’s recommendations, you’ll be encouraged to purchase a follow up microbiome test to reassess.
Does Science Support Microbiome Testing?
Understanding that our gut microbiome is in constant flux is a key limitation to these tests. What you eat today can create a different profile of bacteria from what you ate the previous week. In fact, diet changes can alter the gut microbiome within 24-48 hours. Other major influences on gut health include medicines, sleep, stress and environment. A major limitation of microbiome testing is that your fecal sample is a single snapshot in time of the current gut microbiome status.
Dr. Kreikemier confirms that “Preliminary data suggests that changes in gut microbiome occur with stress, medication use, as well as dietary changes.” His opinion of microbiome testing is that “it’s not ready…yet. While the hypotheses are based on biological plausibility, the rush to “prescribe” testing of the microbiota and then offer subsequent treatment is premature.”
Dr. Kreikemeier noted while home testing is convenient, it’s only effective when the result is simple, interpretable, and has clearly proven treatment strategies. Currently, there are no commonly accepted definitions of “normal” or “abnormal” microbiomes. Some of the inherent problems are that a “normal” microbiome is likely unique to an individual and the microbiome changes over time.
Data is also lacking in knowledge related to balancing one’s microbiome. We’ve had clients feel confused with report recommendations. “They’re telling me to eat more lentils and spinach, but I’m plant-based, and I already eat those foods regularly!” Our dietitians have also noted that strict food recommendations sometimes create unnecessary fear around food. People end of limiting healthy foods that might benefit their health in other ways. Microbiome testing presents an opportunity to understand your body better, but doesn’t yet deliver the promises they claim to offer.
All about You
As dietitians at McDaniel Nutrition, we do believe that optimizing gut health is key to supporting overall health and plays a vital role in conditions like obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cardiovascular disease. If you’d like to learn how to better support your own personal gut health through sound nutrition practices, your everyday lifestyle choices and evidence-based diagnostic testing, check out our “Got Good Gut Health?” program with Registered Dietitian, Melissa Brown and Gastroenterologist from POSTRX MD, Dr. Jeff Kriekemeier.
Our next session will be held at the first part of 2023!