What would make a person send a stool sample through the mail? By Traci Rogers

I admit it – I mailed poop. Now before you judge too harshly, let me explain.

Around the time that Jamie Lee Curtis started selling yogurt, terms like ‘gut health’ and ‘probiotic’ were starting to make the rounds on the health blogs. Of course, today ‘gut health’ is a buzzword and everyone is drinking Kombucha or eating Kimchi. I didn’t pay much attention to any of it until I heard a dietitian talk about a study that linked gut health with weight issues. My ears perked right up when I heard that. But what did ‘gut health’ even mean and how could I know if my gut was healthy or not? I immediately went to Google for the answers and what I found – well, it wasn’t all that clear.

Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t just ask my doctor about this. I did ask – and was told that there wasn’t enough research yet to answer all my questions. I respect my doctor’s need to be cautious, but that answer didn’t satisfy, so I went looking for more.

What is gut health?
Gut health, from a scientific point of view, isn’t clearly defined. Typically, when gut health is discussed in non-medical blogs or publications it is referring to the absence of GI complaints. To oversimplify – someone with a healthy gut doesn’t have stomach issues or “bathroom problems”. But if you look deeper, the health of your gut affects so much more than that.

A person’s gut is made up of a group of organs. Together, they play a large role in keeping the digestive system running smoothly, supporting a strong immune system, and balancing hormone levels. This is accomplished by the gut’s ability to communicate with the brain and act as a home for beneficial bacteria. I could fill pages and pages with information about how the gut functions, but for this blog post I’m going to focus on the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut – mostly because it relates to why I mailed poop.

The gut is teeming with beneficial bacteria that support the immune system by preventing pathogenic organisms from affecting the body. Beneficial gut bacteria can even help improve mental health by regulating our hormones. Did you know that depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders have all been linked to intestinal problems? I didn’t. 90% of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate our mood or emotions, is produced in the gut. Researchers in France have even shown that mood disorders may be controlled by a “bottom-up” approach using two strains of probiotic bacteria. The gut also reactivates estrogen so that it can be reabsorbed by the body. Low estrogen levels have been linked to osteoporosis, PMS, water retention, severe menstrual cramps and heavy flow. Finally, studies show that when the wrong bacteria have control of the gut it can influence the foods we crave and by doing so, function as an underlying cause of obesity and heart disease.

How do you know if your gut is healthy?
This is another area where Google wasn’t clear. There are various articles about what to watch for: a change in bathroom behaviors, being overly gassy, unexplained bloating, reflux or a white tongue are the most common signs of an unhealthy gut. There are also less obvious signs like low energy, dark circles under your eyes, blotchy skin or restless sleep. However, none of this answered my original question: is MY gut healthy?

It turns out that all the Googling unexpectedly worked to my advantage. Facebook’s algorithm started showing me promotional posts for UBiome, a company that sequences gut bacteria. I was all in! A collection kit was mailed to me after I completed an online questionnaire. From there, I registered my kit online and followed simple instructions to easily and cleanly collect a stool sample. I mailed my sample to UBiome in a prepaid padded envelope and waited for my results. A few weeks later I received an email alerting me that my 10-page personal analysis was available.

The results are in
I finally had my answer; my gut was normal, but I have areas that could be better. UBiome provided lots of detail that took time to review and understand. Two examples are below.

 

Picture1

This example shows that at the time of collection, the bacteria commonly associated with IBS issues weren’t present (“Associated” section).  However, one of the bacteria strains that is commonly present for someone who doesn’t have IBS (“Inversely associated” section) is low.

 

 

Picture2

In this example, several of the bacteria strains in my gut that are commonly present in people who don’t have weight issues are below the normal averages (“Inversely associated”).

 

What now?
Armed with information, where to go from here? First, keep perspective. The results were based on one sample, and they shouldn’t replace the guidance of a medical professional. From there, adjustments to your lifestyle might be beneficial. I’ve listed a few suggestions below, but you should research what is best for you.

• Avoid over-using antibiotics
• Consume probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut or kimchi
• Take a high-quality probiotic supplement
• Avoid over-using antibacterial cleansers
• Avoid increased consumption of carbohydrates

Note about probiotics: In the past few years, the probiotic market has exploded with options and there are some duds out there. When you are shopping for a probiotic, consider the price, the potency (make sure they have live cultures), the total count of bacteria present and the strains of bacteria. The top 5 brands as tested by Consumer Health Report are listed below.
1. BlueBiotics Ultimate Care
2. Ultimate Flora Critical Care
3. Garden of Life RAW Probiotics
4. InnovixLabs Multi-Strain Probiotic
5. Vitamin Bounty Pro 25

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that mailing poop was a good idea! I know I don’t regret it. Just remember, everyone is different and it’s important to work with a healthcare provider before making major lifestyle changes. Best of luck to you all.

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