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Most microbiome tests analyse a sample of your stool to identify the microbes living in your gut. This can give you an insight into several areas of gut health, including but not limited to gastric pain, bloating and bowel issues. The tests work by analysing a small sample of faecal matter to obtain DNA belonging to the diverse range of microorganisms inside you.
Don’t worry, although providing a faecal sample sounds messy, these tests usually require you to swab a used piece of toilet paper, and equipment is provided to help you hygienically seal and dispatch it. After returning your sample to the lab you’ll receive your results with information to help you understand what they mean. You may even be asked to provide information about your diet and lifestyle, to help the testing company give you customised lifestyle advice. A few tests also sample other microbiome sites, such as your mouth, nose, genitals or skin.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is made up of all of the microbes that call your body their home. These microorganisms won’t normally cause you any harm, and those in your gut will help you to digest food, absorb nutrients and even fight off pathogenic microbes. However, the diversity of these microbial populations can be altered by diet, medicines and other lifestyle factors. This in turn can have an effect on your health. Finding out more about which microorganisms are present in your gut can give you insights into your health and weight.
What could you learn from a microbiome test?
The microbiome is still an emerging area of research, but several studies have shown that microbial diversity in your gut could have various effects on your health and weight.
A microbiome test may be able to tell you if you are more likely to suffer from conditions such as IBS, bloating, diarrhoea and other abdominal problems.
It may also provide diet and lifestyle recommendations to help prevent or alleviate these issues.
How do the tests work?
Providers of microbiome tests are able to identify microorganisms by sequencing something called 16S RNA, which is found in microorganisms but not in humans, animals or plants. This allows them to discount your own DNA, and analyse the genetic material of the specific microbes inside your gut.
Can microbiome tests diagnose gut conditions?
No, these tests simply provide information about the microorganisms that live in your gut. Some providers may supply you with customised lifestyle advice to maintain a healthy microbiome, but if you’re concerned about a condition you may be experiencing, you should seek advice from a medical professional.