What is home to trillions of tiny bugs; in a constant state of change; and as unique as a fingerprint?
It’s the human gut microbiome.
Established at birth and influenced by countless environmental factors throughout a lifetime – including what you eat, where you live, and whether you had a pet as a child – the human microbiome is an absolute marvel of human biology.
Also known as the gut flora, the gut microbiome is a complex and dynamic community of bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, fungi, protozoa, and viruses within the digestive system. The mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine are important parts of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), and each part contains microbes that collectively influence both physical and mental health and well-being.
Some ways that the gut microbiome influences health include helping with digestion, nutrient absorption, metabolic function, immune response, and protection against disease-causing pathogenic bacteria. Research suggests the state of the gut microbiome may even provide relief for symptoms of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel disease.
As you can now begin to understand, it’s immensely beneficial to know what’s going on inside your gut microbiome. And, one way to look inwards and learn about the diversity of your gut microbiota is through gut microbiome testing.
But first, what is the current and most reliable method of testing the gut microbiome?
Metagenomics is the most advanced method to test the diversity of bugs living in the gut microbiome. And, what is metagenomics? It’s defined as the direct genetic analysis of the diversity of genomes contained within an environmental sample.
A genome is the complete set of DNA for an individual organism.
Each person’s gut microbiome is made up of a community of hundreds of species of microorganisms. To explore and understand the diversity of these communities, scientists use metagenomic stool analysis. A single stool test sample contains hundreds of different microorganisms, and therefore, hundreds of different genomes.
Incredibly, the data that can be collected from a simple stool sample delivers billions of DNA bases consisting of typically 600,000 microbial genes, and over 5,000 gut bugs. According to Microba, metagenomic sequencing enables a species-level profile of the diversity of microorganisms inhabiting a person’s gut, as well as information on what those microorganisms are capable of doing.
5 reasons why it’s important to test your gut microbiome
1. Learn personalised insights
With your gut microbial community playing an important role in a variety of metabolic functions, from digesting fibre and protein, to being a key factor in hormonal balance and modulating medication effectiveness, the state of your overall gut health is a major influence on your total health and well-being.
Gut microbiome testing measures the types of bacteria living in your gut and what they are doing; your gut’s health potential and how it’s influencing other areas of your health; and how your gut microbiome compares to a “healthy microbiome group”.
Armed with the knowledge of what’s going on in your gut microbiome, you’ll be in a better position to address any issues, and potentially decrease symptom severity of certain health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Crohn’s disease.
2. Establish your gut microbiome baseline
Like all complex and dynamic ecosystems, your gut microbiome is constantly changing in response to environmental, dietary, and other lifestyle factors. Once you’ve identified your gut microbiota baseline, you can make evidence-informed decisions to maintain or promote a healthy balance over time. This is particularly important if you are experiencing symptoms that feel ‘gut related’ or have recently been through health challenges. It’s always beneficial to have a starting point.
3. Find out what prebiotics can benefit your gut flora
The hallmark of a healthy gut microbiome is diversity, with a number of studies observing a lower diversity of gut microbiota being linked with certain diseases or symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. So, although it may seem unusual to have trillions of tiny bugs living inside your gut, having a rich variety of species inhabiting the digestive tract is actually a good thing.
A balanced community of gut bacteria assists in important bodily functions, such as digestion, the absorption and production of essential nutrients, and regulation of the immune, hormone, metabolic and nervous systems. The more diversity within your gut microbiota, the higher the potential it has to support these mind and body functions.
Stool microbiome tests enable the opportunity to identify any imbalances that exist within the gut flora, so these imbalances can be addressed through lifestyle and dietary changes, like prebiotics.
What are prebiotics?
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), the current definition of a prebiotic is:
“A substrate that is selectively utilised by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit”.
In simple terms, prebiotics are a form of food for the community of beneficial gut microbes inhabiting the digestive tract. Technically, humans can’t break down prebiotic foods, that’s the role of our friendly gut bacteria. When they feed on these prebiotic fibres & starches, the bi-product or waste the bacteria produce are a variety of beneficial compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids.
Prebiotics play a role in improving mineral absorption, regulating immune system function, modulating satiety (feeling of fullness), improving bowel habits, promoting metabolic health (e.g. insulin resistance), reducing the risk of allergies, and improving symptoms of irritable bowel diseases(IBD).
A diverse range of prebiotics can help to keep your gut microbiome happy and healthy. With Vidality microbiome stool tests, scientists perform stool sample analysis to produce microbiome test results, including which types of prebiotics may be beneficial in addressing any imbalances within your gut microbiome. We call these, Precision Prebiotics.
4. Keep your gut microbiome balanced
When you understand your microbial community, you can make positive dietary and lifestyle changes to reinforce existing “good bacteria”, and maintain the balance of your gut microbiome.
Like everything in life, balance is key. When your gut microbiome is out of balance, meaning too many of certain types of bacteria and not enough of others, this can create the potential for inflammation and may increase the risk of some health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome.
If an overgrowth of a particular bacteria is detected in your personal gut microbiome, you can introduce changes to your diet and lifestyle to address the health risk with the aim to return your gut microbiome to a healthy balance.
For a gut microbiome with a higher potential to restrict healthy glucose regulation, B-glucans (a type of fibre) can be used to increase the production of propionate in the gut – a compound that helps the body regulate glucose levels.
For a gut microbiome that needs support to fuel gut cells, resistant starch found in green banana flour can be used to increase the production of butyrate in the gut. Butyrate is the primary energy source for the gut and is needed to keep gut cells performing at their peak.
5. Monitor changes
You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
The gut microbiome is highly malleable, in that it is constantly changing in response to environmental, dietary, and lifestyle factors, such as stress, travel, and sleep quality. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to adequately address any issues related to “gut health” without knowing precisely what’s going on inside.
In fact, addressing any gut microbiome health concerns without a clear knowledge of the current state of the gut microbiome can lead to harmful side effects. For example, someone with inflammatory bowel disease should avoid high-fibre foods during periods of inflammation as these foods can cause further inflammation and severe side effects. Once inflammation resolves, high-fibre foods can be reintroduced gradually over a long period of time.
Gut microbiome tests place you in the driver’s seat of managing your health, enabling you to access an established profile of your gut microbiome, so you can better understand the state of your health. The more you understand about your gut microbiome, the more you can do to optimise it.
Over time, you can track the effectiveness of implementations, like prebiotics, and how they contribute towards greater cultivation of diversity within your microbiome.
Interested in finding out what’s going on in your gut?
Take the Vidality at-home gut microbiome test and address your insights with personalised prebiotics blends.
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Dilip KC, Riley Sumner & Steven Lippmann (2020) Gut microbiota and health, Postgraduate Medicine, 132:3, 274, DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2019.1662711
Alam, Mohammad Tauqeer et al. “Microbial imbalance in inflammatory bowel disease patients at different taxonomic levels.” Gut pathogens vol. 12 1. 4 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1186/s13099-019-0341-6
Manichanh, C et al. “Reduced diversity of faecal microbiota in Crohn’s disease revealed by a metagenomic approach.” Gut vol. 55,2 (2006): 205-11. doi:10.1136/gut.2005.073817
Velikonja, Ana et al. “Alterations in gut microbiota composition and metabolic parameters after dietary intervention with barley beta glucans in patients with high risk for metabolic syndrome development.” Anaerobe vol. 55 (2019): 67-77. doi:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2018.11.002
McOrist, Alexandra L et al. “Fecal butyrate levels vary widely among individuals but are usually increased by a diet high in resistant starch.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 141,5 (2011): 883-9. doi:10.3945/jn.110.128504