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The microbes that live in our gut significantly impact our overall health. As we uncover more and more about the gut, we learn so many surprising facts about how this system affects every other system. From being the primary source of serotonin production and the home of the immune system to protecting us against chronic illnesses like autoimmune thyroid disease (for instance, Hashimoto's disease), having a healthy amount of good bacteria is essential for feeling healthy elsewhere in the body. The GI MAP is one of the tools we have that can measure the different bacteria living in our gut through stool testing. Here is your guide on how to read the GI MAP Stool Test.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces and secretes thyroid hormones that regulate your body's metabolism, affecting virtually every system in your body. Undiagnosed thyroid disease puts patients at risk for other ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and infertility.
The most common type of thyroid disorder is hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland is underperforming, or producing too little thyroid hormone. Recognizing the symptoms of hypothyroidism is very important.
Hypothyroidism signs and symptoms may include:
- Temperature intolerance
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness,or stiffness
- Joint pain, stiffness or swelling
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
There is an interesting connection between the thyroid gland and gut health. Your gut microbiota plays a crucial role in maintaining health and modulating immunity. The gut microbiome affects several aspects of our health, including metabolism, energy storage, brain development, behavior, and immunity.
Evidence suggests that imbalance in the gut may play a role in the cause of various diseases, including autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's thyroid disease, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The link between gut microbiota and thyroid dysfunction may have to do with the presence of altered microbial metabolites that might affect the modulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis and/or the production of cytokines. Some experts suggest that an imbalanced gut microbiome could cause a decrease in iodine intake, thus contributing to an underperforming thyroid.
The Gastrointestinal Microbial Assay Plus (GI-MAP™) is a tool from the Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory. It uses stool testing to measure the amount of harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut. It can also determine the different types and quantities of other microorganisms like fungi, viruses, and parasites. The GI MAP also assesses specific proteins linked to immune and digestive health. If these proteins are not in healthy quantities, it may suggest the presence of health problems.
The test analyzes the DNA in the stool sample using quantitative PCR. With this technology, health providers can detect even minute traces of bacteria. Moreover, it is also helpful in diagnosing parasites that commonly cause gastrointestinal problems, such as H. Pylori.
However, the GI-MAP Test is also used by some Functional Medicine and Integrative Health Practitioners. They focus heavily on the digestive tract and how it impacts our whole body health.
With a proper understanding of the gut microbial flora, a health care provider may be able to use this tool to get to the root causes of specific health problems, such as:
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Leaky gut syndrome (intestinal permeability)
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Skin conditions
- Autoimmune disease
- Digestive complaints and issues
- Recurrent infections
It is important to note that just because your results show bacterial overgrowths or high amounts of candida (yeast), it does not necessarily mean you are ill or have any symptoms. However, this information can help complete a complicated picture if you do have troubling symptoms and can't quite piece together what is causing the problem.
Another feature of the GI MAP is that it shows if you are resistant to certain antibiotics, including amoxicillin and tetracycline. This information may be helpful when it comes to successfully treating you for certain infections.
Fortunately, reading your GI MAP Stool Test is relatively straightforward despite the complexity of what the test is reporting. Your test results will be categorized not only based on species but also on if the species is opportunistic or pathogenic (harmful).
The GI MAP stool test report includes the following categories:
- Bacterial Pathogens
- Parasitic Pathogens
- Viral Pathogens
- H. Pylori
- Normal Bacterial Flora
- Opportunistic Bacteria
- Potential Autoimmune Triggers
- Parasites (broken down into protozoa and worms)
- Intestinal Health (broken down into Digestion, GI Markers, Immune Response, and Inflammation)
- Antibiotic Resistance Genes
The information you see on your GI MAP report will show you what your result is compared to normal values. If you have a high or abnormal result, it will be in red and show you the value. If the result is low, it will be in yellow.
While you can do some research on your own to determine what your results mean, the information will be most meaningful when you go over the report with your health care provider.
There are limitations to every testing method, and one of the primary concerns about this test is that it may lead to false positives and false negatives. One study found that the test produced highly variable results on the same sample, which could lead to missed diagnoses and the use of antibiotics or antiparasitics when they may not be necessary.
The test can also be cost-prohibitive if your insurance does not cover it. Before going through with the test, your health provider should be able to see if your insurance will provide coverage or give you an idea of how much it will cost out-of-pocket.
Once you get your results, you will want to review them with your ordering health care provider, who should then put together a treatment plan. Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory provides information on what therapeutic approaches and considerations may benefit you if you have an abnormal result in their Interpretative Guide. You can review this ahead of time so you can get an idea of what steps may be indicated for you. However, you will want to consult with your doctor before going ahead with any treatment.
While looking at your gut microbiome is important, it is also essential to follow up on other body systems contributing to your symptoms. Be sure to seek out additional testing, such as a thyroid function test, to piece together the sometimes complicated puzzle of your health profile.