I’ve recently been on the fascinating journey of having my microbiome tested and it has been such a game changer for my health and how I eat. If, like me, you thrive on stats and quantifiable results, you will LOVE the deep dive you take into your individual scores and how you stack up against others. It brings out the competitive streak in all of us – all in the name of being gut smart and optimising your health.
After sending the smallest little sample off to the good folks at Microba (don’t worry about the process if that freaks you out – it’s really not a big deal, they need the tiniest little cotton bud spot), my results came in a few weeks later.
When my report arrived, the first number I jumped on was my microbial diversity score. In simple terms, it’s a measure of how many different microorganisms you have living in your gut, and how many you’ve got of each. The higher the better.
As someone who takes my health seriously, I was a little underwhelmed to see that I was just “average” with a score of 3.47 (out of a possible 5).
But during my phone consultation with Microba – where they talk you through your individual report and answer all your burning questions – I was assured that average is still ok, because it’s compared to a generally healthy population.
However, they also told me that I could certainly make some changes to improve my score, including eating from the list of recommended foods they had given me. For me, that list included brussels sprouts, beetroot, apples and cashews. Plus, the report includes a longer, in-depth shopping tool for expanding the gut-healthy ingredients in my week.
INCREASING YOUR SCORE
The fascinating thing is that different species in your gut eat different plant foods, so if you have certain populations that are dwindling and face extinction (sob, yes), you can selectively feed them to bring them back from the brink. Totally mind blowing.
Just as your pet rabbit would starve if you only gave it cat food, the same is true of your little family of microbes. If you don’t give each of them the foods that they need, affected species will eventually die out forever. And once they’re truly gone, it’s almost impossible to get them back. (Faecal transplant anyone? Actually, let’s save that for another blog post.)
By finding out which species I have really low, and sometimes undetectable, levels of – as well as which foods I should be eating to support them – I can now work on rescuing those fellas and bringing them back to healthy levels. So clever.
DIVERSITY AND HEALTH
But why does all of this really matter anyway?
Well, it’s now clear from the science that there’s a link between our gut diversity and our overall health. Lower diversity is associated with a range of diseases and has been observed in people with inflammatory bowel disease, psoriatic arthritis, type 1 and 2 diabetes, atopic eczema, coeliac disease and obesity. (This article gives a great overview if you want to dive into the science.)
Heck, that’s enough for me to want to pull up my socks.
I already eat well, but in light of my score, I have made some changes. I now try to eat a greater diversity of different plant foods each week (I aim for over forty), including plenty of different colours. And I especially focus on including the foods in my personalised recommended list from Microba. So really, it allows us to be smarter about our gut health not just “generally healthy”.
APPETITE AND MENTAL HEALTH
On top of poring over my gut diversity score, I was also fascinated by the insights the report gave me into so many other aspects of my health.
For example, I was stoked to read that I was “above average” for butyrate production. Butyrate is an awesome little short chain fatty acid that’s hugely important for gut health. It helps control appetite, so my higher levels might explain why I don’t struggle with overeating. It also helps to reduce inflammation and guard against leaky gut. Low levels of butyrate production have been seen in people with inflammatory bowel diseases, so it’s a good one to keep your eye on.
Another great insight is the GABA production score, which for me was average. GABA is a neurotransmitter that’s believed to play a part in calming your mind. Having low levels of GABA have been linked to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s a great one to watch and try to improve, particularly for those who suffer with mental health problems.
I also learned about my gut’s production of histamine, something that people with asthma might see higher levels of. Of interest, people with food allergies and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been observed to have high levels of specific histamine receptors, making them more sensitive to histamine in the gut.
I also laughed out loud to receive a “low” score for flatulence odour (thank goodness!), thanks to my low hydrogen sulphide production score. If this is a problem for you (or your partner, eek), the report can give you an understanding of what’s going on in your microbiome and how to address it.
Thankfully, I also learned that I was free from some not-so-desirable species like Helicobacter pylori (linked to peptic ulcers, chronic gastritis and stomach cancer) and Clostridioides difficile (an especially nasty chap that can arise from using broad-spectrum antibiotics).
What I really love about this process is that, if you put in the work, you get to see the changes in black and white. Later in the year I’ll be retesting and, fingers crossed, it will be a treat to see that microbial diversity score climbing up, as well as improvements in other markers.
Knowing that it’s helping my body stave off all kinds of disease, gut disorders and bloating, as well as optimising my immune health and mental health, it’s something I see as so worthwhile.
It’s also given me so much more respect for the work being done by the good guys in my gut. Knowing that they might suffer any time I reach for highly-processed or high-sugar foods, it just completely puts me off doing that. Forget “treat yoself” and “YOLO”. I want to treat them by saying no to those foods. For people that struggle with feelings of missing out when they’re eating healthily, it gives a whole new perspective.
We’re also so lucky here in Australia that we have the world leaders in microbiome testing right here in our backyard. Microba have the most advanced testing technology globally, so you can get the most accurate insights currently available worldwide.
For anyone wanting to get tested, you can pop over here to grab a kit. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to compare results. We can be gut smart and nerd out together!