Given the growing number of people struggling with IBS, IBD, leaky gut and dysbiosis nowadays, “GI mapping” is now making its way into exponentially more functional nutrition and functional medicine clinics worldwide each year.
And for good reason!
Research has uncovered that the roles of the gut extend far beyond just digesting our food and eliminating waste from the body.
- The gut is also home to ~70% of our immune system and 90% of serotonin production; our gut majorly impacts everything from our mood to our hormones and metabolism, liver detoxification, thyroid regulation, skin clarity, energy levels, nutritional status, and more.
Long story short, gut health is kind of a big deal!
If you struggle with IBS/leaky gut, or you’re a healthcare provider helping patients to navigate and resolve gut health issues with help from a comprehensive stool analysis such as the GI MAP test, this article is for you.
What exactly is GI Mapping?
“GI mapping” has become a fairly new functional nutrition term which originated from Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory’s GI Microbial Assay Plus (GI MAP) test, the first comprehensive stool analysis test of its kind.
The term “GI mapping” is now used in context as a verb by many functional medicine practitioners and patients to describe the act of running a GI MAP test, or a similar variation of the functional stool analysis test. (Go figure!) 😀
Through one of these comprehensive stool tests, you can learn everything you ever cared to know about your gut – and much more…
The GI-MAP test and its variations are holistic, integrative and multi-dimensional – which is how all gut heath treatment approaches should be!
They use cutting-edge technology to analyze and assess the status of your microbiome (the ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, worms and parasites living in your body – mostly in the gut!) along with other important components of your digestive system and immune function.
What’s included in a GI-MAP stool test?
It’s important to note these comprehensive stool analysis tests go far above and beyond what’s included in a basic clinical stool sample, such as the kind one might receive in an acute-care hospital setting or even from a mainstream GI doctor.
- A basic stool sample ordered in hospital settings is limited to detecting only the handful of infamous bugs known to cause acute-onset, severe diarrhea (such as difficile, E. coli, and Giardia, to name a few).
- But dysbiosis is not acute; it’s chronic, and can present as more functional (not requiring hospitalization) such as in most cases of IBS and leaky gut.
The GI-MAP test is unique in that it uses a process called “quantitative polymerase chain reaction” (qPCR) technology to analyze the microbiome, by targeting the specific DNA of the microbiome organisms tested.
In these functional nutrition tests, you’ll receive information on each of the following:
This portion is essentially an upgraded version of the standard test you’d get in hospital settings! The DNA of each of these organisms is identified and ruled out, to make sure you aren’t suffering from an underlying infection of any kind.
The GI-MAP rules out 12 different infectious bacterial strains known to cause acute-onset diarrhea, usually resulting from either foodborne illness or contamination from lack of hand sanitation.
Includes: various strains of C. diff, Campylobacter, E. coli, Shigella, Shigella-like toxins, Salmonella, and more.
In GI mapping, we rule out the top three most common types of worms known to wreak serious havoc in the gut if left unchecked.
Includes: Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia
We’ll test for the presence of the DNA of the three most common types of viral infections known to cause acute-onset diarrhea in humans.
Includes: Adrenovirus 40/41 and two Norovirus variants
H. pylori infection:
This infamous bug is often silently lingering in up to ~50% of the population and is responsible for many cases of heartburn, reflux, indigestion, gastritis and ulcers.
The GI-MAP test will rule out the presence of 7 different types of H. pylori.
Probiotic and “commensal” bacteria:
These are the “good guys” as well as the microbes that are considered normal in humans. (In a healthy gut, we should have plenty of probiotic microbes, and normal levels of commensal bacteria.)
The GI-MAP test measures levels of a dozen different probiotic and commensal microbes and/or phyla.
There are certain types of bacteria, fungi and viruses that are considered safe/normal in small amounts, but have the potential to become harmful in large amounts.
- Candida albicans, a common fungus, is one of the most well-known examples of an “opportunistic” organism.
- We all need candida fungus in order to live (and it needs us); candida is present in all healthy people. However, when it overgrows (when there are not enough “good” probiotic microbes to keep it under control), candida can and will wreak havoc throughout the entire body.
Candida is just one example! Rest assured that your GI-MAP test will measure and assess your levels of over a dozen different opportunistic flora in your gut.
Dysbiotic (bad) pathogenic organisms:
“Dysbiotic” microbes are those most often found to play a role in IBS, acne, allergies, autoimmunity, and many other chronic conditions impacted by the microbiome.
Dysbiosis is a modern-day epidemic; given the rising rates of chronic health issues impacted by the gut, many people are probably walking around in a state of dysbiosis left unchecked. Unfortunately, ignoring or disregarding the possibility of dysbiosis is a sure-fire way to create a domino cascade of other health conditions linked to leaky gut over time.
These bugs are the most tricky, because they aren’t currently acknowledged or tested in mainstream hospitals/clinics. In most cases of chronic illness, mainstream providers are encouraged to be very conservative when it comes to testing, and will typically just prescribe pharmaceuticals to mask symptoms.
However, in functional nutrition and functional medicine, since we dig to get to the root cause of longstanding chronic health issues, we leave no stone unturned!
In the GI-MAP and other comprehensive stool analysis tests, over a dozen different types of dysbiotic (pathogenic) microbes and fungi potentially making you sick are tested and ruled out.
Intestinal health markers
This includes digestive enzyme levels, immune markers, inflammatory markers, and GI markers. Each of these is vital to know about and address if out of range, when it comes to restoring gut health properly!
Digestive enzyme levels
Assessing levels of digestive enzymes is critical for someone who could potentially be maldigesting/mal-absorbing nutrients from food.
On the flipside, over-supplementing unnecessarily is also not good which is why I prefer testing over guessing, any day. Taking digestive enzymes for too long unnecessarily can actually interfere with the body’s ability to make its own enzymes.
In the GI-MAP test, certain digestive enzyme levels will be checked.
Given that 70% of our immune system resides in the gut, and we have antibodies living in the mucosal membranes of the gut, it’s important to make sure those are healthy!
The GI-MAP test measures your levels of several different types of antibodies in the gut, to make sure your gut lining is protected so your immune system can function optimally.
Ruling out inflammatory markers such as calprotectin is important. If your inflammatory markers are above the healthy range, it may suggest a need for further testing to rule out inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) via a colonoscopy.
The presence of blood in stool is detected in this test, and is another indicator of a need for further testing such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy. This recommendation is ultimately determined by a doctor.
Who can benefit from GI mapping?
Pretty much anyone and everyone can benefit from optimizing their gut health and microbiome! But GI mapping may or may not be worth the financial investment, unless you’re working through specific health concerns impacted by the gut.
If you or a loved one are hoping to get to the root cause of longstanding gut health issues, GI mapping might be just what you/they need!
Even infants, toddlers and children can qualify as candidates who may potentially benefit from a GI-MAP gut health assessment.
Below is some criteria to help you determine if the GI-MAP test or a similar comprehensive stool analysis test can help you or your loved one on your holistic gut healing journey.
Suggested criteria for the GI-MAP test
(This is general information for educational purposes; make sure to consult your own functional medicine practitioner to determine if GI mapping is right for you.)
Clinically, the most likely to benefit from a GI-MAP test (or a similar test assessing the gut microbiome) are people actively suffering from any of the following, including but not limited to:
- Chronic constipation and/or diarrhea
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Heartburn/reflux/Barrett’s esophagus
- Brain fog
- Adverse food reactions (food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities)
- Chronic anxiety
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Multiple food aversions/picky eating
- Ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
- Grave’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
GI Mapping: How does it work?
The first step in the GI-MAP testing process is to determine if you’re a good candidate for the test, typically through a consultation with a functional dietitian nutritionist or other functional medicine practitioner who specializes in gut health.
Should you decide to move forward with the GI-MAP test or a similar variation, a test kit will be shipped to your address, and you’ll be responsible for collecting and submitting a few stool samples as instructed.
- You’ll also be instructed to prepare for sample collections in advance, by temporarily stopping certain supplements if applicable (such as vitamin C, digestive enzymes or antacids) which can interfere with the accuracy of your GI map test results.
The stool samples are then analyzed by the corresponding lab which administered your test kit.
The results of your comprehensive stool analysis test will be compiled and reported back to your functional medicine doctor/naturopath/functional dietitian nutritionist within a few weeks, through the lab’s secure online portal or encrypted email.
Your GI-MAP or other comprehensive stool analysis test results will serve as the roadmap for your functional health practitioner to determine the next steps you must take in terms of nutrition and supplement protocols on your gut healing journey.
Are GI mapping tests covered by health insurance?
Unfortunately at this point in time, functional nutrition tests (including GI mapping stool tests) are not covered by health insurance, but some companies can occasionally be covered through out-of-network benefits. You’d need to save your receipt and submit it to your insurance with a diagnosis code that meets criteria for coverage.
- There are no guarantees, and the downside of trying to get insurance coverage is that you can potentially be charged more than the original retail price of a test if insurance denies coverage.
If you have a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) card, you can use this to pay for your GI mapping test as well as for other types of functional nutrition tests.
What does the GI MAP test cost?
The GI MAP test and similar stool analysis tests (such as the Great Plains Laboratory’s comprehensive stool analysis) can range from ~$335 to $380 with shipping and packaging included.
Some functional nutrition providers may bundle stool tests into outcome-based programs for reduced rates, or practitioners may adjust the retail price to account for credit card fees and administrative services associated with running these tests.
I’ve found that stool analysis tests that run cheaper likely do not include as many components, are less accurate, and are ultimately less helpful for patients. As the saying goes, sometimes we get what we pay for!
How can I move forward with the GI MAP stool test? (Next steps)
A GI mapping/comprehensive stool analysis test needs to be ordered through a licensed healthcare provider in your state/province.
You may inquire directly through the Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory or the Great Plains Laboratory…
Or if you’re in the U.S. and would like to heal your gut in 2022, please check out my 1:1 outcome-based Complete Gut Repair Program and we can chat to see if we’re a great fit working together!
The GI MAP test or another comprehensive stool analysis test is a cutting-edge functional nutrition test that will show you more about your gut and immune system than any other clinical test out there.
GI mapping an integral part of a multi-dimensional holistic health approach most people don’t even know they need, when it comes to addressing longstanding gut health/autoimmune issues.
In order to get a comprehensive stool analysis test to assess your microbiome, you need to work with an integrative functional medicine practitioner, naturopathic doctor, or functional dietitian nutritionist.
Although GI mapping can be a bit of investment up-front, rest assured that you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of your return on investment from a health standpoint for many years to come!