If you have been a Wellness Mama reader for very long then you know my story and how it took me over seven years and eight doctors to finally figure out I had Hashimoto’s and start to find answers. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to get testing, even when you think you might know what is wrong.
That’s why I’m excited about emerging research and innovative new companies that are working to bring comprehensive testing to our homes. The best part? No doctor or blood test required!
Personalized Medicine: The Future of Health?
If you heard the recent 100th episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast, you know that I strongly feel that there is not a single perfect diet that works for everyone or a supplement that will fix all your problems. We all need sleep and community and sunshine, but the rest is very personalized based upon each individual’s needs.
What works wonderfully for one person may make someone else feel worse. I feel great when I take a lot of magnesium. Some people experience low blood pressure from taking it. I don’t feel good if I eat a lot of carbs. Some people feel amazing on a relatively high carb diet.
At the end of the day, we each have to figure out the foods, supplements, and lifestyle factors that are best for us.
Thankfully, today we don’t have to wait on a doctor to get insight into our health. There are now services with on-call doctors that are only a text or a call away. (We use this one because you get a doctor personally dedicated to you, not just a random doctor on on call.)
Even without a doctor, we can do testing like 23 and Me, which shows our genes. This is helpful, but most of us aren’t geneticists and don’t know what the results mean. (Although you can get advice from a geneticist by listening my Wellness Mama Podcast … see episode 136 and episode 135). I know I have MAO-A and an MTHFR mutation, and thanks to research I’m able to make some dietary changes based on this, but the research is still new. It also only shows half of the picture.
Gut Metatranscriptome & Microbiome Analysis
I’m super excited about a new kind of testing that allows us to have a deeper picture of what is happening inside the gut. We’ve all heard the studies about the importance of the gut and how it impacts every single aspect of our lives, and now we can actually get a glimpse of what is happening inside the gut and know how to impact our own gut environment.
Microorganisms Rule Our Body
There are trillions of microorganisms in the gut (about 40 trillion to be exact). As humans, we have more bacterial cells than human cells and these bacteria drastically affect our lives on a daily basis.
These crucial gut organisms help us digest food, produce chemicals and substances within the body, control infections by pathogens, regulate the immune system, and even control emotions. (Ever have a gut feeling?)
Viome, a company I’m about to tell you more about, explains on their website:
Studies consistently link these microorganisms — which make up your gut microbiome — to many chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, coronary artery disease, psoriasis, lupus, and even autism.
Basically, if we want to be healthy and happy … our gut bacteria needs to be healthy and happy too!
The Science of Microbiome Composition
Flashback to freshman biology …
Every living organism produces RNA molecules from their DNA. Tests like this one sequence all of the RNA in the stool (poop) to help quantify all of the living microorganisms in the gut (bacteria, viruses, bacteriophages, archaea, fungi, yeast, parasites, and more) at the species and strain level.
The end result?
A more in-depth view of your gut microbiome than has ever been available before. Instead of just looking at bacteria and parasites, we can now sequence RNA in the gut. The nerd in me is so excited about this technology, but even if you aren’t interested in the science, I think you’ll be excited about how technology like this can improve all of our lives!
The Function of Metabolites in the Gut
Identifying the microorganisms in your gut is important, but understanding their function is what lets us use them to our advantage.
This is because the microbes in your gut produce thousands of chemicals, called metabolites, that affect your overall wellness. Some of these metabolites are beneficial to health, such as B-vitamins and short chain fatty acids. Others can be harmful, such as Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is linked to coronary artery disease.
This variation in gut microbes may explain in large part why people have such individualized needs when it comes to health.
Gut Microbiome Testing to Improve Health
Analyzing the genes that microbes express lets us identify which metabolites they produce. This helps determine their role in your body’s ecosystem. But all of that isn’t helpful if it is just data. When we understand metabolites, we can also understand how to affect them with food, lifestyle, and supplements to change the gut bacteria.
This is the first time we have the ability to fine-tune the function of gut microbiome. This helps minimize production of harmful metabolites and maximize the production of beneficial ones.
The metabolites in our gut give us a shortcut to know what to eat and what to take to improve wellness in the fastest way possible.
How to Test Gut Microbiome at Home
Now for why I’m so excited … about testing poop! (It’s not just because I’m a mom of boys, either.)
Until recently, most gut testing cost thousands of dollars and had to be ordered through a doctor. Testing also provided an incomplete picture of gut health and used the old 16S method of sequencing.
The 16S method analyzes the bacteria in the gut, but as I showed above, this is an incomplete picture. To fully analyze the bacteria, viruses, bacteriophages, archaea, fungi, yeast, parasites, and other organisms, a more complete testing is needed.
Viome: Gut Testing in Your Own Bathroom
That is until a company changed all that. Viome uses an advanced form of testing to analyze gut health and provide personalized recommendations of supplements, diet, and lifestyle factors.
Viome does a specialized form of testing called metatranscriptome sequencing. It looks at the RNA, metabolites, and the deeper picture of the gut.
Here’s how Viome is better than the old 16S method:
- identifies all bacteria and all other living organisms in your gut (16S can only identify a fraction)
- pinpoints down to the species and strain level (not just the genus)
- measures biochemical/microbe activities (16S could not)
- less variation in results
- identifies missing metabolites
Basically Viome gives a much more complete and precise picture you can actually act on with dietary and lifestyle changes.
What Viome Gut Tests Reveal
Viome looks at the gut in all the ways I just explained. It also does a metabolic intelligence test (that you can do from home). This helps you gauge your blood sugar, insulin levels, stress responses, and more by looking at urine pH, saliva pH, blood sugar, heart rate, and other metrics.
Specifically, the test will help you learn:
- how to maximize beneficial microbial species that boost gut health (and minimize the problematic ones)
- which missing beneficial bacteria (probiotics) your gut needs
- whether you are lacking good metabolites (and which undesirable ones are present)
- which prebiotics you need for the foundation of gut health
- the ideal ratio of proteins, carbs, and fats you need in your individualized diet
- dietary recommendations for achieving healthy weight, energy, focus, and well-being
- ways to optimize digestion and absorption of nutrients in your gut
Here’s How the Test Works:
- Order the test kit from Viome here.
- Viome sends a test kit to your home.
- You complete the test at home. (Don’t worry … it’s easy!)
- Then you mail your poop to Viome (yes, really) and record your metabolic results in their app.
- A few weeks later, Viome provides personalized analysis of your gut and recommendations to help you improve chronic conditions, feel better, and keep your gut microorganisms happy.
What My Viome Test Revealed
I’m so excited about this and other emerging technology that helps us all do our own research. With every chronic disease on the rise, these are problems we need to address right away. Companies and tests like Viome help us understand our own personalized needs in a way that helps us improve our lives in a drastic way.
I should also admit that I was skeptical when I first got my results and saw some of the foods that it suggested I should avoid. After all, some of the foods are ones I’d consider objectively “healthy,” and I wasn’t sure why I should avoid them.
Interestingly, after some further genetic testing, Viome was right on and the foods it recommended I avoid (including most sources of saturated fat) match up with my genes!
A Look Inside My Gut
I like that Viome shows overall scores for gut health, metabolic health and other metrics so you can see progress:
But the app and portal also give practical interpretation and food recommendations. These recommendations lined up with what I’ve noticed from my time on the AIP diet and also from my genetic testing. As I mentioned, I was initially surprised by some of the foods it suggested that I avoid, but I noticed a BIG difference when I removed them and they lined up with my most recent genetic tests as well.
These are some of my “Foods to Enjoy” according to Viome (not showing proteins and fats):
Viome is a new technology using advanced testing developed at Los Alamos Lab (that was originally part of national security). I first learned about it when I met their founder, Naveen Jain, at a recent health event and was very impressed with the technology behind it. It has become popular very quickly, so at times there has been a waiting list to take the test, but you can learn more about Viome at this link.
P.S. Testing Is Not the Only Way
Insight from testing is helpful especially for those with chronic conditions. If testing isn’t for you right now, here are 7 totally free ways to start improving health (including gut health).
More Research & Why I Care
Gut health is intricately tied to all aspects of health. If you’re interested in the science and emerging connection between gut health to overall health, here are a few recent studies for further reading:
- The influence of the gut microbiome on obesity, metabolic syndrome, and gastrointestinal disease
- The link between the microbiome and autoimmunity
- Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome
- Microbiota associated with type 2 diabetes and its related complications
- From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways
- Gut microbiota are related to Parkinson’s disease and clinical phenotype
- Symptomatic atherosclerosis is associated with an altered gut metagenome
- Reduction of Abeta amyloid pathology in APPPS1 transgenic mice in the absence of gut microbiota
- Microbiota-based model improves the sensitivity of fecal immunochemical test for detecting colonic lesions
- Indoles from commensal bacteria extend healthspan
- No guts no glory: Harvesting the microbiome of athletes
Update: My Viome Test Results Explained
Viome’s lead medical researcher, Dr. Helen Messier, was kind enough to shoot the following video explaining my test results and breaks down the app recommendations based on my own gut bacteria. She also explains how the food recommendations work and how to use Viome most effectively.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Are you as excited about this new technology as I am? Ever tried any at-home tests like this before? Weigh in below!