Is Kombucha Doing My Gut Any Good? 3 Things I Learned During a Gut Health Check

Visit Dr. Tara Nayak for a local gut health check. (Photo courtesy of iStock user bee32)

As a long-time kombucha guzzler, fan of probiotic-rich baked goods and general health and wellness nerd, naturally I was thrilled by the news that a naturopathic doctor, specializing in gut health, set up shop in Fishtown last winter. I immediately knew I had to get my gut checked to see if my probiotic and healthy eating efforts were paying off.

So that’s how I found myself spilling my guts in the quaint office of naturopathic practitioner Dr. Tara Nayak inside Fishtown’s Threshold Wellness. While a “microbiome analysis” may sound seriously science-y, the process all began with a conversation with Dr. Nayak, where we went over a lengthy intake form detailing everything from what I eat every day to my menstrual cycle.

She also wanted to know my blood type. But given that I didn’t even know my blood type, Dr. Nayak whipped out test kit. She then used that information to outline some dietary best practices for me, then sent me on my merry way with a virtual order for uBiome, a mail-in microbiome analysis kit that’s supposed to identify all the bacteria in your gut.

About a week later, the UBiome kit showed up at my door. I was in business.

Except, there’s the, um, process, of completing the actual test kit. If you’re anything like me, you immediately link gut health to poop and dread the thought of mailing your, erm, poop to some lab for examination. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Rather, the lab kit provides a long cotton swab and some test tubes that make for a considerably less-gross experience.

After completing a “number two,” I ran the cotton swab over the toilet paper, collecting bacteria. Next, I swirled the swab in a solution the kit provides, before placing the sample liquid in a bag and the included return packaging. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.

Once that puppy is in the mail, I waited — and waited and waited — five weeks (four to six weeks is standard) for an email stating the results were in. After that, I set up a second appointment with Dr. Nayak to go over the new-found info from my gut health check. Here’s a few things I learned.

As a part of my gut health check, Dr. Nayak created this map outlining the foods to incorporate in my diet that will balance the bacteria in my gut.

1. Your microbiome is like a fingerprint.

You may be thinking: um, okay, yeah sure — but stick with me. Dr. Nayak makes this comparison because, while your microbiome is one-of-a-kind, like your fingerprint, you can share similarities with other people. That’s where uBiome comes in, they match the results of your microbiome’s bacteria with certain diseases associated with your specific bacteria. It’s important to note, though, that this is by no means a diagnosis. My report, for example, listed stuff like Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which I am fortunately not affected by, but there were certain bacteria in my results that associated with these diseases. Dr. Nayak’s food and supplementation plan suggestions create a prevention plan to fight the diseases your known “bad” bacteria could potentially cause in the future.

2. A gut health check is not crucial.

While I found this experience to be super interesting — again, total gut health nerd here — it’s not a crucial test for generally healthy people to get. While Dr. Nayak welcomes anyone who’s curious about their gut health, the real people that can benefit from the microbiome analysis are those that are experiencing underlying gut issues as a root cause of their illness, Dr. Nayak suggests. But tackling any gut issues can be helpful for anyone facing immune dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, skin issues, and allergies, Dr. Nayak explains.

3. All those probiotics…weren’t really doing anything.

Sure, kombucha and other probiotic-rich food and drinks are great to incorporate into your diet, but unless you are already a gut health genius, then you don’t know if the probiotics you’re consuming are the ones you actually need. Because, yeah, that’s another thing Dr. Nayak’s microbiome analysis pointed out — the exact probiotic strains that are most beneficial to the mini ecosystem going on inside your body.

When it comes to probiotic supplements, Dr. Nayak suggests choosing one with an array of probiotic strains. When I pulled up the ingredients list of the probiotic supplement I had been taking, she pointed out that it was just eh, containing only two probiotic strains. The more strains the merrier when it comes to a non-targeted probiotic supplement! As for food that helps balance out the bacteria already present in your gut, it varies for everyone. For me, navy beans, pomegranate seeds, and things like unripe bananas and potato starch should help balance the bacteria in my gut.

So there you have it. Want to get your own gut health check? Learn more about Dr. Nayak’s practice here.

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