(Written by Diana Arundell – university qualified Naturopath)

We don’t know what we don’t know about the human body however as time progresses,
modern science leads to discoveries and tools which provide valuable confirmation when
diagnosing health conditions. Orthodox medicine is brilliant at identifying and treating acute
illness and naturopathic medicine is of particular benefit in the treatment of chronic health
issues. Naturopaths have been banging on about the importance of the gut and digestive
health for many decades and if tv commercials are anything to go by, it appears now
everyone is more interested in gut health.

Digestive disturbance can present in many ways: excessive burping/flatulence, too
loose/hard stools, bloating, pain/cramping, blood/mucous present in stools, urgency,
frequency or lack of regular bowel motions, reflux/heartburn, nutrient deficiencies etc and
it’s not always easy to identify specific causes. Excellent case history taking, examination
and pathology testing are essential and used to be all that could be relied upon for accurate
diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal issues. More recently, other functional
investigations such as digestive stool analysis has become available and can provide very
specific information about what is going on inside the digestive tract and may lead to
otherwise difficult to determine causes of some of the above presentations.

Comprehensive digestive stool analysis also known as gastrointestinal (GI) mapping uses a
stool sample to measure the health of the gut microbiome and other indicators of digestion,
absorption, infection and inflammation. Specific treatment plans may be more confidently
prescribed based on actual results of what is going on for that individual. More modern
stool analysis uses technology that gives quantifiable amounts of bacteria, viruses, fungal or

parasitic load which is also important as this can indicate directly what may be contributing
to otherwise difficult to determine causes of digestive upset. It’s especially useful as many
bacteria are beneficial and essential to good gut health in certain numbers, however can be
problematic if out of balance so a simple positive or negative test may not be overly useful.

In the past, a basic stool sample was used to establish the presence of pathogenic microbes
but functional stool analysis not only detects the presence of unfavourable pathogenic
organisms, it also can measure the presence of the desirable commensal bacteria in the gut.
These beneficial bacteria are part of a complex ecosystem inside our gastrointestinal tract
which helps produce vitamins from our ingested nutrients, protect our gut wall barrier,
contribute to our immune function and protect against over colonisation from the
pathogenic strains.

Testing for quantity presence of normal commensal bacteria in the gut can help identify
which strains of probiotics (if any) are going to have the best impact on optimising digestive
function. For example the firmicutes and bacteroidetes phyla are the most dominant phyla
in the human digestive tract running from the nose/mouth through to the intestines. If
these come back out of range, it’s indicative of an imbalance in favourable bacteria in the
digestive tract. Further-more specific imbalances of normal commensal bacteria as well as
pathogenic bacteria may help identify the presence of other underlying diseases or an
associated increased risk of developing certain diseases. For example certain bacteria in the
gut are associated with an increased risk of developing auto immune related illnesses.

Opportunistic bacteria are referred to as such because when they are out of balance, they
only cause symptoms in some, not all individuals. Overgrowth by opportunistic bacteria is
more likely in individuals with history of antibiotic use, a weakened immune system,
unhealthy dietary/lifestyle choices or may result from other intestinal infection. Similarly
fungal organisms may be happily existing in the gastrointestinal tract not causing any issues
until overgrowth occurs and treatment is required.

Other than isolating amounts of favourable and unfavourable microbes in the gut,
functional stool analysis can provide specific information about digestion function. Intestinal
markers such as pancreatic elastase, beta-glucuronidase, secretory IgA and zonulin amongst
others can add valuable information to a digestive health picture. Pancreatic enzymes are
crucial for upper digestive processes, elevated beta-glucuronidase may be associate with
unfavourable balance of bacteria in the gut and issues with optimal liver detoxification.
Secretory IgA is one of the most important players in our gut and is vital for good immune
function and protecting the gut against pathogens. High levels of zonulin is considered a sign
that intestinal permeability may be an issue as it’s a protein that can open up the important
tight junctions in the gut wall. A strong, healthy gut lining barrier is essential to reduce
contaminants including larger food particles and microbes entering into the blood.

Comprehensive digestive stool analysis will also analyse the amount of undigested food
particles in the stool to help create a comprehensive upper digestive picture by way of
digestive enzyme and hydrochloric acid function. Stool samples can also be tested for
antibiotic resistant genes which is useful in establishing the best treatment protocol.

Functional digestive stool analysis is non invasive so a relatively easy test to do for both
adults and children who have unexplained digestive disturbance. The test itself is not cheap
and will usually cost around $300-$500 depending on how many markers are tested so it’s
best kept for those tricky digestive issues that have escaped an easy diagnosis.

For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca
Naturopath on 0410 465 900.