Do Microbiome Gut-Health Tests Provide Personalized Health Information You Can Use?



Do Microbiome Gut-Health Tests Provide Personalized Health Information You Can Use?

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss/Garden of Healing



Microbes have been around forever, long since before we and all other mammals evolved. These microbes adapted to any environment inside each living thing, especially in their gastrointestinal tracts. In our digestive tract, these microbes started colonizing during birth, and they remain with us for the rest of our lives. This community of 100 trillion microorganisms is called our microbiome.

Scientists know our gut microbiomes influence metabolism, the immune system, physiology, and even our brain. It plays a vital role in synthesizing vitamins and amino acids, generating essential metabolites, and protecting against pathogens. It is evident gut integrity impacts our health, and supplements with live beneficial bacteria called probiotics can improve health markedly. We do not fully understand the cause-and-effect of interactions between our gut microbiomes and the rest of our bodies. Can diet drive certain health conditions like anxiety disorders, for example?

There are kits on the market for consumers to gain a better understanding of their unique gut microbiome. From the convenience of your home, these tests can help you determine which foods contribute to a healthy gut and a healthy brain. The data on a gut microbiome test can change over time. Factors such as diet, stress, and infections could rapidly transform parts of this microbial composition.

Testing might empower consumers to reshape their microbiome to improve their health. Some companies offer ongoing subscriptions to monitor your gut health over time, along with personalized supplements. Does this testing provide information you can use? Gut biome tests, also referred to as “gut flora testing” - are they legit?


Here are a few Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) Gut Health Tests:

Best for privacy and overall whole-health insight: Viome

Best for fungal support and if budget is a concern: BIOHM Gut Test

Best for bacterial support: Thryve Gut Health


Microbiome tests detect the presence of different species of microorganisms in a fecal sample. You get information such as the richness and diversity of the gut microbiome and how it compares to others. These tests are for people who want to learn more about their body and health and if gastrointestinal tract imbalances are the cause of these difficulties:


  • Constipation, diarrhea, & irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gas & bloating
  • Trouble digesting foods
  • Chronic fungal infections
  • Fatigue


How do the tests work?

Microbiome testing was not even possible over a decade ago. Next-generation sequencing and the rise of metagenomics now make it possible.

Microbes live on the mucus layer on top of our gut cells, where they have different preferences for oxygen and acidity. They slough off and end up in the stool, coming mostly from the colon, and this is your sample. You preserve the stool sample in a solution that aims to keep the community stable and without contamination as it travels by mail. Unfortunately, consumers often are not aware that this process influences the results that they might receive.

In a laboratory or hospital setting, samples are frozen, preventing any growth or change in the bacterial sample. Some direct-to-consumer testing companies do not provide research and comparisons into how their solution, compared to freezing, changes the bacterial community's composition. Microbes usually live inside a gut, and certain conditions can alter this composition, making it a less reliable indicator for the gut microbiome.

To determine what microbes are present in your sample, researchers in a laboratory break up the cells to collect their genetic material. Bioinformaticians then figure out what exactly was in this sample and make some predictions.

How reliable are these predictions? Is the data easily understandable to the layperson? Testing companies must be honest about what they can tell you.

Scientists can count the different microbes in your sample and make predictions about their metabolic activities but knowing whether a microbiome is healthy is still not possible. Diet, genetics, time of day, stress, sample collection, or bioinformatics analysis could influence your result.

Sequencing specific genes might tell you which bacteria are there, but it will not tell you about their metabolic functions. The fecal microbiome is different from the intestinal microbiome. It does not tell us about other regions of the gut, where the microbiome plays physiological roles.

There are many aspects of the microbiome puzzle, and we do not know how closely they come together to predict or influence our health. Despite this uncertainty, the market value for microbiome supplements will reach over $70 billion by 2025. The promise of personalized medicine and health is tempting. The microbiome sounds like an excellent place to start.

We know what foods are generally healthy. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, seeds, and fish provide us and our microbiome with many benefits. Will there ever be a way to reliably understand how the microbiome in each of us responds to food? It is unclear if we can identify foods to modify the microbiome and whether changing the composition improves health outcomes.



© 2020 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing LLC. All rights reserved.

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