Functional lab testing has received increasing attention over the years and for good reason.
While functional labs cannot provide diagnoses, they can help us uncover all kinds of imbalances within our body systems that may be contributing to our symptoms, like detoxification issues, digestive insufficiencies, infections, mineral imbalances and more.
The GI MAP Stool test is a specific type of functional stool test that looks at the Gut Microbiome. The GI MAP gives us insight into how the Gut is functioning by analyzing digestive function, immune function, inflammation, gluten sensitivity, bacterial and viral pathogen overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, and more. In combination with symptomatology assessments, I have found the GI MAP to be an incredibly helpful tool for helping my clients understand why symptoms like gas, bloating, irregular bowels, skin issues, low energy, heartburn are occurring, despite their labs coming back "normal".
As a gut health practitioner, I use information from the GI MAP test to create personalized protocols for my clients, streamline their path to rebalancing the gut, and ultimately help them find long-term symptom relief.
Who should consider a GI MAP test?
Since the Gut has a hand in virtually every bodily system and function, the GI MAP can be a great starting point for uncovering the root cause behind all kinds of symptoms and syndromes, including:
· Hormonal imbalances (PMS, irregular periods, PCOS, hypo or hyperthyroidism, hair loss, hormonal acne, etc.)
· Skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, acne, perioral dermatitis, etc.)
· Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, irritability, etc.)
· Autoimmune conditions (Hashimoto, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, IBD, etc.)
· Digestive issues (IBS, reflux, heartburn and GERD, IBD, food sensitivities or intolerances, gas, SIBO)
· Chronic inflammation or pain
· Recurrent migraines or headaches
· Nutrient deficiencies
· Low energy or brain fog
· Fungal issues (recurrent yeast infections, UTI’s, fungal nails, etc.)
· Weight-loss resistance or metabolic problems
· Poor immune function
What does the GI MAP Test for?
The GI MAP is not a diagnostic test, but it can provide us with insight as to how the Gut is functioning and whether there are underlying infections or imbalances that may be driving symptoms.
The GI MAP is broken out into a few different categories, including:
The first page of the GI MAP looks at Pathogens. You can think of Pathogens like the “bad guys” that we don’t really want to be hanging around in our Gut
These pathogens can be viral, bacterial or parasitic, and they can really stir things up when they make their way into our digestive systems.
Some common pathogens you may be familiar with include C. Difficile, E. Coli, Giardia, or Salmonella. Being sick with one of these guys is no fun.
I rarely see these Pathogens come up on the GI MAP stool test, but when they do, we often work with a primary care provider.
Helicobacter Pylori (H Pylori) is a common bacterial infection that resides in the stomach. H Pylori is very common, with up to 80% of the population estimated to be infected. While some people may be asymptomatic, others may experience symptoms like pain in the upper left quadrant of their abdomen, acid reflux, heartburn or GERD, bloating, nausea, gnawing sensations in the stomach. H Pylori infections have also been implicated in certain autoimmune conditions including Hashimotos (autoimmune hypothyroidism).
H Pylori bacteria also has a corkscrew-like form which allows it to burrow into the stomach lining. This can contribute to conditions like Gastritis (inflammation in the stomach lining), stomach ulcers and even stomach cancer.
One piece of information that I share with all my clients with H Pylori infections is the implication it has on Digestion - most notably, stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). H pylori thrives in an alkaline environment, and given that the stomach is meant to be extremely acidic to help us break down food, high levels of H Pylori on a GI MAP test can indicate that stomach acid is lower than it should be and that digestion is therefore compromised. This is one of the reasons that H Pylori is associated with symptoms like gas and bloating, as well as nutrient deficiencies. You can read more on the importance of stomach acid here.
Commensal / Keystone Bacteria
You can think of commensal bacteria like the “Good Guys” in your Gut that provide all kinds of benefits including supporting the immune system, metabolism, nutrient absorption, hormone production, bowel habits, neurotransmitter production, vitamin production, and more.
These are more commonly known as Probiotics. Low levels of commensal bacteria can result in:
· Nutrient deficiencies
· Irregular stools
· Poor immunity
· Mood issues
· Increased inflammation
… to name a few.
Opportunistic and Dysbiotic Bacteria
This category is looking at bacterial pathogens that again, we don’t necessarily want to be hanging around in the gut in high amounts. Unlike the pathogens on page 1, it’s quite common to see these ones show up on the GI MAP test, and they may not always be problematic, especially when present in small amounts. In fact, the ideal gut microbiome should be made up of 30 – 35% Dysbiotic bacteria (the bad guys measured above) and 75-80% commensal bacteria (the good guys measured on the last page). This is because the bad guys keep the good guys on their toes, and ensure the immune system is working optimally.
That being said, high levels of these pathogens can be problematic, and can result in symptoms ranging from constipation and looser stools to skin infections, hormonal imbalances, bloating, and more. Some bacteria on this page can also contribute to significant levels of inflammation, impede nutrient absorption, and even contribute to auto-immune conditions.
Fungi and Yeast
Fungal infections like Candida Overgrowth can contribute to a vast range of symptoms, including brain fog, skin infections, IBS, UTI’s and yeast infections, PMS, sugar cravings, sinusitis and more.
While fungal overgrowths are common, the symptoms can be quite vague and overlapping, and I find that many people assume Fungus is at play when really, there is something else going on entirely. Unfortunately, I have seen many clients who have embarked on their own anti-fungal (“candida cleansing”) journey based on symptoms alone, only to find that their symptoms got worse afterwards because they never actually had a fungal issue. This is why I believe testing is so important. Additionally, after working with hundreds of clients and looking at numerous GI MAP tests, I have found that yeast overgrowths rarely exist in isolation.
Parasites are organisms that need to feed off a host in order to survive. Unfortunately for us, we are the host, which is why many people with parasites experience nutrient deficiencies and chronically low energy.
Parasites are also far more common than we think and can contribute to many different symptoms, not just vomiting and diarrhea!
Some of the common symptoms and conditions I see in clients who have Parasites include:
· Skin rashes
· Poor immunity
· Brain fog
· IBS and IBD
· Nutrient deficiencies (especially Iron)
· Hair loss
Similarly to Fungal overgrowths, Parasites rarely pop up in isolation, so I am always considering the entire GI picture when determining how to approach the overgrowths. One thing is for certain though – Seeing parasites on the stool test tells us we need to work on improving stomach acid. Why? Because
stomach acid is meant to protect us by neutralizing pathogens that come in through our environment, so if we had enough stomach acid, these parasites wouldn’t have made their way into the Gut in the first place. I commonly see both H Pylori and Parasites show up together on stool tests for this reason.
Intestinal Health Markers
This section is my personal favourite because it tells us about how our Gut and Digestive System is actually functioning. Specifically, it gives us insight into Digestive secretions (like whether we are producing enough digestive enzymes and bile to actually break down our food), Immune function, Gluten sensitivity (aka, how our immune
system is responding to gluten proteins), and gut inflammation.
A few of my favourite markers in this section include:
· Elastase-1 and Steatocrit: These are our digestive health markers. Specifically, they are measuring digestive enzyme output and steatorrhea (the presence of fat in the stool). When we see these markers out of range, it can indicate that food may not be being broken down and digested efficiently, which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies, pathogen overgrowths, fatigue, bloating, irregular bowels, undigested food in the stools, and more.
· Secretory IGA (SiGA) and Anti-Gliadin IgA: These are our immune markers. SiGA is looking at the total immune response in the Gut. When it is too high or too low, this tells us the immune system is either over-reacting to an infection or a food sensitivity, or it has been totally wiped out from fighting off a long-standing infection, being exposed to food sensitivities long-term, or subjected to chronic stress. Anti-Gliadin IgA can give us insight into how the immune system is responding to gluten exposure. When this marker is elevated, we know gluten is wreaking havoc on the gut!
· Calprotectin: Calprotectin is an inflammatory marker that can be useful in helping us understand the overall level of inflammation in the Gut. Calprotectin is also used to assess for IBD.
· Zonulin: Zonulin gives us insight into the health of the mucosal lining (the gut lining). Specifically, Zonulin is a protein that contributes to intestinal permeability, often referred to as Leaky Gut. When Zonulin is elevated, we know the gut lining is compromised, which often presents as nutrient deficiencies, IBS symptoms, skin issues, poor immune health and nutrient deficiencies, to name a few.
The GI MAP test is an incredibly comprehensive (and complex) test, and while I would recommend it to almost anyone struggling with chronic health conditions, the test is only as good as the interpretation. For this reason, if you think this test could be helpful for you, I highly encourage you to work with a professional who can help you understand your results and formulate a plan to address them.
Click here to learn about my Gut Health Deep Dive Package – A 1-month package that includes a GI MAP stool test, a private session to review your results, and customized diet, supplement and lifestyle recommendations based on your results.
You can also check-out my Gut Rehab Program, a 4-month 1:1 program designed to completely transform your health.