Gut health is really having a moment, isn’t it? I have been curious about taking a gut microbiome test for a while, so I was interested to try one, along with a DNA test, from Atlas Biomed. There is probably no point in taking these unless you’re trying to solve a specific puzzle, and mine was in two parts: I’ve always suspected that I might have a slight intolerance to lactose, and I am an out and proud IBS sufferer (we need to talk about this more!)
This is pretty simple: you register online, order the tests (you can have one or both) and fill in a questionnaire.
The questionnaire is about your lifestyle and diet, and is optional but recommended. I always find it hard to fill these things in because, like many people, my diet varies hugely. It made me consider the impact of going from healthy, preplanned meals and exercise one week, to takeaways mixed with shovelling in cheese straight from the fridge the next. It seems logical that this would contribute to a vicious cycle, as our moods fluctuate in positive correlation with changes in our diet.
The instructions for the DNA test were clear, and the job was simple: spit in a tube, click something plastic down, screw the lid shut and shake. Then it sealed simply into a box with a prepaid postage on the front, which was very satisfying. Everything has been thought out, from the fact that it’s small enough to fit inside a post box to the sticky label that seals the box.
As I’m sure you can imagine, although the above also applies to the Gut Microbiome, the act of retrieving the sample was less sexy, and not one I particularly want to retell. There is nothing smooth, simple and quick about doing an at home stool sample, and let’s just leave it at that.
There is a lot of information to take in at first, and to work through it you need two things: time, and a follow up appointment with a nutritionist.
The results site is really well designed, and given the amount of information you now have at your finger tips, they do a good job of making it accessible. Luckily, I was offered help every step of the way and my nutritionist had a down to earth chat with me over Zoom the following week.
Firstly, if you’re really looking for detailed family ancestry, their DNA test isn’t the right test for you. For the most part, I find it a divisive subject, and if it’s not impacting my health then why do I care if I’m 3.4% Greek? But this test was all based on the makeup of my DNA and therefore gave me clues as to how to look after myself better as well. However, I did gloat a bit when I found out a quarter of my DNA was similar to Pictish and Norse (due to the fact that I’m a devoted fan of History Channel’s Vikings.)
The rest of the DNA test results were 99% encouraging and only 1% terror inducing, resulting in a moment of panic where I called my mother to ask when she’d started the menopause. Its easy to get lost in this wealth of information, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re the type that Googles your symptoms at 1am and immediately starts planning who is going to get the contents of your Help To Buy ISA.
My nutritionist reminded me that genes aren’t our destiny: they don’t dictate what happens to us. There are other factors at play, and that mainly comes down to how well we look after ourselves.
From the Gut Microbiome test I found out some really useful things. We looked at my gut microbiome diversity, which wasn’t what I expected: it was actually pretty good. I asked my nutritionist what she’d recommend for anyone who did want to improve their microbiome and her answer was to diversify your food intake first before anything else.
I knew that fixing gut health wouldn’t be as simple as buying a box of pre or probiotics and hoping for the best, or downing some antibiotics in the hope that it kills any parasites you’ve conducted from doom scrolling. Lots of people opt for probiotics, and my nutritionist’s advice regarding them was that you should always have a specific reason for taking them. Do your research! There are probiotics that can effect mood, help with bloating or IBS, and if you’re taking antibiotics then they can help to counteract the damage they can cause, but they aren’t all the same: if you don’t need them, don’t take them. My test recommended that I introduce specific probiotics into my diet, in the form of chicory root, which I’ve opted to consume in my food choices and not supplements. There was also a personalised list of foods that would be good for me to start eating regularly.
We talked through some other factors in my microbiome in more detail, and she gave me further suggestions of foods to try introducing into my diet; again they were all focused on diversity of food intake. For me it was things like brown rice, brown pasta, millet and flaxseeds.
Here is a trick that you can use at home:
Calculate how many different plants, grains, nuts and seeds you take in per week – not the amount but how many different types you take in (so if you have a lot of lettuce every day, that still only counts as one type.) You should be consuming thirty or more different foods to have a diverse microbiome, simple!
Other fun facts:
- There are certain nutrients that the body can’t absorb properly when it’s on caffeine, particularly iron, which also needs to be absorbed with Vitamin C (remember, you should only take iron supplements if you need them.)
- Magnesium helps to relax muscles during period cramps, and it helps us sleep.
- 5HTP really is good for serotonin production, sleep and anxiety.
- Vitamin D is something we could all do with more of, whether it’s from going on daily walks or taking a spray. So load up and enjoy.
- Atlas Biomed also provide a free app, where you can see your test results and keep a food diary, pretty nifty!
I am lactose intolerant! Hurrah. Well, not hurrah, obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s nice to know these things for certain so that you can act accordingly. My gut microbiome is actually pretty good, so my IBS is stress related, and now I’m one step closer to managing it.
The more I dive down the gut rabbit hole, the more I realise just how much you need to do in order to understand exactly what’s going on down there, and it can get expensive.
I got the answers I needed and more. For instance, my tolerance to caffeine is low and could cause symptoms.(Does anyone else get coffee angst?) Not only that, but I’ve implemented a fun game – try one new fruit and grain a week – I do feel healthier, have more energy and have reawakened my love of food.
So yes, it’s a good thing to do, but it’s something you really need to research every step of the way, and of course know not to take anything to heart.