Gut health testing now just a post box away, thanks to Queensland company
Unlocking the secrets of your ailing digestive system could soon be as easy as conducting a home swab test, Queensland researchers say.
About half of the Australian population complain of some form of digestive problem, the Gut Foundation Australia says.
The new testing protocol, developed by Brisbane-based company Microba, involves taking a faecal sample and mailing it to a laboratory that can use DNA sequencing technology to paint a picture of gut microorganisms.
Senior scientist Dr Alena Pribyl said a demand for answers reflected a growing research and public interest in gut health.
“Five years ago it probably would’ve seemed insane to send off a stool sample to learn which gut microbes are living in it, but now that we’ve learned so much more about how those microbes are interacting and influencing your health, this is what you want to do now,” she said.
Dr Pribyl said the process, described as an Australian-first, was similar to a bowel cancer screening kit.
But she warned the test, while an informative tool, was not medically diagnostic.
“It might instigate someone to go to their health care practitioner and get [a bacteria species] looked at more closely to get a diagnosis,” she said.
Gut feeling ‘big part’ of checking health: Ian Frazer
University of Queensland immunologist Professor Ian Frazer said understanding the bacteria and microorganisms living in the gut was an important part of understanding overall health.
“We’re increasingly recognising that the bacteria in the gut determines your health — not just as far as your gut’s health is concerned, but many other aspects of body health as well,” he said.
“A healthy gut microbiome, which comes in large measure from a healthy diet, helps protect against some of the nasty inflammatory diseases you can get in your bowel.
“It’s also important in terms of the way that you respond to many drugs which are taken and absorbed through the gut.”
But Professor Frazer acknowledged the $349 cost of the test would be prohibitive for some people.
Nutrition scientist Dr Joanna McMillan said comprehensive testing could be used to help modify people’s diet and behaviour.
“For anyone who’s ever suffered from any problems with their gut, it’s completely debilitating — the idea that the gut really is at the centre of our health and wellbeing is very true,” she said.
“Until you can see a picture of what’s going on, then it’s very hard to have a tangible way of knowing whether what you’re doing [to improve wellbeing] is making any difference.”
Professor Frazer said for now, the test would most likely be used by people curious about the state of their gut.
“As time goes by, I think increasingly we’ll recognise that just as you do blood tests to find out how much your body is healthy, we’ll also be doing gut microbiome tests to see how that’s contributing to your health,” he said.