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Microbiome tests measure the microorganisms in a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These tests can give the person an idea of the types and amounts of microorganisms in their gut. However, people who experience digestive issues should consult a doctor.
A microbiome test examines the gut flora in a sample of an individual’s stool.
People may take a microbiome test to identify the different kinds of bacteria in their GI tract. However, they should not use these tests for diagnosis. If a person has any concerns over the health of their GI tract, they should contact a doctor for advice.
Microbiome testing measures the different levels of microorganisms present in the GI tract.
Different tests may offer varying levels of analysis. For example, some tests may give a broad overview of gut bacteria. Others may offer a deeper analysis, differentiating different subtypes of bacteria.
The tests that different commercial microbiome testing companies offer may vary, but they will generally test a person’s stool sample.
There are two types of fecal testing that a company may offer. The first type looks for markers that may indicate illness or a condition, and the second involves extracting DNA.
Healthcare professionals may take a sample of a person’s stool and grow the bacteria that they find on it in a lab. This process should allow them to determine what type of bacteria is causing certain symptoms, such as diarrhea, and inform the treatment options that they recommend.
However, commercial testing is more likely to use DNA analysis. By extracting the DNA from the stool sample, healthcare professionals can find out the types and number of bacteria in the stool.
The charity Guts UK states that the analysis that commercial testing provides may not be useful. The number and types of bacteria in a person’s stool may change from sample to sample, and some bacteria may remain on the gut wall rather than in a stool sample.
Additionally, testing cannot tell a person whether the bacteria are alive or dead — merely that they are present in the sample.
A person does not need to have a digestive condition, such as IBD or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), to purchase a microbiome test. Testing companies say that people who want to learn more about their digestive tract may wish to purchase a test.
Anyone who suspects that they may have a chronic condition should consult a doctor for testing and diagnosis.
Before purchasing a microbiome test, it is advisable to ensure that the company and product meet the following criteria:
- Analysis: People should check that the test offers the depth of analysis they require.
- Explanation: Some companies may offer test results that are easier to understand than those of other companies.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.
Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
Best for comprehensive testing: ZOE
This test uses stool and blood samples to measure gut health, blood sugar levels, and blood fat.
The company states that it uses whole DNA sequencing to identify “good” and “bad” microbes in the GI tract.
People must provide stool and blood samples and send the test off to ZOE. The company will provide results after 6 weeks. People can use the company’s companion app to keep track of their test results and get personalized advice on dietary adjustments.
ZOE is currently available to those who reside in the contiguous United States, apart from people in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, where state regulations mean that the program cannot run there.
The company offers microbiome testing, blood sugar testing, and personalized advice from ZOE coaches. The test kit costs $294 but a person can choose to pay for this in six $49 monthly installments. People can then choose from three ZOE membership lengths:
- ZOE 1-month membership: $59 per month
- ZOE 4-month membership: $39 per month
- ZOE 12-month membership: $29 per month
Best for donating to charity: Floré Gut Health Test Kit
This test offers full-spectrum microflora analysis and scans more than 23,000 bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
After a person sends a stool sample to the lab, the company will send a comprehensive test analysis. The report reviews a person’s overall health and their joint health, and it provides recommendations for achieving health goals.
A portion of the profits from each purchase goes to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to fund research.
Floré also offers people who purchase a test kit the option to upgrade to a monthly membership. The company will send one test kit every 4 months, as well as probiotics that it claims will boost a person’s gut health.
The company ships to the entire U.S. and internationally.
The Floré Gut Health Test Kit has a list price of $249.
Best for leaky gut: Verisana Leaky Gut Complete
Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, is a condition in which gaps in the intestinal wall allow bacteria and other toxins to pass into the bloodstream. Researchers note that diet and stress can increase a person’s likelihood of developing leaky gut.
Verisana claims that this test examines a person’s stool for the following:
- Candida and mold
- bacterial imbalances in the intestines
- gut mucosal immunology
- zonulin value
The analysis that Verisana provides compares a person’s test results with those of others in their age range. The company recommends that people interpret their results with the help of a healthcare professional.
The Verisana Leaky Gut Complete test is available for $249.95.
A person who orders a microbiome test online needs to mail a stool sample to the company’s lab using the testing kit’s prepaid envelope.
It may take a few days or weeks to receive the results. These should indicate the types of microbes in the sample and any food sensitivities that the person might have.
However, these tests should not replace a doctor’s visit, and their results are not a professional diagnosis.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve these types of home test kits. Anyone with persistent digestion symptoms should consult a doctor, who may perform a physical exam and suggest further testing.
Companies will send customers their stool sample test results, which will give them further information about the different types of bacteria and the other markers that were in their stool at the time of testing.
Although microbiome test results may give people more information about the type of bacteria in their stools, Guts UK states that the results will not be of any value to healthcare professionals.
Research notes that, currently, there is not enough knowledge or technology to incorporate microbiome test results into clinical care.
However, if a person receives test results that they believe to be worrying, they should contact a doctor. A doctor will perform an examination and run tests if necessary.
The cost of a microbiome home test can vary from under $100 to almost $1,000, depending on the company. Some companies offer both one-time purchases and subscription plans for people who want regular testing.
The cost can be higher if it includes additional features, such as:
- one-to-one support
- result tracking on an app
- personalized advice
If a doctor orders a microbiome test, a person’s insurance plan might cover the cost.
Some symptoms of health issues affecting the gut include:
- an upset stomach that causes bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn
- difficulty sleeping
- food intolerances
- sugar cravings
- skin conditions, such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis
A person can take these steps to help manage their gut health:
- take probiotic supplements or consume probiotics in yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi
- limit the consumption of sugar and processed foods
- get enough sleep
- manage stress
- quit smoking
- keep hydrated
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) also recommends avoiding foods that cause heartburn, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes. Also, the NHS notes that eating wheat and onions may lead to IBS.
It recommends these strategies for supporting digestion:
- adding more fiber to the diet
- drinking water, which can help soften stool and ease its passage through the digestive system
- avoiding spicy foods, if these cause stomach upset
It may be a good idea to keep a food diary and jot down symptoms that develop after certain meals.
The FDA has not approved home microbiome tests, meaning that it has not tested them for accuracy or safety.
Microbiome tests cannot diagnose health conditions. People should only purchase these products if they are interested in finding out which bacteria are in their stool.
A person may also consider a food sensitivity test or speaking with a doctor about in-person testing. Anyone with GI concerns should contact a doctor for advice.
People should see a doctor right away if they have any of these symptoms:
- persistent diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- blood in stool
- loss of appetite
- episodes of choking
- difficulty swallowing
- unintentional weight loss
- chronic constipation, bloating, or gas
If the person needs further evaluation or treatment, the physician may refer them to a gastroenterologist.
Microbiome tests can identify which bacteria are in a person’s stool at the time of sending a sample. Different tests may look at several markers and send people personalized reports that suggest dietary adjustments.
However, people should not use these tests to make a diagnosis. If a person has GI concerns, they should contact a doctor for advice.