How To Test Digestion Function

How To Test Digestion Function

Comprehensive Stool tests (CDSA Test), SIBO breath tests and even blood tests can be used to identify potential digestion problems, yet even for people with digestion issues these tests are not commonly done. Yet testing digestion function is important to identify the underlying cause of health problems, and help to guide your practitioner on the best treatment plan.

All Healing Begins in the Gut

Ever since Hippocrates stated that “All healing begins in the gut” more than 2,000 years ago, healers and naturopaths have been focusing on gut health and detoxification to improve a wide range of health problems.

This part of healing has been widely ignored by modern medicine as they focused on a pharmaceutical approach to health, BUT finally research over the past 20 years has finally caught up to Hippocrates, showing how important gut health is to the rest of our health. While the research shows just how important healthy gut bacteria and a healthy gut barrier is to our health, most doctors are yet to implement these findings into practice.

If you have problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas or reflux you are often told you have “IBS” and offered a medication to treat the symptoms, or told you just have to “put up with it”, but the cause of that IBS is not investigated and that is what we are going to discuss in this article.

Our gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms, the human gut contains 10 X more bacteria than we have cells in our body … this figure is hard to comprehend and it is no wonder that the health of our gut bacteria can have a big influence on our health in general.

A lot of this bacteria plays an important role in keeping us healthy

  • Promotes digestion
  • Protects against infection
  • Regulates metabolism
  • Plays an important role in our immune system

Good and bad bugs!

While many of these bacteria are beneficial and essential to our health, we also have commensal bacteria, these are bacteria that are supposed to be there in small amounts, but if their numbers are too high and you get an overgrowth of the commensal bacteria this can cause digestion and other health problems.

These are bacteria such as Klebsiella, Citrobacter and Pseudomonas

Commensal bacteria can cause many health problems

We also have pathogenic bacteria which should not be present in the digestive tract at all, these bacteria usually cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea, loose stools, urgency, bloating and gas. The symptoms don’t always have to be there and sometimes they come and go.

Pathogenic bacteria include Camplyobacter, Salmonella and Shigella species

Pathogenic bacteria

Parasites can also be a common problem throughout the world, and once an infection occurs they can be difficult to eliminate, often they will not resolve on their own. At Planet Naturopath we have different protocols for treating bacteria and parasite infections, depending on the type of infection and also the health of the good bacteria.

Like pathogenic bacteria a parasite infection can cause a wide range of digestion symptoms and other health problems, these symptoms can come and go with the life cycle of the parasites which can make diagnosis difficult.

Common parasites include Blastocystis hominis, Giardia and Entomoeba hystolytica

Parasite infection

Finally you can also have a yeast infection of the gut, the most common one is Candida albicans, like bacteria you are suppose to have a variety of yeasts in the digestive tract but when you get an overgrowth that is when they can start causing digestion problems as well as fatigue, headaches, brain fog, skin problems and other system health issues.

Pathogenic yeast infection

How to identify gut infections

The two tests that I recommend to identify gut infections are a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA test) and a breath test to identify Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth, also known as SIBO.

CDSA Test

There are a lot of different stool tests available with a vast difference in the quality of the testing, at Planet Naturopath we use a CDSA test or the G.I Map Test that identifies potential parasites, pathogenic bacteria and yeasts, as well as the levels of commensal bacteria, and equally important the levels of beneficial bacteria.

Other markers that we test for are levels of digestive enzymes, short chain fatty acids (the fuel for the good bacteria), inflammatory markers and other markers to analyze the health of your digestion.

If you are in the U.S I recommend the G.I Map Test and you can find out more information here

If you are in Australia you can do either the G.I Map or CDSA Test.

SIBO Breath Test

The SIBO breath test is used to identify an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, you should have trillions of bacteria in the large intestine, but you should have very little bacteria in the small intestine.

If there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine they create methane and hydrogen gas which is identified on the breath test. It is these gases produced by the bacteria that can cause digestion gas, pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or a combination of both constipation and diarrhea.

SIBO is not only the number one cause of IBS symptoms it is also a major cause of a compromised intestinal barrier, which is also known as leaky gut.

Positive SIBO test

Diet and Lifestyle Influences that can Influence both the Gut Flora and Gut Barrier

  • Antibiotics
  • Other prescription medications such as NSAID’s, acid lowering drugs and the contraceptive pill
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and other processed foods
  • “Modern” foods like industrial processed oils, these were never part of a normal diet until the last 60-70 years
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections
  • Food allergens and intolerances such as wheat and dairy
  • Diets low in fermentable foods

Antibiotics are particularly harmful to gut bacteria, and while medications like these can be life saving in certain situations, they are currently over prescribed and often given “just in case” or for viral infections which they are ineffective against. After a course of antibiotics your gut flora will not improve by itself and it is essential to take prebiotics and probiotics to get your gut health back on track.

Find out more about the SIBO test here

The Gut Barrier

The contents of your gastrointestinal tract are considered to be “outside” your body, it can be hard to get your head around this idea, but from the mouth to the anus is one long continuous tube.

Your body will start to absorb nutrients in the small intestine, and anything the body does not need moves through to the large intestine and is eventually eliminated. If you have low stomach acid, SIBO, Helicobacter pylori or other infections, food intolerances or allergies these can all compromise the intestinal gut barrier, this leads to what is known as “leaky gut”.

Helicobacter pylori infection

With a leaky gut proteins, larger molecules and toxins that should be eliminated are allowed to pass through the intestinal barrier, this creates an immune response from the body. This is where dysfunction in the gut barrier can cause widespread health problems, even without obvious digestion symptoms.

Recent research has linked leaky gut with being the number one trigger for autoimmune conditions, and addressing gut function should be one of the first steps to treatment

Alessio Fasano one of the leading researchers into digestion health made the following statement.

“There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases including [celiac disease] and [type 1 diabetes]. Therefore, we hypothesize that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity.”

The immune response caused by leaky gut can lead to serous health problems such as autoimmune conditions, diabetes, heart disease, but also headaches, mental health problems, brain fog, arthritis, skin issues and much more

Address the Cause

The same causes that disrupt our bacteria in the gut can also lead to a compromised gut barrier, in fact if you have bacteria, parasite or candida infections you are more than likely going to have leaky gut.

The first step to addressing this is to identify the cause of the problem, this maybe infections, dysbiosis or food intolerances. The best way to identify exactly what is happening is to do a comprehensive stool analysis, and SIBO testing to identify the root cause.

The next step

At Planet Naturopath we provide detailed CDSA stool tests, SIBO testing and specialized pathology testing to clients in North America, Australia and the U.K.

If you would like to find out more information about the stool testing check out CDSA test page or the G.I Map Test

If you would like to find out more information about SIBO testing Click Here

Or if your not sure where to start you can schedule a 30 minute consultation and I can help guide you on the best way to improve your health.

About the Author Michael

Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.

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1 comment
Sherlene Turner says May 19, 2017

Thank you. This was a very helpful article.

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