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What are Microbiome Tests & What Does It Measure? | How is Microbiome Tests Done, Its Interpretation and Costs

What Are Microbiome Tests?

Microbiome tests are those tests, which quantify the amount of microorganisms present in the gastrointestinal tract. These tests give an idea about the amounts and types of microorganisms present in the gut. A microbiome test is used for measuring the gut flora in a stool sample and can be taken to find out the various types of bacteria present in their GI tract.(1) However, these tests should not be used for the purpose of self-diagnosis. Always consult your doctor when suffering from any issues of gastrointestinal tract.

What Exactly Does The Microbiome Test Measure?

Microbiome testing measures various levels and types of microorganisms present in the gastrointestinal tract. There are more than 200 forms of bacteria, fungi and viruses present in the gastrointestinal tract of humans.(2) According to studies, these microorganisms can play a role in chronic diseases like: Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease.

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Different tests give different levels of analysis or results. A few tests can offer a broad overview of the bacteria present in the gut; whereas some tests can give a deeper analysis where they can differentiate various subtypes of bacteria.

How is Microbiome Test Done?

The microbiome testing is commonly done on a person’s stool sample.

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There are two types of stool testing offered by the company. The first type of test is to look for any markers, which can indicate any illness and the second testing comprises of extracting DNA.

A sample of the stool test is taken and the bacteria which is found in it is grown, which allows to determine what form of bacteria is responsible for certain symptoms like diarrhea and based on that, the treatment is recommended.

However, microbiome testing done commercially is highly likely to use DNA analysis where the DNA is extracted from the stool sample and analyzed for number and types of bacteria present in the stool.

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However, according to Guts UK, the analysis done by the commercial testing is not actually helpful, as the types and the number of bacteria present in the stool changes from one sample to the other and a few bacteria can be present on the gut wall also instead of in the stool sample.(3)

Other than this, the testing cannot reveal if the bacteria are dead or alive other than that they are present in the sample.

Which Microbiome Test To Choose?

Before going for a microbiome test, it is important to see that the product and the company meet the following criteria:

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  • Analysis: It is important to see that the microbiome test provides the analysis of the stool sample in depth.
  • Explanation: The explanation should be easy to understand.
  • Privacy: Patients who want their information to remain confidential should go for tests from companies which have a strong confidentiality policy.

After the stool sample is sent to the lab, then the company will test it and send a comprehensive test analysis report which reviews the patient’s overall health along with the joint health and also gives recommendations in reaching health goals.

Who Can Get A Microbiome Test?

One doesn’t need to be suffering from a digestive condition to get a microbiome test done. Anyone who wants to know more about their GI system can go for this test. If you suspect you are suffering from any chronic condition, then you should immediately consult your doctor regarding diagnosis and treatment.

Assessing the Microbiome Tests

Anyone who orders online microbiome test has to mail a stool sample to the lab of the company using the prepaid envelope of their testing kit.

Results can be gotten in few days to weeks, which help in finding out the types of microbes present in the stool sample along with sensitivities to any food item the patient might be suffering from. It is important to note that these tests cannot be used instead of a doctor’s consultation and the results should not be taken as a replacement for professional diagnosis.

The fact of the matter is these types of home test kits do not have the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it can also give wrong results.(1) Anyone suffering from digestive symptoms should consult doctor for proper physical exam, tests, diagnosis and treatment.

Interpretation of the Microbiome Test Results

After sending your stool sample to the company, you will get the result in few days which will provide information regarding the various kinds of bacteria and other markers that are present in the stool, when it was sent for testing. Even though the results from the microbiome test gives information about the type of bacteria present in the person’s stools, according to Guts UK, these results are not of importance to the healthcare professionals. According to research there is not sufficient technology or knowledge in order to use the results of the microbiome tests in clinical care, but with time one hopes that this situation changes.(4)

However, if the result of the microbiome test is worrisome, then it is also important to contact your health care provider immediately.

How Much Does The Microbiome Testing Cost?

The cost of the microbiome home test varies and also depends on the company. There are some companies, which offer subscription plans as well as one-time purchases. The cost is more if there are additional features like: one-on-one support; personalized advice and tracking result on an app.

Does Insurance Cover the Cost of Microbiome Testing?

If your physician is ordering this test, then the insurance can cover its cost.

What are the Symptoms of Gut Issues?

Symptoms of gut issues are: Fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, such as constipation, bloating, heartburn and diarrhea; sugar cravings; food intolerances and skin problems, such as psoriasis, acne and eczema.

Steps to Manage Gut Health

  • Limit the consumption of processed foods and sugar.
  • Probiotic supplements or consumption of kombucha, yogurt and kimchi.
  • Getting sufficient sleep.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Stress management.
  • Keeping the body hydrated

The recommendation of United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is to avoid foods, which cause heartburn, such as tomatoes and other citrus fruits.(5) It is also to be noted that consumption of onions and wheat can lead to IBS.

According to the recommendation of the NHS these strategies should be followed for digestion health:

  • Lot of fiber intake.
  • Spicy foods should be avoided which cause stomach problems.
  • Drinking plenty of water helps in softening of the stool and making it easier to pass through the digestive system.
  • Keeping a food diary is recommended where you can write down the symptoms, which develop after eating specific meals.

What to Consider Before Undergoing Microbiome Tests?

As mentioned before, the FDA has not approved the use of home microbiome tests, which means that these tests are not assessed for safety or accuracy. Microbiome tests only help in finding the type of bacteria present in the stool and do not diagnose any health condition. When suffering from GI issues, it is important to consult your doctor and also consider getting a food sensitivity test done.

When to Consult Your Doctor About Gut Microbiome?

Consult your doctor immediately when suffering from the following symptoms: blood in stool, persistent vomiting, diarrhea, nausea; appetite loss; unintentional weight loss; choking; difficulty in swallowing and chronic bloating, constipation or gas.

A referral to a gastroenterologist will be given if the physician feels the need for it.

Conclusion

Microbiome tests are done to identify the type of bacteria present in the stool of the patient at the time of testing. Different types of tests look at different markers and accordingly the patient’s personalized reports along with recommendations of adjustment to the diet are given.

However, microbiome tests should not be used as a diagnostic tool and should not be considered as a replacement for professional advice and treatment.

References:

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