Do I Need a Microbiome Test?
Updated: Feb 17
Many people are interested in having their microbiome tested. It might be because you have gut issues and you’re looking for answers or you might be interested to know how your gut health is impacting your general health. It’s really important to recognise that the report you receive if you do have a test, will be one snapshot of time which isn’t very useful when you consider that your microbiome is constantly changing. Also keep in mind that if you are about to have treatment to help improve your symptoms this is likely to lead to changes, and so your test can quickly become out of date. As clinicians, we always treat your symptoms rather than the numbers and data on a report.
At present, we don’t have enough evidence from microbiome reports to advise anything more than eating more plants, doing more exercise and managing your stress. They can’t be used to make a diagnosis of a bowel problem or any other health condition.
As dietitians, we are qualified to diagnose and treat your bowel issues without a microbiome report. As part of our treatment, we can offer advice on increasing plants that won’t affect your symptoms, doing movement that will support your gut health and stress management if needed.
For many people, a microbiome report can make them feel stressed and anxious if the results show "abnormal" results. This is particularly unhelpful when we know what a big role stress and anxiety have on bowel symptoms. Microbiome reports are very likely to give abnormal results if you live with a bowel condition like IBS or IBD, we already know this and so testing adds little value. Additionally, we don’t know what a ‘normal’ microbiome looks like in these groups yet meaning you can be made to feel very anxious about something that could be completely normal for you.
We can predict the patterns of your microbiome based on your symptoms. For example, if you get a lot of lower abdominal bloating after eating, you probably have more bacteria that are known to rapidly ferment food. Similarly, if you produce foul-smelling gas, you may have more bacteria that produce gasses like sulfur and methane. Our dietary treatment will help the symptoms without you having to pay for the test.
If you are worried about parasites or other gut health issues, we can advise you on any tests you might benefit from following your appointment and, if they’re clinically indicated, we can usually ask your GP to carry them out.
In summary, microbiome reports are interesting but are often not clinically relevant and certainly not necessary before you see a dietitian. Diagnosis and treatment focus on the symptoms you are experiencing and we will provide evidence-based treatment for these.