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What Blood Tests Tell You About Gut Health

By Andy Scott, DHEd, MS, FDN-P, Pn1, NASM-CPT, CCWS

When you think about achieving optimal health, what comes to mind?

I’m guessing your first thought was not “my gut.”

If so, you’re not alone. But with a little understanding of the significance of gut health, you’ll quickly realize your gut health is the foundation of overall health.

The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), or gut, is where many microorganisms, both good and bad, come in contact with us. This is our first line of defense, our body guard which plays a vital role in optimizing health. According to Hippocrates:

All disease begins in the gut.

If the GI tract is not healthy, we might find ourselves fighting illness and dealing with disease. Achieving health will be impossible if you have not identified hidden stressors in your gut. An unhealthy gut can lead to an ever-growing list of conditions.

Poor gut health is often due to varying stressors that allow the gut to be penetrated by food particles and microorganisms, e.g. bacteria, parasites, fungi, and alike, a condition known as leaky gut. The gut is nearly leak proof and is very selective on what is allowed to pass through the barrier.

The following conditions may be caused by poor gut health:

Weight Gain

An unhealthy gut allows bad bacteria to thrive. Certain unwelcomed bacteria actually promote weight gain by helping store excess calories in fat instead of letting the body use the calories for fuel.[i]

When the gut is balanced with good bacteria, there is an increase in good bacteria making weight easier to manage.

Poor Immune Function

The gut hosts roughly 70% of the immune tissue in the body.[ii] A disruption in the gut can affect how we fight disease.

The protective function of the gut is compromised when it becomes permeable which allows food particles, large protein molecules, and pathogens to escape into the bloodstream causing an immune reaction.

When these food particles and bugs get into our system, they can lead to an increase in allergens and sensitivities, as well as compromise our ability to fight infections causing more illness.

These immune reactions have been shown to play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s.

When our GI tract is in balance with beneficial bacteria, our health flourishes because of a strong immune system.

Poor Thyroid Function

An overabundance of bad bacteria can lead to infections that reduce thyroid hormone levels and promote thyroid disorders.[iii] When the gut is not functioning properly it does impact the thyroid. The gut converts about 20% of inactive T4 to the active form of thyroid hormone, T3. An imbalance between beneficial bacteria and pathogenic bacteria can significantly reduce the conversion.

Improving gut health and addressing bacteria overgrowth is an important piece to improving thyroid health.

Poor Brain Health

The gut is often known as the ‘second brain’. Your gut is intimately involved with your emotions and state of mind. People with gut issues tend to also suffer from undue stress and anxiety, even brain fog.

What is even more counter-intuitive is that perfectly healthy people can have an increase in stomach pain, nausea, abnormal bowel movements when they are experience more stress. Many chemicals exchanged between the digestive system and the nervous system. Whatever affects the stomach will directly affect the brain, and vice versa.

Serotonin is the body’s feel-good hormone. It is associated with many mental/emotional issues. The majority of your serotonin, roughly 95%, is produced and stored in the digestive system.[iv]

A poor gut can be a culprit in the increase in anxiety, depressive-like symptoms, sleep patterns, as well as sexual dysfunction.

The common factor in these poor health outcomes tend to be a poor balance of good to bad bacteria and other pathogens that have been able to compromise the gut barrier. A healthy gut should contain 20 times more beneficial bacteria to prevent illness and disease; unfortunately most people have an imbalance.[v]

Gut health is altered by the daily stressors of a poor diet, exercise (or lack thereof), overuse of certain medications such as antibiotics, and poor stress management. When the gut barrier is compromised, the body starts to defend itself; this defense response is visible in your blood labs.

Identifying Poor Gut Health

As identified in the article “Why You Need Comprehensive Blood Testing,” lab testing can provide valuable insight beyond the basic lab tests. A more advanced lab panel such as the Longevity & Vitality Premium lab test provides more insight than one might expect, helping identify these hidden stressors.

Using the same 430 people mentioned in that article, there were some also astonishing findings relating to gut health.

White Blood Cells

White blood cells (WBC) are our first line of defense against any unwanted pathogens in the body; they help fight infections. When WBC is elevated, it is a telltale sign that the immune system is overworking to keep peace within the body. Often times this can be a sign of a bacterial or viral infection in addition to excessive stress, e.g. anxiety or emotion, as well as overtraining.

Nearly half (46%) of the population had subpar WBC counts.

WBC are specialized; each type has a specific function for fighting disease which is why it is important to get a differential count to pinpoint (offered in the Longevity and Vitality panel) which WBC are responsible for fighting the infection.

Neutrophils

Neutrophils make up more than half of the WBCs; they are the primary defense against any unwanted microbes. If there is an infection in your body, neutrophils will enter the body within 24 hours to destroy the pathogen. Typically, an elevated count means there is a bacterial infection within the body.

Only 28% of the people had optimal neutrophil counts.

Eosinophils

Eos are another type of WBCs. They protect the GIT tract, your gut, as well as a help fight against allergic reactions. They are often elevated in individuals that are suffering from intestinal parasites or food and environmental sensitivities/allergies.

Only 25% of the population had optimal Eos measurements. This points a finger toward impaired gut function which could be a sign of parasitic infections and related food allergies, food intolerances.

Monocytes

Monocytes are the body’s second line of defense against infection. An elevation, especially with elevated Eos, can signal that parasites are possible

A little more than half (53%) had optimal monocyte counts.

Lymphocytes

Lymphocytes are used to more specifically screen the body’s defense system. Lymphs are another proxy measure for potential intestinal parasites due to a compromised gut barrier.

Nearly 10% of the population had elevated lymphocyte counts.

BUN/Creatinine Ratio

An elevated BUN/Creatinine ratio can be a sign that there is dysfunction occurring in the GI tract. This could have an impact on overall gut health integrity. An elevated ratio is often associated with a decreased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which could lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the population had levels within the optimal range.

A/G Ratio

Proteins are critical components of all cells, tissues, organs, and enzymes in the body. Certain proteins help maintain a healthy immune system by fight off different infections. Albumin and globulin are major proteins within the blood.

The ratio between albumin and globulin has been used as an alternative method to assess gut permeability. An elevated ratio could shed some light on potential bug issues due to inflammation in the GI tract or because of low hydrochloric acid.

Only 13% of the individuals were considered to have optimal levels.

ALT/AST

Your liver enzymes, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) are reliable markers of liver health, but also serve as good indicators of overall health, particularly with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and even identifying gut permeability and the presence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacteria that is associated with gastrointestinal diseases.[vi]

Individuals who have H. pylori tend to have elevated ALT levels compared to AST levels.

Nearly half (47%) of all the individuals has elevated ALT levels compared to AST levels.

Tend to Your Gut

The integrity of your gut is a major factor in achieving health and eliminating disease. Finding the ideal balance of beneficial to pathogenic bacteria about 85 percent to 15 percent, respectively, will help improve health.

One of the first steps you can take is to perform a Longevity and Vitality lab test to identify if there are potential GI tract issues. Because some of the values are elevated does not mean you have gut issues, but if there are multiple markers that are outside of the optimal range there could be reason to believe your gut has been compromised.

Food sensitivity testing is another effective test to identify potential stressors that are contributing to poor gut health. By reducing or eliminating foods that are irritating the gut, you will start on a path to help repair your gut barrier. Taking a probiotic supplement can help introduce large quantities of beneficial bacteria to your gut to help improve the good to bad bacteria balance.

[i] Kallus, S. J. & Brandt, L. J. (2012). The intestinal microbiota and obesity. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 46(1).

[ii] Bischoff, S. (2011). ‘Gut health’: A new objective in medicine? BMC Medicine, 9(24).

[iii] Patil, A.D. (2014). Link between hypothyroidism and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 18(3).

[iv] Gershon, M.D. & Tack, J. (2007). The serotonin signaling system: From basic understanding to drug development for functional GI disorders. Gastroenterology, 132(1).

[v] Guarner, F. & Malagelada, J.R. (2003). Gut flora in health and disease. Lancet, 361(9356).

[vi] El-Masry, El Shahat, Badra, Aboel-Nour, & Lofty, (2010). Helicobacter pylori and hepatitis C virus coinfection in Egyptian patients. Journal of Global Infectious Disease, 2(1).

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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