3 Non-Invasive Tests to Evaluate Digestive Function

The digestive system.
The digestive system. PIXOLOGICSTUDIO/Getty Images

In alternative medicine, proper digestive function is considered essential for optimal health. Not only do digestive problems result in gas, bloating, constipation, irritable bowel, diarrhea, and heartburn, but they can lead to dysfunction in the intestinal lining, called intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome.

According to some alternative medicine proponents, this may trigger a host of diseases, such as autoimmune disorders, arthritis, impaired immune function, and other conditions.

The following are the most common alternative medicine tests of the digestive system:

Stool Analysis

You will see these offered as a comprehensive stool analysis or variations on those terms.  A stool test analyzes the digestive system for people with conditions, especially those involving the digestive system. It looks at digestion, absorption, bacterial balance, yeast, and parasites.

The descriptions of the test from several natural and alternative medicine resources appear to include:

  • Occult blood test, which is a standard medical test used to screen for colon cancer and other digestive system problems.
  • Microscopic exam and bacterial culture: As with a standard medical stool culture, a slide is made to check for the balance of bacteria and yeast and abnormal bacterial composition, as well as for white cells and red cells. This examination can also detect unusual amounts of fat and fiber.
  • Stool culture: As with a standard medical stool culture, a sample is cultured to look for an unusual bacterial composition. Some labs will use PCR technology to look for specific pathogens.
  • Ova and parasite examination: This microscopic exam looks for parasites.
  • Chemical analysis for pH, enzymes, and other substances the practitioner thinks can shed light on various conditions.

Intestinal Permeability Tests

An intestinal permeability test, also called the lactulose and mannitol test, is a urine test.

It is not a common medical laboratory test. You drink a solution with the two sugars in it and collect your urine for the next six hours. Mannitol should be easily absorbed while lactulose is absorbed less in healthy people.

A normal test would have a high level of mannitol and a low level of lactulose in the urine. You have increased intestinal permeability if both levels are high. If both are low, it shows you have general malabsorption of nutrients.

Some alternative practitioners also offer a blood (serum) test for antibodies to various large molecules, including actomyosin, occludin, zonulin, and lipopolysaccharides.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth Hydrogen Breath Test

The small intestinal bacterial overgrowth breath test detects bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, a condition that may be involved in chronic bloating, gas, diarrhea, irritable bowel, constipation, and abdominal pain, according to some alternative medicine practitioners.

For this test, your breath is collected after an overnight fast. You consume a fixed amount of test sugar and your breath is collected every 15 minutes for two to four hours. The samples are analyzed for hydrogen and methane to see if the bacteria in your digestive tract are acting on the sugars as expected.

These tests are noted for poor reproducibility and giving results that don't correlate with symptoms.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Sources

Lipski E. Digestive Wellness. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012. 

Yao CK, Tuck CJ. The clinical value of breath hydrogen testing. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2017;32:20-22. 

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