Gut Health—You Are As Healthy As You Absorb

I had an interesting observation this past week.  Looking over a few micronutrient tests, I realized that some of my clients who had very clean diets, were coming in short or deficient on key nutrients like Vitamin D, B Vitamins, and Magnesium to name just a few; while my clients, who could care less about what they ate were barely deficient and in fact were not even close to being borderline deficient.  

Here's a sample of the basics that a micronutrient test looks at. Image provided by SpectraCell Laboratory. 

Here's a sample of the basics that a micronutrient test looks at. Image provided by SpectraCell Laboratory. 


This is similar to a skinny person eating a whole pizza and “getting away with it.” 

Although frustrating, this is also refreshing, because at the end of the meal, you are only as good as the nutrients that you absorb versus the nutrients that you take in.  This absolutely does not mean that you can drop your healthy eating habits, but rather this should inspire you to improve your digestion AND absorption of the healthy foods—a win win scenario.

My job is hard.  As a naturopath in Seattle, where there are naturopaths on every corner, like Starbucks’, I see clients who’ve done the elimination challenges, have completed every test that functional medicine has to offer, and have already seen multiple providers.  I am not their first provider, by far.  That is why a lot of the common treatment recommendations like simply removing wheat, dairy, and sugar, and adding in some glutamine powder along with a dash of aloe vera gel to “heal the gut” doesn’t work in my practice—at least very rarely or maybe that’s just the cases I see.

So, what’s the best way to know how well you’re absorbing nutrients or not, and what is the status of your gut health—is there inflammation, is the probiotic you’re taking really making a difference (…is it even making it to the colon where it’s supposed to proliferate?), what about the bacteria that we so often hear about?

Testing in the medical community is getting better and clearer.  It also allows us to shrink our medicine cabinet when we find out what really works or doesn’t, and it answers the question —should you really avoid certain foods? Because, in my opinion, the only food that’s bad is the one that you over consume or that you have an intolerance to.  Broccoli is great, but if you can’t digest it, it’s not so great.  Just ask those who can’t digest it.

Here is my #1 test that I’ve seen used frequently and can present a clearer picture of what is happening internally.  A disclaimer here, this is a test that I use in my practice so of course I am more familiar with it and will talk about it.  Are there better tests? Maybe, but so far, I have not seen that great of a difference as claimed by other labs.  However, this can change as testing improves.  

GI Effects by Genova Diagnostics: (click on the link for more info) 

This test covers 4 components:

1) inflammation, 2) infection, 3) imbalance, and 4) insufficiency 

It is designed to investigate all of the components of gut health.  It looks at presence of inflammatory markers such as Calprotectin for IBS, overall gut immunity in regards to IgA antibody concentration, protein and fat breakdown, pancreas function (enzyme activity), micro biome distribution, and if there are any underlying infections or parasites that are disturbing the ecosystem.

Image provided by Genova Diagnostics Lab.

Image provided by Genova Diagnostics Lab.


That's what it does in a basic nutshell.  One of the impressive findings is that most of the bacteria in our gut is supposed to be there, but it can grow disproportionally to the other bacteria—this is where the imbalance comes in and it can create an inflammatory response, which in turn can create insufficiency.  It then becomes a question of what came first the chicken or the egg or in this case: was it a particular food that caused the imbalance or was the gut bacteria originally imbalanced?  

Nonetheless, having a clearer picture means an appropriate treatment can be prescribed to correct any imbalances, insufficiencies, inflammation, or infections.  Taking a random probiotic or eating more fermented foods when there’s a gut bacteria imbalance can make things worse when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be doing that in the first place.  We know that certain probiotics are better than others and that fermented foods have a plethora of benefits—but, not everyone needs the same advice and this is where testing becomes an individual and unique experience. The probiotic and fermented foods is just one of many examples.

This is just a small portion of the test, there's a lot more bacteria to look at! 

This is just a small portion of the test, there's a lot more bacteria to look at! 


As with anything, this test is not the answer to all health problems, but it sure is an excellent start! Remember that there are other key players to overall health, and digestion is just one of the bigger ones.

Dr. Elena specializes in gut health, women’s health, weight loss, nutrient injectables, and offers unique chronic pain treatments at Proactive Health, A Naturopathic Clinic.  Got a question? Post in comments or contact directly at