Since April is IBS Awareness Month lets take a look at how advances in Stool Testing may help to better understand the root cause of digestive health issues and explore the value of stool testing as a diagnostic tool to improve treatment options
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is among the most common complaints presenting to GPs, affecting about 9% of Australians.(1) Conventionally there are limited treatment options and the underlying cause is often missed by standard testing that works to rule out biochemical and structural abnormalities that are not diagnostic criteria for IBS.
Digestive health problems can arise for a multitude of reasons. In turn, other health problems can arise from poor gut health. Studies have shown that a persistent imbalance of gut microbes or ‘dysbiosis’, relates not only to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but also to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular and central nervous system disorders.(2) Other associated diseases related to compromised gut health include asthma, metabolic syndrome, immune-mediated conditions and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.(3)
The human gut microbiome really is larger than life – we have more bacteria present in our gut than we do cells in the body. About 100 000 billion bacteria are present in the human intestines(4) and more than 70% of all the microbes in the human body are in the colon.(5) The diversity of the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome includes bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa, and viruses(3) and observation of stool samples has been the focus of study over the last 15 years, revolutionised by advances in methods and sophisticated tools.(6) These advances in technology and research have resulted in new and improved stool testing which can identify a range of bacteria, archaea, fungi and protozoa as well as other functional markers of digestion.
Stool testing can provide an array of information about gut health that can be used in the differential diagnosis of disorders such as gastrointestinal infections, malabsorption syndromes and IBD.(7) Considerable variability in the microbiota compositions between people is found when we look at the species, and strains within species – so much so that the human microbiota could be compared to a fingerprint.(5)
Diet, age, stress and diseases cause increases or decreases in relative abundance and diversity of bacterial species of the GI tract.(2) Often in clinic these issues are identified and treated without testing and improvements can be made. However, the Naturopathic principle “Identify and Treat the Cause” rings true when it comes to stool testing.
There are many advantages to stool testing including:
- Identifying if the issue is bacterial, fungal, parasitic or a combination of these
- Having the right type of probiotic prescribed – good bacteria is also tested alongside bad bacteria
- Having the right type of antimicrobial prescribed. Susceptibility and resistance testing to an identified pathogen is available in some stool tests so herbal medicines are selected and tested against the pathogen to check their effectiveness to tailor antimicrobial prescription
- Avoiding further invasive testing, such as endoscopy and colonscopy. For example, a normal faecal calprotectin test result, which measures intestinal inflammation, reduces the need for endoscopy to rule out inflammatory bowel disease.(1)
Making the most of your results
A diagnosis of IBS might mean that the limited treatment options provided by your Medical Practitioner to treat the cause lead you to Naturopathic and Nutritional care. That’s where we are more than happy to assist you further. Our Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA) and GI Mapping tests are one way to really get to the guts of the problem once and for all.
In any case of Digestive Disturbances, attention to detail and proven strategies get you the results to best manage symptoms, prevent worsening of symptoms and ultimately resolve issues. With a better understanding of the why, you can eliminate confusion and doubt and replace this with confidence and reassurance that you are on the right path to improving Gut Health, regardless of the diagnosis.