To further understand how the gut health test works and the ways it can help you learn more about the state (and health) of your gut microbiome, I caught up with Nathan Price, PhD, the chief scientific officer at Thorne. After taking the microbiome test myself, I had the opportunity to review my results with Dr. Price, who helped me understand the findings and ways to apply them in a meaningful way to help bolster my gut health moving forward. Needless to say, the test was eye-opening, and applying the changes to better my gut has been easier than I had anticipated—ahead, I share the nitty gritty details of why.
What does taking an at-home Thorne gut health test entail?
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Collecting a (stool) sample to assess the state of the microbiome. Most traditional at-home gut health tests involve collecting stool in very hands-on ways that most would consider far from ideal; I think it’s safe to say we’d prefer to flush it away rather than handle it (literally).
Fortunately, the makers at Throne heard folks loud and clear. “I apologize if this gets, uh, a little graphic, but I'm a scientist,” says Dr. Price. “Typically, if people want to do a microbiome test, you have to poop in a bucket or on a piece of paper or something. Then, take a little shovel and scoop up a little bit of the feces into a container.” What’s more, he notes that some tests call for freezing the sample. Yep, next to the foods you eat. Thankfully, Thorne’s gut health test involves none of that.
Instead, Dr. Price made it his mission to develop a product that was as user-friendly and mess-free as possible. This is how the revolutionary microbiome wipe was born. “We sat around and thought, well, what would be the easiest way to get a sample from somebody without changing their daily behavior,” he says. The answer was simple: A “special” kind of toilet paper that collected a sample for testing with one easy wipe. To that end, the brilliantly-designed wipe is made out of a polymer that, after wiping, is stored in a vial filled with a salt solution that preserves the high-quality DNA sample—no refrigeration necessary. Phew.
View this post on Instagram
My experience taking the at-home gut microbiome test from Thorne
Like many of you may feel, I, too, was very apprehensive about taking an at-home gut microbiome test. The thought of having to handle my you-know-what was enough to send me running for the hills. However, once I got word of a brand-new microbiome wipe that was designed for people like me, there was no turning back. A few emails later, I had a kit on the way to my home and was able to connect directly with the team at Thorne to learn as much as possible about the new developments in the world of gut health.
I’ll start with the unboxing. The entire gut health test kit arrives in a small, sleek box that contains five simple items: A resealable plastic bag, a pair of gloves, the wipe, a container for the wipe filled with a solution, and a prelabeled return envelope. (In addition to a small booklet with four easy steps on what to do with it all.) After activating the test online and answering a short questionnaire, it was collecting-the-sample time—which, honestly, was even easier than I could’ve imagined.
Using the items in the box, I was able to (TMI) collect a mess-free sample without feeling totally grossed out. Indeed, it was no different than wiping with a piece of toilet paper. The only difference was instead of flushing it away, I simply placed the dissolvable wipe in the solution, sealed the container, and shook it until it was fully dissolved (about 30 seconds or so).
Once the wipe was completely untraceable, I pressed the button on the lid to release salt into the vial, which stabilized and preserved the DNA sample. Finally, all that was left to do was place the container in the resealable, leak-proof bag and into the return envelope it went to ship off for testing. The whole process took no more than a few minutes. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Reviewing my results
After a few weeks of waiting, I finally received my results which I accessed directly through Thorne’s online portal. I was absolutely shocked to find that there were over 20 (!) pages of a comprehensive analysis of my gut microbiome. Although navigating through all of the scientific jargon was a bit intimidating at first, Thorne’s user-friendly layout helps make things easier by providing in-depth information and definitions regarding each data point.
For context, the results were broken down into several categories, including “gut pillars” like digestion, inflammation, gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the composition of the gut microbiota that can lead to various health problems and symptoms), intestinal permeability, and nervous system. Additionally, there was a general health section with a diversity and immune readiness score and an examination of over 10 potential pathogens. Finally—and quite possibly the most exciting part about this test—there were personalized recommendations on what type of diet to follow and ways to better my gut health on the day-to-day based on my results.
But why does all of this microbiome talk even matter in the first place? Dr. Price broke it down for me in Layman’s terms. “Our entire body is essentially coated by an envelope of microbes, many of which help carry out essential functions that we need to live and especially to live healthfully,” Dr. Price says. According to him, this means that every single thing that we put into our body, whether it be food, a supplement, or a drug, passes through the microbiome before it can essentially “get” into us.
Although the at-home Thorne gut health test isn’t meant to be diagnostic, aka diagnose a specific disease, it can help folks better understand the state of their microbiome and find ways to support overall health. Dr. Price explains that this is done through metagenomic sequencing, which means assessing the genetic information in the DNA of the microbes tested. This data allows you to track, for example, how probiotic supplements or a new diet are affecting your microbiome. What’s even more reassuring is that the scientists analyzing the data at Thorne’s facilities will also flag any significant findings in testing by personally contacting an individual if something out-of-the-ordinary comes up.
Why you should test often
In order to reap the most benefits of microbiome testing, Dr. Price suggests retaking the test every few months (three to six months or so) to track changes over time. “For example, if you're going through a really significant dietary change, then you may want to test more frequently; meanwhile, if you’re just living your life normally, every six months is probably fine,” he says.
And although the tests aren’t the cheapest (Thorne’s kit retails for $198), Dr. Price says it’s worthwhile having a catalog to monitor the state of your gut as you implement any lifestyle or dietary changes. The good news? The company does offer discounts if you subscribe or purchase multiple products at once.
How you can translate the findings to fit your personal lifestyle
My favorite part of this test is that there are key takeaways to help individuals make a material difference in their wellness journey that are easy and digestible (pun intended). “We did a clinical trial on people that were suffering from irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] a couple of years ago. During the trial, we took people through a program where we gave them personalized recommendations based on their reports. We found that within a one-month period, there was a very significant improvement in their gut health score,” Dr. Price says. The more you know, right?
How I applied the findings in my test
Fortunately, my results showed that my gut health was—for the most part—in good shape. According to the exam, my current dietary preferences were largely a-okay. Although, I was encouraged to eat more fresh, whole fruits, consume more nuts and seeds, and avoid eating habits that could potentially interfere with my sleep. And in addition to the dietary recommendations, Thorne also provides product recommendations from their own line of supplements to help balance out the gut.
Although my gut was in good standing on the whole, Dr. Price pointed out a few red flags when analyzing the “additional insights” in my results. He noted that I should work on increasing my Akkermansia muciniphila, a type of good bacteria, and lowering calprotectin, an indicator of inflammation. Both of which he recommended I do via changes to my diet and potential supplementation.
Since taking the test three months ago, I’ve focused on eating more fruits and vegetables in hopes of balancing some of the deficiencies found in my microbiome. In turn, I’ve become more regular than ever and experience fewer bouts of stomach-related issues. But the real proof will be retaking the test to see if the changes have translated into real progress—which is TBD.
At-home health testing has emerged as a convenient and accessible option for individuals seeking to take a proactive approach to their well-being. These tests offer numerous benefits, including convenience, privacy, and the ability to monitor specific health markers. By providing valuable insights and enabling early detection, at-home health testing empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their health, leading to improved overall well-being and a greater sense of control over their own bodies.
So while I wait to retest my gut microbiome, I’ve got my eye on a few of the other at-home kits Thorne offers like a sleep test that assesses the hormone rhythms that regulate the sleep-wake cycle, as well as a stress test that measures hormone levels and provides a personal plan to instill calmness based on the findings. That said, the next one in my queue is their biological age health panel, which analyzes the impact that lifestyle, nutrition, illnesses, and genetics have had on your body and vital organs such as your liver and kidneys. Perhaps, I’ll discover that I’m 30 going on 13?
Discover an RD's guide to gut health:
Loading More Posts...