Wow! Do I have a doozy of a story to tell you… and it involves an FBI raid.
About three years ago I started documenting (via Snapchat and Instagram) my quest to find reliable and affordable home health testing. Knowing that inflammation is the number one cause of chronic disease, and that food sensitivities create chronic inflammation, and therefore leaky gut, I was determined to find a company that could do this type of testing.
I ordered and completed countless gut and food intolerance testing kits. The results often confused me. One test told me I was highly intolerant to eggs and almonds, two things I had eaten the day before the test. So, I eliminated those foods from my diet and did another test. Then, I’d find that many of the foods I consumed the most were suddenly on my “foods to avoid list.”
I searched further and found equally conflicting and confusing results from other popular gut microbiome testing kits: uBiome, DayTwo and Genova. I later discovered the inaccuracies were because these companies use a form of technology known as 16s. This technology is a lesser type than Viome, which I eventually tried with much different results. (More to come on Viome…)
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16S technology has been shown to produce lots of false results. A peer-reviewed study by Edgar determined that 16S sequencing of known bacterial communities resulted in a 56% to 88% false positive rate of predicted genus names. In other words, more than 50% of the genera reported in the results were not actually present in the sample. Ultimately, the study concluded that “biological inferences obtained using these methods are not reliable.” Since many bacterial genera comprise various types of bacteria, predicting responses to potential interventions is difficult when the microbiome is examined at the genus level. This problem is amplified when the technology produces false positives at such alarming rates.
It Gets Worse…
On April 26th, agents from the FBI showed up at uBiome headquarters in San Francisco, California. The raid temporarily shut down their operations. Many insiders have noted that uBiome had actively participated in over-billing practices. Where are the ethics people??!
This stuff could make you crazy!
There had to be a Reliable and Affordable Test for Consumers!
There is! And I have a very good explanation why I waited three years to tell you about it. But first, let me break down some common misconceptions and confusion when it comes to home testing kits.
Fortunately, sequencing technologies have progressed beyond the 16S method. Some companies use a technology referred to as “metagenomic” analysis of gut samples. While metagenomic analysis identifies most microbes (except for RNA viruses and phages) it was/is still limited. It does not tell us what these organisms are doing. Both 16S and metagenomic methods have another major negative…..they analyze DNA, not live microorganisms. DNA doesn’t tell us what we need to know. To fully understand our gut health, and overall health, we need to know about gene expression. In other words, what is in our gut is irrelevant. We need to know what it’s doing.
Metatranscriptomic analysis is the technology that makes that information available to us. Metatranscriptomic analysis allows for the detection of all living organisms (bacteria, archaea, viruses, phages, yeast, fungi, mold, parasites, etc.) at the highest resolution (strain level). The precise quantification of these organisms and their activity and function gives us the information we need to personalize our nutrition and lifestyle choices. This information could all but eradicate chronic disease!
The major differences between other gut microbiome analysis methods and Viome’s state-of-the-art metatranscriptomic technology are significant.
Click here for your Viome Home Kit
(I am proud to say I am an affiliate for Viome. If you click my link and make a purchase, 131 Method earns a commission at no extra cost to you).
Allergies vs Intolerance
When companies advertise, or your integrative medical professional suggests you take a “Food Intolerance” test, what they test for is immunoglobulin G (IgG). IgG antibodies signify exposure to a food. They do not indicate an allergy. Much to my surprise, I learned that IgG antibody testing does a great job at identifying what you’ve eaten recently. This often leads to panic from the test-taker. Imagine seeing all the foods you love and eat often (yes, even the super gut-friendly healthy ones) get flagged as a “reactive sensitivity). It happens every single day!
Scientists believe there is little to no correlation between an IgG result and your ability to eat those foods without inflammation. To be fair, an IgG result doesn’t rule a food to be inflammatory or not. It simply means the test has detected IgG antibodies. Therefore, creating dietary modifications or a personal plan of elimination is pointless around these tests.
For that reason, we haven’t recommended them to members of the 131 Method.
Frustrated (and still seeking reliable testing), I began investigating the methodology used by many gut microbiome testing companies, including: uBiome, Genova, American Gut , Viome and DayTwo.
Most of these companies use DNA-based gut microbiome analyses, including 16S and metagenomic sequencing technologies. Without getting too science-y, this type of testing identifies a connection between the gut microbiome and human health. Generally speaking, this technology can identify many of the microbes found in your gut, but it cannot tell you what those microbes are doing. And if they don’t tell you that, you can’t know how they impact your health based on other members of that community.
There was only one stand out, and that was Viome.
Unlike the other gut testing companies, Viome does their testing with an exclusive technology called “metatranscriptomics.” Metatranscriptomics measures microbial activity. Basically, which microbes are present, how active they are and what they do.
So, why haven’t I mentioned this testing until now? Why have I continued to use this company for my gut testing and not shared the name with you for three years?
- I wasn’t sure how the information could be used to help you:
I didn’t feel that their app/customer interface gave consumers answers to questions like, “So what does this mean?” In my own case, it was interesting to know there were traces of a cucumber virus in my gut, but what did that mean? Did I have months to live before I turned into a cucumber or I did I just need to avoid eating them?
- It was 3x the price of the competition.
Yes, Viome was the most comprehensive testing, but also the most expensive. As a beta tester, I secured my testing kit for $997. That price, coupled with the questions I was left with, and the subsequent research and visits to my own doctor to help me interpret the findings, left me reluctant to recommend Viome. Despite the uptick in very credible voices singing their praises, I wasn’t confident in sharing it with my audience.
So, I Waited…
Instead, as I do with many things, I elected to take a wait and see approach. So, I continued testing my gut microbiome with Viome and kept a close eye on their customer interface. Every couple of months I noted dramatic improvements. Soon, their pricing came down. As tens of thousands of consumers began using their services, the reporting and app interface also improved.
So, please accept my apologies for holding out for so long. I’m cautious about these things. While I’m a huge fan integrative approaches to wellness, I also proceed with a heavy dose of skepticism and concern knowing that, whether regulated or not, money corrupts. I’ve seen too many well-meaning individuals desperate to find answers to restore their health fall prey to less than scrupulous practitioners. Some holistic and integrative providers are too quick to order thousands of dollars in needless testing, and then push bounties of over-priced supplements and natural treatments. And no, not in the name of health, but in the name of profit.
I hate to sound negative, but frankly I think we must evaluate these things with a healthy dose of skepticism, followed by a whole lot of fact-finding before we plunk down our hard-earned money. Your health is priceless, but you gotta spend your money wisely!
After three years of investigating, countless interviews with Chief Medical Officers, founders and a review of the science, I’m quite comfortable to finally share with you my top (and only pick) for gut testing…. Viome. (Oh, by the way, their price has dropped down and they offers specials from time to time)! Click here for yours.