You can now test yourself in the comfort of your home!
Remember that incredible microbiome study I shared with you in last month’s issue (in the article, “The microscopic secret to unshakeable health and everlasting youth”)? To refresh your memory, this study showed that extremely healthy elderly subjects had nearly identical microbiomes to their youthful counterparts—despite the decades of difference in age.
Just as I said then, this finding isn’t news to me—the power of a healthy gut is something I’ve been preaching since I started practicing medicine nearly three decades ago. In fact, healthy guts are so essential to our day-to-day health that I often refer to them as the “second brain.”
So while the importance of the microbiome isn’t necessarily breaking news to those of us in the know, this new study does speak to the sea of change currently afoot in mainstream medicine.
As I see it, this transition started with the launch of the Human Microbiome Project (a five-year long initiative, which identified gut microorganisms and their role in health and disease). And I predict in a few years’ time, we could see individual microbiome analysis become as commonplace as cholesterol testing in doctor’s offices (and certainly a whole lot more useful).
Obviously, we’re not there yet. And considering the pace at which mainstream medicine moves, it could be a long while before this scenario becomes reality. But research has progressed so quickly over the last decade that we might be a little closer than you think.
In fact, we’ve learned so much more about gut bacteria and its connections to health, that a whole new industry has been built around it. And by the looks of it, it’s shaping up to change the way we approach disease management—forever.
A full report from a single cotton swab
Believe it or not, there are companies out there currently offering testing kits which can give you an overview of your specific microbiome. And I have to say, the idea itself is brilliant—even if the applications are still limited.
For example, there’s a company called uBiome
(www.ubiome.com), which analyzes customer samples for more than two dozen common bacterial targets like Salmonella enterica and Clostridium difficile. We’ve known about these dangerous microorganisms for years, and we know exactly how to address them—so while this test won’t provide cutting-edge diagnoses, it’s at least actionable and provides you with a full snapshot of your gut health.
It’s called the SmartGut™ test, and is currently available only in the U.S. The test is a simple in-home kit, but you’ll need a doctor’s approval. It’s a pretty simple process, though. You can do one of the following: 1.) Contact your primary doctor and inform them of your request for a SmartGut™ test, or 2.) uBiome can connect you with an independent healthcare provider within their external clinical care network.
Ubiome will send you an easy-to-use sample collection kit with everything you need. You then collect a very small stool sample (just enough to tint a cotton swab). Once you’ve got that, the collection kit will be sent back to uBiome (in a prepaid return mailer), and will go into processing, where licensed lab technicians will use DNA sequencing to prepare your individualized gut report.
Because it’s a medical test, SmartGut™ is also eligible for insurance coverage. (Though you’ll have to check with your insurance provider to see if it’s covered under your plan.)
While uBiome does provide you with an individual “diversity score”—as well as the option of routine microbiome monitoring—this testing primarily addresses bacteria with established links to specific conditions like inflammatory bowel disease as well as Crohn’s disease.
Considering how difficult these conditions can be to treat, this still constitutes a breakthrough, as I see it. But, that said, the SmartGut™ test isn’t necessarily going to offer all of the information you’re after when it comes to optimizing your gut health.
Other companies are starting down this path, though. And Thryve (www.thryveinside.com) is one of them.
A bigger picture with bigger possibilities
Like uBiome’s SmartGut™, Thryve’s Gut Health Test allows you to collect fecal samples at home, and then send them back to their lab for a full summary of your microbiome.
What’s great about this test is that its summary includes a Wellness Report, featuring a “wellness score” based on your gut’s composition—and more importantly, a list of areas where your microbiome is deficient. (Theoretically, this allows you to target your probiotic supplementation to get your gut back on track.)
Thryve doesn’t bill your insurance company. But at $99 a pop, it’s not prohibitively expensive, either. Even if you’re ordering the test four times a year, which the company recommends, it still adds up to less than $400 annually.
Doing so would enable you to track key compositional changes over time and compare your results to population averages. Or at least, averages based on available data. Our knowledge is still fairly limited at this point in history—and that’s probably the main shortcoming of this approach.
Is it worth it? Ultimately, that’s for you to judge. But I can certainly see why people would turn to a test like Thryve, or SmartGut™, for answers.
The proof is in the pudding
It may sound bizarre on the surface—but once the technology really takes off, this type of service could be a real game changer for many patients. The American medical establishment has little to nothing to offer someone with chronic gut issues—let alone more systemic issues with origins that are lurking in their microbiome. And it’s a travesty, really.
I work to heal every patient’s gut—either before or during treatment—for just about any condition. The two are so closely related that it would be foolish to try to accomplish one goal without addressing the other.
Of course, ask the naysayers, and they’ll tell you that it’s still too early to make recommendations regarding gut health. And while I agree with that to some extent (obviously, there’s still a lot left to learn), I’ve achieved incredible results even doing the most basic work with patients. (Like prescribing simple dietary changes or probiotic supplements.)
It’s enough to make a believer out of me—with or without clear “evidence.” Because to me, the only thing that matters is whether my patient truly feels better—from the inside-out.
In almost 25 years of clinical practice, I’ve seen the power of dietary interventions and probiotics for many illnesses. All with minimal adverse effects. And last I checked, that was still medicine’s prime directive—first, do no harm.
In short, I’ll be keeping an eye on microbiome profiling—and reporting on any new developments in this field when I hear about them.