Gut microbiome testing

Gut testing kits and more specifically microbiome testing has caused a paradigm shift in views and opinions due in part to recent scientific research and breakthroughs. The role of microbes living within the human gut as well as their diversity has changed the view of what causes diseases. In fact, some bacteria in the microbiome can even protect our bodies from infections and diseases, therefore, they also have an impact on our overall health.

What is a gut microbiome test?

A gut microbiome test is basically a DNA or RNA test for types of microbes in the gut. You can think of it in terms of a genetic picture of microbes that gives us information about the microbiome. This then serves as a window to our overall health. Scientists believe that the results of a gut biome test can hold the key to disease prevention and treatment. 

The microbiome DNA test also attests to the uniqueness of your microbiome which is quite important. Think of it as an individual’s gut fingerprint. Consider the Human Microbiome Project, researchers examined 242 individuals over a year. When they compared the results, they found out that each individual has a gut microbiome that differs from the others. The implications of these results are interesting. Certain foods that are popular and said to promote wellness could, in fact, be unhealthy or incompatible with certain people. This due to their gut microbiome especially since foods are not digested in the same way, it might lead to inflammation or allergic reactions. 

What can gut dna test results show?

Through gut dna and microbiome tests, it is possible to identify worms, inflammation, malabsorption, pathogens and autoimmune triggering markers. Therefore the results of a microbiome DNA test may help to analyze the likelihood of conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and gastroenteritis. Testing gut microbes testing may reveal other conditions and symptoms such as:

  • How these microbes may produce digestion symptoms such as bloating
  • Autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease
  • Food sensitivities such as Celiac disease
  • Mental clarity as in Alzheimer’s disease, 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skin conditions
  • Joint pain
  • Heart disease
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss

What is microbiome and how does it impact our health

The microbiome is the term that describes the genetic material of all microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that naturally reside in the human body. The vast volumes of microbes in the gut are worth noting, an individual can have hundreds of different species of bacteria in their gut. It is interesting to note that the number of genes in all the microbes in a person’s microbiome can be up to 200 times more than the number of genes that are in the human biome. 

Consider just bacteria. There may be more than 10 times more bacteria in the human gut than there are living cells that make up the human body. These microbes form an integrated ecosystem in the intestines, especially within the colon. A gut bacteria test kit can find out information about all these bacteria species that have an effect on the kinds of medications we take, the kinds of diet we eat and the types of diseases that affect us. 

How do microbes arrive in the gut? Scientists believe that they arrive in the gut before birth. Research shows that the microbes are passed on from the mother to the offspring through vertical transmission. These microbes reside all the way from the mouth to the end of the colon. When children are weaned and exposed to new foods, the ecosystem of microbes has become more established. This hints at the fact that our lifestyle and diet affect these microbes. When beneficial bacteria are in large quantities, it prevents harmful bacteria from growing and reproducing thus preventing diseases. 

In the abnormal state, the microbes can be sources of inflammation and infection. Some are even thought to contribute to diseases such as obesity and can activate allergies. But the benefits of naturally occurring bacteria outweigh the rare abnormal cases where they cause disease. 

Also, having an imbalance of gut bacteria may lead to malabsorption of key nutrients such as vitamin B1, vitamin B12, Omega-3 fatty acids amongst others. This is why having probiotics in the diet is encouraged. These include yogurt and kefir. The process that leads to malabsorption can lead to syndromes and can be the root of many chronic diseases.

Having a fiber-rich diet is also good for microbes in the gut. The bacteria feed on the fiber which the body can’t digest by itself. Enough fiber in the diet also prevents the bacteria from destroying the lining of the gut. If they do, they can invade the bloodstream and trigger immune responses, set off inflammation and in rare cases lead to sepsis. This moreover, highlights the need for a gut biome test. The role of these microbiotas in the diagnosis of various disorders and allergies can not be overlooked, and their relevance with autoimmune diseases is expanding.

How to test your gut bacteria 

This involves receiving a home testing kit after you placed an order online for the gut microbiome test. The kit includes all the materials needed for the sample collection, a questionnaire to fill out as well as the detailed instructions to follow. Before ordering a test kit, you can check their website for a sample results report, this will give you some idea of what they entail. You then send in your fecal sample for a gut microbiome test which analyzed in a lab. The sample only needs to be a small pea-sized amount and can be taken at any time of the day. Scientists first, isolate and then sequence the nonhuman DNA or RNA in your sample. This allows scientists to obtain the microbiome or genetic snapshot of your microbiota. Most of the microbiome companies present the results about 4 weeks after they receive your sample and they usually communicate via emails. 

The analysis that follows the gut DNA test will determine the species of bacteria in your microbiome, how active these organisms are, the uniqueness of your microbiome and the specific nutrients or toxins produced from your diet. Some of these companies use artificial intelligence algorithms that compare your results to huge databases of information and generate unique recommendations based on the results. As well as identifying the exact microbes existing in the gut. These recommendations include how to have a balanced diet that suits your gut microbes, how to achieve a better microbial balance in your gut which promotes good health, the kinds of foods that are most compatible with your metabolism and the overall purpose would be to increase your energy, focus, and well-being.

Most people with these diseases or autoimmune disorders show abnormal microbiota but it is disputed if the abnormal microbiome is a symptom of the disease or whether it is part of the causes of the disease. However, research into how the gut microbiome affects our health is still ongoing. Even though the testing processes are scientifically sound the conclusions drawn are not yet 100% trustworthy. However many studies have shown that abnormal microbes or microbe imbalance are associated with diseases like obesity, Crohn’s disease, certain cancers, and even cardiovascular disease. This can be due to abnormal microbiome usually showing much less diversity of bacteria than the ordinary microbiome. 

However one of the best and most well-known tests on the market is the Viome microbiome testing kit. What distinguishes this test from the others is their technology and their expansive databases. The viome test has been proclaimed as the world’s most advanced gut microbiome test. The best gut microbiome test also includes products from smartDNA and Thryve.  

Facts about Viome microbiome testing

The advances in their technology are two-fold. One involves metatranscriptomic sequencing technology. This allows the Viome scientists to observe the gut microorganisms in real-time and analyze their activities such as how they metabolize food if they produce certain toxins that may cause bodily harm, how they function in the body and how they reproduce. It is amazing that they analyze trillions of active microbes in just a few weeks. It is astonishing to consider the intricate details this test can investigate. For instance, it can tell if you’re eating too much of a certain nutrient like iron and if you’re inadvertently giving a chance for harmful bacteria such as Shigella and Salmonella to sprout.  

Artificial intelligence is the other pillar of Viome’s technology. Since the company is a market leader, its artificial intelligence engine has access to a large database of information and results. It uses this bank of information to compare your results with other data to give you the best findings. Their AI machine named Vie is run by an expert team of scientists and it is said to be peer-reviewed and constantly tested to produce the best outcomes. Vie is fed with data from your microbiome, molecular data from the latest scientific publications as well as metadata from experts and previous research. Vie then analyses these data sets with a unique view of your microbiome and produces feedback with recommendations. Viome claims to produce unbiased analysis and they focus on living microbes, unlike other microbiome companies.

Viome test claims to find all microorganisms living in your gut which include bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, as well as eukaryotes and that their test allows evaluation of pathway activities that can lead to truly unique health insights and actionable recommendations with molecular-level precision based on the findings of the test.

The results from Viome include a full list of the active organisms found within your sample, 20 personalized gut microbiome scores that show the present state of your microbiome, and personalized food recommendations that are unique to you and asserted by a team of medical doctors, nutritionists, and naturopathic doctors who may also recommend supplements or probiotics. The recommendations are solely based on the activity of your gut microbes and the information you provided the company.

It is interesting to note that Viome does not claim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The results are supposed to be used for informational purposes only and should not replace consultations with qualified health care professionals. Customers are also encouraged to seek answers from their doctor for their personal medical questions. The pros of using Viome include: 

  • Their novel technology in analyzing microbiome activity
  • Their detail reports backed by leading scientists 
  • Their large database 
  • Their own biased approach emphasized by the fact that they don’t sell other products such as supplements or probiotics. 

Instead of the healthcare system’s focus on suppressing symptoms, Viome aims to go further to focus more on the cause as their CEO, Naveen Jain, states on their website about their mission. They are driven to have the most thorough understanding of the human body on the basic cellular level so they can target the underlying causes rather than symptoms and empower people to take ownership of their own health while offering them the knowledge to prevent illness. 

Also on their website, it says they began with the microbiome since it is the body’s richest sources of microbes and because it has an impact on nearly every chronic disease. It seems as though Viome might be a pacesetter and a household name in the foreseeable future. It is difficult to find faults with such a forward-thinking company but  some disadvantages maybe 

  • Despite the novel technology behind the process, their results seem overly simplistic. 
  • They are yet to have discounts for time-lapse results or additional tests. 
  • Not all their claims are completely backed by published scientific papers.

Facts about SmartDNA microbiome testing

SmartDNA is another company that provides a whole range of tests. The quirk of SmartDNA is that they prefer working with medical doctors who must be registered with the company and can order the test on your half when you request it. This must be because one of the owners is actually a doctor and the company knows doctors would have a better and more accurate understanding of the results and can help the customers take actionable steps in regards to the findings. The company is based in Australia and the only other country it operates in is the United States but only with registered doctors. They also provide the time-lapse option upon doctor’s request which allows customers to discover changes in their microbiome as their lifestyles change. 

Their microbiome testing method is based on metagenomic sequencing which is focused on microbes with DNA so this excludes RNA viruses or RNA bacteriophages but this method still covers a lot of microorganisms. Their tests seem to offer the most specific results and they are the best pick in the market to test for allergies. Their allergy tests are based on the bodies IgG responses to triggering antigens found in different foods. There are many tests unique to SmartDNA such as the ImuPro tests and the DAO Histamine Intolerance test. Respectively, these tests use ELISA to check for food allergies and measure the blood for Diamine Oxidase enzyme activity to determine histamine intolerance. There are different ImuPro tests that check from 90 to 270 individual triggering foods. 

Some of the smartDNA’s other popular tests include the smartGUT microbiome test, the IBS Gut Detector, and the GUT spectrum detector. The smartGut has a basic and advanced option this test gives insights into the microbiome diversity and functioning and how it affects your health, the advanced version has more insights and even a responsive pie chart that shows the abundance of bacteria in the gut and it is quite similar to what Viome offers. The IBS GUT Detector is to find out if you may have Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis. There is also a basic and advanced version. The tests search for bacteria species that contribute to these diseases and can also give insights on how your diet is affecting these organisms and your health. The Gut spectrum detector is a non-diagnostic test that compares your gut microbiota with the microbiota a person with Autism would have. This may provide the doctor with insights even though it would not serve as substantial evidence.

Pros of smartDNA include: 

  • They offer great variety and specific tests
  • They encourage interaction between the customer and their health practitioners.
  • They offer an in-depth analysis of the microbiome with tools to examine the vast diversity of the microbiome. 

The cons of smartDNA include: 

  • Inaccessibility is a disadvantage for smartDNA since they are not available in many countries and even in the 2 countries they operate in, you must take the test through one of their registered doctors
  • There is no user interface or direct customer reviews 
  • They have the most expensive prices of all the microbiome companies. 

Facts about Thryve microbiome testing

A company name Thryve also provides a gut flora test they claim to return the results within 3 to 4 weeks. Their test focuses on bacteria namely, Akkermansia, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Roseburia, and others. These are bacteria known to have a commensal relationship with humans. Their test compares these with the bacteria population that might be harmful to your body. The results show a gut wellness score, a gut diversity score, recommendations, and an interesting likelihood analysis that tries to correlate certain symptoms with the gut bacteria. The company also recommends and sells probiotics. 

Pros of Thryve include: 

  • A focus on bacteria which matter 
  • Presentation of their results are easy to understand

The cons of Thryve include: 

  • The fact that they sell probiotics might affect the results 
  • Their likelihood analysis is not backed fully by  published scientific papers

Facts about uBiome microbiome testing

Another company, uBiome deserves an honorable mention since they were one of the first microbiome testing companies and also have a large microbiome database. They also provide a time-lapse option that allows customers to discover changes in their microbiome as their life progresses. However, they do not have the best track record or customer reviews. They even filed for bankruptcy in September 2019. It would be best to steer away from them. 

How much does a gut health test cost? 

On the Viome website, a Viome Gut Intelligence Test can cost $399. But they sometimes have sales and the prices can be reduced to about $149. This package includes the test kit, the complete gut microbiome analysis, personalized nutrition recommendations and free domestic return shipping in the United States. Viome is available in some other countries, namely, Australia,  Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom. 

The gut bacteria test kit from Thryve costs $199 but might also be on sale for $149. They claim to give insight into your gut health so you can increase good bacteria while decreasing bad bacteria. The pricing for uBiome is set between $89-199. SmartDNA has different types of tests with the lowest, tests beginning at $330 while the most expensive, smart Ultimate Wellness Test Package costs $880. 

It would seem if you’re looking for something specific such as a food allergy test then smartDNA would most likely have a plan or package for you but if you would want a generalized overview of your gut microbiome then Viome or Thryve would be the option to go for depending of course on availability and how much you might be willing to spend.