GI MAP Testing with Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

GI MAP Testing & Comprehensive Stool Analysis

In my world of functional nutrition and gut health, GI MAP testing (a comprehensive stool analysis via the Diagnostic Solutions lab) or a similar comprehensive stool analysis from another functional medicine lab is not optional for those who are serious about getting to the root of their irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or leaky gut issues once and for all.  

…If you’ve already gone through the motions with colonoscopies, allergy testing, and/or clinical stool samples in an attempt to figure out your debilitating chronic gut issues, only to have been told everything is “normal” – this is for you!

If you’ve ever wondered any of the following… 

  • Why & how can I be suffering when all my clinical tests are coming back “normal”?
  • What’s the best probiotic brand and supplement for my gut health?  
  • Do I actually need to take digestive enzymes, or am I wasting my money?  
  • Herbs for digestion and gut health…where to begin?  (“Decision fatigue” is an understatement!)

Look no further – Through GI MAP testing, we can actually take away the majority of the guesswork, uncovering answers to all of the above questions and much more.

What is GI MAP testing?

GI MAP testing, aka “GI mapping”, is not just any stool sample – and no, it’s not (yet) offered in mainstream gastrointestinal (GI) clinics!  

This cutting-edge functional nutrition lab test allows us to test, analyze, and assess your submitted stool samples using cutting-edge technology so we can have an exponentially more detailed picture (or ‘map’) of what’s really going on inside your gut.

What does it test?

Acute gut pathogens

The GI MAP test does include all the same standard bacterial and viral pathogens (and more) that would be included in a mainstream stool sample at your local GI clinic.  These are the types of pathogens that are known to cause food poisoning, foodborne illness, or acute-onset diarrhea.  

  • C. diff, norovirus and E. coli are the most well-known examples – but more are tested.

GI MAP testing also rules out H. pylori, a troublesome pathogen known to be a root-cause culprit of heartburn and acid reflux among millions!  

Intestinal parasites

Did you know that millions of people are walking around with functional parasites (worms) in their intestines, and they have no idea?  While not all worms are bad (some are a natural / beneficial component of the gut microbiome), certain types are linked with nutritional deficiencies, unintentional weight loss and a damaged gut lining.  

Leaving these issues unchecked is a recipe for havoc in your body and it can snowball pretty fast.  You don’t want to overlook this possible underlying culprit of your digestive issues. (I’ve seen the aftermath of parasites among clients in my 1:1 clinic, and it’s no picnic!)

Functional gut pathogens

Unlike a standard clinical stool sample test, which only assesses and rules out a small list of acute pathogens (the acute kind mentioned above), the GI MAP test is more sensitive and comprehensive.

Through GI mapping, we’re able to detect more functional “dysbiotic” (pathogenic) microbes known to trigger chronic symptoms of IBS.  

  • These are the types of microbes that cause gas/bloating, and/or damage the gut lining at the cellular level,leach nutrients from the gut, and even disrupt the immune system in many cases.

Probiotic gut flora

The GI MAP test and other similar functional nutrition comprehensive stool analysis tests don’t just look at pathogenic microbes – these tests also analyze and assess your healthy (probiotic) gut flora levels.  

If you’re low in good bacteria, that can be just as big a problem as having overgrowth of dysbiotic microbes in many cases! We need good bacteria for a lot of reasons.  

Healthy gut flora are our first line of defense, in that they help to keep the opportunistic gut microbe levels (such as Candida) under control, and they provide essential nutrients for the gut lining.  

Probiotic microbes (when at healthy levels) form a thick slab of protection over the mucosal membranes of the gut lining to keep out anything bad from getting into the bloodstream.

Opportunistic gut flora

Too much of a good thing often becomes bad!  This is the case for opportunistic gut flora.  

Opportunistic microbes (such as the infamous Candida albicans) are considered symbiotic and necessary when in moderation for our survival and health – they need us, and we need them.  But when these microbes overgrow out of control, they will become harmful and wreak havoc on our health.  

The GI MAP test measures your levels of certain opportunistic gut flora to make sure they are within a healthy range.  If these microbes are overgrowing, they could be a hidden culprit of your IBS/leaky gut.

Post-biotic levels

Short-chain fatty acids are a type of “post-biotic”, aka the bi-product of good bacteria. Having health levels of short-chain fatty acids in the gut is crucial for maintaining a healthy gut pH and keeping “bad” bacteria levels under control – and lots more.

The good news:  if we uncover that your short-chain fatty acid levels are low, there is a lot you can do about it!  We address this during our test review session with food and supplement protocols to bring your short chain fatty acid levels back into balance.

Digestive inflammatory markers

Inflammatory markers in the digestive tract are indicative of underlying issues such as gastritis, colitis, and irritable bowel disease (IBD).  GI mapping allows you to find out sooner so you can take informed action accordingly, with guidance and consultation from your functional medicine practitioner.

Presence of blood in the stool

GI MAP testing is more sensitive than a conventional stool sample in that it can identify the presence of red and white blood cells at microscopic, subclinical levels which often don’t get detected in mainstream testing.

If you have subclinical levels of blood in your stool, knowing this information in advance can allow you to address issues such as gastritis, ulcers, and/or IBD at the preventive, subclinical level before they spiral into bigger issues.

Immune markers

70% of the immune system “lives” in the gut, which explains why leaky gut and autoimmune disorders go hand-in-hand (as well as leaky gut and food sensitivities!).  

Learning if any immune markers in your gut are out of range will help your functional medicine practitioner determine which steps to take next in terms of “cracking your code.”

Digestive enzymes

While digestive enzymes are critical and essential for healthy digestion, not everyone benefits from taking these supplements.  Only those with a deficiency are in need of digestive enzyme supplementation, and in those cases it still isn’t meant to be long-term!

Over-supplementing with digestive enzymes can potentially debilitate your body’s natural enzyme production.  Tread lightly and proceed with caution. (This is one of many reasons why I now require GI MAP testing or a similar comprehensive stool analysis for my clients on their complete gut repair journeys!)

Through GI MAP testing, we’ll be able to see which digestive enzymes are within healthy range, and which are low.

Microbial sensitivity & resistance to herbs

While there are dozens (if not hundreds) of herbal antimicrobial supplements existing in nature and readily available, one size does not fit all! This component of the GI MAP test is especially crucial for this reason.

GI MAP testing will rule out bacterial/fungal resistance to certain herbal antifungal/antibacterial supplements.  For example, if the specific strains of pathogenic bacteria or fungus in YOUR gut are resistant to oregano, no amount of oil of oregano in the world will do anything for your IBS.  The same goes for berberine, uva ursi, and other types of popular herbal supplements for gut health on the market!  

This test reveals to us which herbs YOUR microbes will be most sensitive (versus resistant) to. From there, we can take informed action… instead of just throwing a bunch of herbs at the (gut) wall until something sticks. 😉 (Knowledge is power!)

Stool color and consistency

What is “healthy” poop supposed to look like? Most people don’t know.  I often recommend looking at the Bristol stool chart to get a more clear picture of what your poop is telling you! 

GI MAP testing will show us whether your poop is healthy or not based on the color and consistency.

  • In the meantime, feel free to learn more and download your own free Bristol stool chart PDF provided by my colleague, the Geriatric Dietitian, if you’re curious!

At this point, if you’re wondering how to take the leap and get your own GI MAP test, read on to learn about what next steps will entail…

GI MAP testing: options and next steps

As a registered and licensed functional dietitian nutritionist, I’m grateful to have access to specialty cutting-edge gut health tests (including the GI MAP test, and many other functional nutrition tests) for my clients!

  • Due to the high volume of inquiries and the nature of what it entails to run this test, from an integrity standpoint, please note I don’t retail functional nutrition tests to the public or offer random one-off consultations for those who just want an appointment or two to satisfy curiosity…
    • The GI MAP test as a stand-alone intervention is a step in the right direction, but still not even close to being the full picture of what is needed for complete gut repair. There is no such thing as a “quick fix”! 😉
    • I found that one-off consultations were not even enough to cover the tip of the iceberg in terms of educating, equipping, and empowering people with what they need in order to properly address chronic gut-related issues.
    • The old-school high-volume, low-commitment client model is ineffective at getting clients results, and it was taking away from my time and energy allotted to properly show up for and support my committed clients who are in this for the long-game.

All of that said, I believe I’d be doing you and my committed clients a disservice if I were to order this test and/or offer a token consultation a-la-carte, without also equipping you with the right amount of knowledge, education, tools, support and guidance that you need in order to actually get results

If you’re serious about healing your gut and you’d like to work together and get a GI MAP test / comprehensive stool analysis through me, I require for new clients to be enrolled in ONE of the following (so you can access my complete gut repair framework):

GI MAP testing: frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

How do I know if I am a good candidate for the GI MAP test?

  • From a symptom standpoint, if you suffer from gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, adverse food reactions, hemorrhoids, fissures, heartburn/reflux, stomach pain, or pretty much anything else that you suspect is linked to your gut (such as anything related to the immune system, skin, joints, liver, etc.)… then you can likely benefit from this test!  

You can learn more details about the clinical indications and suggested criteria for GI mapping here.

Is GI MAP testing suitable for children and infants?

  • Yes! GI mapping is safe and relevant for anyone who poops. 😀

What does the GI MAP test cost?

  • The cost of the GI MAP test and similar comprehensive stool analysis tests ranges from $345-500 depending on the lab, and depending on the facility you work with.

Is the GI MAP stool test covered by insurance? 

  • GI MAP testing is not a routine test, and in most cases it won’t be covered by your insurance.

As an alternative option, people may pay for GI MAP testing via health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) cards if this is an option.

Some companies (including Diagnostic Solutions and the Great Plains Laboratory) will allow you to submit a claim for reimbursement; however, I’ve found people have had to pay more for the test (closer to $500) when their claims were denied.

Do I have to change my diet before I collect my stool analysis samples?

  • In most cases you don’t need to change anything about your diet.  In the test kit instructions it is specified not to eat too much meat because it can increase the risk of constipation.
    • This is subjective – you don’t need to go vegetarian, but I would recommend limiting meat intake to ~4 oz. per day or less in preparation for your GI MAP/comprehensive stool analysis test.
  • Culinary herbs and spices won’t impact the results of your GI MAP/comprehensive stool analysis test – so no need to modify these!
  • Functional foods (such as probiotic yogurt, kimchi or sauerkraut) may impact your test results if these are consumed in high doses. It’s fine to keep these in moderation. Check with your 1:1 practitioner to verify what’s appropriate in order to get an accurate baseline!

Do I have to stop taking any medications or supplements before I collect my stool samples?

This is very important!  Make sure to double-triple-check the instructions provided in your stool sample test kit as they will give you a full list and summary of what to stop taking for a certain amount of time in preparation for your GI MAP test.

Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you withhold / discontinue taking any and all of the following medications and supplements for at least 48 hours before collecting any stool samples because they may alter the accuracy of your test results.  

(You may want to run this by your doctor in advance if you’re following a prescription!)

  • Acid-reducing meds: 

      • Prilosec/ Omeprazole
      • Pepcid/ Famotidine 
      • Prevacid/Lansoprazole
      • Nizatidine
      • Nexium/ Esomeprazole
      • Zantac/Ranitidine
      • Protonix/Pantoprazole 
      • Tums
  • Anti-inflammatory medications/NSAIDs

      • Aspirin
      • Advil
      • Tylenol
      • Ibuprofen
      • Steroids
  • Microbiome-altering medications & supplements:

      • Probiotics
      • Herbal antimicrobials (oregano, rosemary, thyme, berberine, grapefruit seed extract, Pau d’arco, etc.)
      • Prescription antibiotics
        • It’s recommended that you hold off for at least 14 days after completing a round of antibiotics before collecting and submitting stool samples so your baseline is as accurate as possible.
  • Vitamins/minerals supplements:

      • Vitamin C
      • Iron supplements
      • Magnesium
      • Multivitamins containing iron and/or vitamin C and/or magnesium
      • Supplements containing magnesium
  • Digestive enzymes

  • Herbal digestive bitters

If you’re taking a medication or supplement not included on this list, and you’d like to verify whether or not to take it in preparation for your stool sample collections, the easiest and most direct way to find out is call the lab’s customer service line (listed on the instructions included in your kit.)

If you’re on a prescription medication and you’ve been advised to discontinue it in preparation for your sample collection, make sure to consult your doctor before discontinuing anything!

What if I’m too constipated to collect enough stool for samples?

This is a very common question! The good news is you don’t need much output in order to obtain enough for your stool sample collection for GI mapping/comprehensive stool analysis testing.

  • It’s generally recommended to try taking magnesium citrate, ground flax seeds, or psyllium fiber in moderation (as instructed by your provider) on an as-needed basis to help increase stool output for your time-sensitive test samples.

GI MAP testing / comprehensive stool analysis: final thoughts

GI MAP testing and comprehensive stool analysis tests are a wonderful non-invasive way for us to assess and ‘map out’ the status of your gut health proactively, from a root-cause lens.  

These specialized and highly sensitive functional nutrition tests allow us to more easily and clearly determine customized next-steps in your treatment plan.

While these tests can be pricey and not usually covered by insurance, they’re well worth the investment for those who are motivated and committed to healing themselves from the inside out!

It’s important to keep in mind that getting the GI MAP test is not enough to completely heal and repair a damaged gut. 

  • The customized nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle interventions that follow will need to be implemented with enough consistency for you to move the needle forward as part of a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to complete gut repair!

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