There’s no denying it – gut health is having a major moment. From the proliferation of research on the topic to the skyrocketing popularity kombucha and kraut, there’s an increasing recognition of the relationship between our microbiome and so many aspects of our health.
And thanks to a groundbreaking Aussie invention, we can now discover even more about the incredible critters that influence our day-to-day lives.
Microba is the first company in the country to offer gut microbiome ‘metagenomic’ sequencing technology direct-to-consumer, as well as researchers and clinicians. In layman’s terms, you can now take a simple test, in the comfort of your own home, to find out exactly how good your gut health is. Microbiome, or microbiota, is the community of microorganisms, comprised mostly of bacteria, that are involved in many of the body’s critical functions, influencing everything from metabolism to mental health.
Professor Gene Tyson, co-founder of Microba, told Women’s Health that their technology is far more comprehensive and accurate than anything that’s come before. While other services use 16S rRNA testing, which only sequences a small part of a single bacterial gene, Microba uses metagenomics, which sequences all the genes from the microorganisms in your sample. Basically the former can tell you what microorganisms are there, but the latter can tell you that and a whole lot more.
“Once you’ve done metagenomic sequencing you’ll know who’s there plus you’ll have the rest of their genome sequencing so you can see what else they’re able to do, who they’re interacting with and metabolites they’re able to produce,” Tyson says.
“We can look at your microbiome, compare it against others and provide dietary recommendations to modify your microbiome so that you can move your microbiome from an unhealthy state to a healthy state, based on key organisms we see in your gut.”
So what does it involve? Well, it’s as easy as one, two... poo.
“What you do is go to the bathroom, take a swab off the toilet paper which then goes into a preservation tube, so it locks the community in place so it doesn’t change,” Tyson says. “It comes back to the lab and we extract all of the DNA off that sample... What we do with that DNA is that we sequence it and we look at the entire genome of each of the organisms that are in that sample.”
PhD qualified nutrition scientist and dietitian, Dr Joanna McMillan, told Women’s Health that the test is a game changer for the increasing number of Australians with health issues stemming from imbalanced or disrupted microbiome. Not only has poor gut health been linked to gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colorectal cancer, but other more systemic manifestations of disease like type 2 diabetes.
“We really are at the tip of the iceberg as far as understanding enough about the microbiome and how it influences our health, this research will really accelerate our understanding," she says.
It will be especially helpful for medical practitioners in managing patients treatment.
“You would be able to see the impact of dietary changes and actually see that you’re really managing to make some changes as you see the microbiome shift."
Joanna says the most exciting part is that not only will the test give insight for people who already have problems with their gut health, but for anyone looking to optimise their gut health.
“For me lifestyle medicine is about prevention rather than a traditional model of medicine, which we will always need, that involves treating problems that need a cure. It’s really about optimising your health and wellbeing now and reducing your risk of having problems in the future.”
Professor Gene believes that testing your gut health will soon become as routine as getting a blood test.
“I believe that in the future, we’ll be able to use this test as an early warning system for a whole range of diseases because we’ll be able to detect changes in the microbiome before we see changes in our health.”