Health

Ask Well: Can I Test the Health of My Gut Microbiota?

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Phil Marden

Q. Is there a test for the health of my gut microbiota?

A. There are several outfits willing to profile your microbiome, the trillions of microbes that live in your gut, if you send in a fecal sample and pay a fee. But while you may be contributing to science, you won’t learn much about your health from the test because the field is still in its infancy, said Dr. Rashmi Sinha, a senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute. “It’s not ready for prime time,” she said.

“You’ll get an enormous amount of data that is basically uninterpretable,” said Dr. Martin J. Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University, though he added, “there are people who will be very happy to take your money and tell you they can interpret it.”

Scientists have found intriguing differences between the bacteria that inhabit the guts of healthy people and the microbiomes of those with chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and Type 2 diabetes. But it is still unknown if changes in the microbiome cause the disease, or if the disease process itself or drugs or other therapies used to treat it cause the differences, Dr. Blaser said.

Further complicating the matter is that there is also a tremendous diversity among the microbiomes of healthy people.

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