How to Choose an Appropriate Stool Test
Stool testing is a convenient and cost effective test method, but sometimes it is difficult to decide which is the best option for a certain problem.
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Why Use Stool Testing in Complementary Medicine?
Finding the cause of a health problem is a difficult task. Often very different conditions show identical or similar symptoms, causing time and money to be wasted on inappropriate therapies. This not only disadvantages the client, but also impacts on a practitioner’s reputation. Stool testing can help eliminate the guesswork of diagnosis and improve therapy results through the naturopathic principle of treating the underlying cause of a problem.
The Advantages of Testing Stool
- Stool testing is a method with proven success in determining a number of parameters relating to digestive and immune health.
- The sample is easy to obtain in the patient’s own home without the need for specialist equipment, nurses or needles. (1)
- The underlying cause(s) of a health problem can be found, aiding diagnosis and therapy success in difficult cases.
- Tests results can improve compliance as some clients are more motivated to complete a therapy program if they see an objective result
- Stool testing is cost effective compared to many other forms of testing, with the added advantage of selecting as many or as few parameters as needed to meet therapeutic aims.
- Therapy success can be quantitatively measured, eliminating the need for excess treatment and providing peace of mind to the client and practitioner.
The Gastrointestinal Tract
To understand the great value of stool as a test material it is important to understand how the digestive system works. The gastrointestinal tract is simply a tube, which starts at the mouth, passes through the body and opens again at the anus. Since the tube opens to the outside world at either end, the contents are considered non-systemic. However, this tube has to perform vital and totally contradictory tasks: It has to absorb even traces of substances from its lumen into the body, which then become systemic, but at the same time fulfil a role as a perfect barrier, protecting our system from all unwanted molecules. (2) In addition, the intestine also provides a route for certain digestive and waste substances secreted by the body, as well as being home to the gut associated lymphatic tissue (GALT), the intestinal immune system that constitutes 70-80% of an adult’s specific immunity. (1, 3) This is reflected in the well-known German saying: “Death lives in the intestines”!
The role of the gastrointestinal tract in health has been recognised for some time now. As early as 1908 the Russian Nobel prize winner, Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov, published a book entitled “The Prolongation of Life”. In the book he discussed the possibility of prolonging life by supplementing beneficial lactobacilli to counteract the pathogenic influence of putrefactive bacteria(3). This belief is now widely held. Scientific publications on the micro-flora have increased enormously. In 1990 a search for “probiotics” found only 6 publications. In 2009, the same search performed on Pub Med returned in excess of 5000 papers. Consequently, science is now starting to make clear correlations between health problems and changes in the micro-ecology, especially in cases of allergies and other conditions involving the immune system.
What Can be Tested Using Stool Samples?
As in conventional medicine it is possible to test for pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites in case of diarrhoea symptoms or check for digestive enzymes in case of dyspepsia or other digestive problems. Service offered to complementary therapists also include analysis of: physiological micro flora, fungal overgrowth, immune parameters, inflammation markers and many other parameters. This increases the number of indications for stool tests from those disorders that are obviously located in the GI system, to numerous other health problems that are not primarily connected to the gut.
Popular Stool Tests
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