In recent years, the gut microbiome has drawn a lot of attention in the field of nutrition science for being able to tell us an extraordinary amount about our health. Viome, a personalized nutrition company founded by executive and entrepreneur Naveen Jain, offers at-home testing that allows users to get insight into their microbiome and overall health. As someone who is deeply interested in cutting-edge personalized nutrition, I was excited to try out one of Viome’s at-home testing kits.
Taking the test
Viome sent me its Health Intelligence Test, which measures stress response, biological age, and the health of your immune system, gut microbiome, cells, and mitochondria. Taking Viome’s at-home test is straightforward, and simply required both a blood and stool sample. The testing kit included all the materials needed to gather this, and supplied extra testing materials just in case you made a mistake during the collection process. I appreciated that the instructions were detailed but also easy to follow.
Once the stool and blood samples are gathered, packaged, and sealed, I just had to drop them off in a prepaid package at my local post office. Once the samples are received, Viome states that it takes about four weeks to receive the results, which is about the amount of time it took for mine.
Before you receive the results, you must take a lengthy intake survey in Viome’s user portal that asks questions about what you eat, how you sleep, stress levels, and other lifestyle questions. It took me about 40 minutes to answer all of the questions.
Background on my health
Prior to disclosing my results and experience with using Viome’s test, I think it is important to share my perceived health and lifestyle to give you more background. For the past eight years, I have followed a whole-foods, plant-based/vegan diet that incorporates a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. I do yoga and walk every day, and rock climb multiple times a week. I get plenty of outside time because I hike, stand-up paddleboard, and forage for wild foods. I do not smoke, am not a heavy drinker, and have no chronic illnesses. I have rarely taken antibiotics in my life.
In general, I consider myself to be a very healthy person and feel great most of the time. Therefore, I was surprised when I received my results.
Overall, my results were not terrible, but they were not great, and certainly did not meet my expectations. The results were graded on a scale from 0 to 100 (0 being the worst, 100 being the best), and the classification of being not optimal, average, or good.
My cellular and mitochondrial health were classified as “not optimal”. My gut microbiome health and immune system health was rated as “average”, while my stress response health was “good”. I am 25 years old, but my biological health was considered to be that of a 21-year-old.
Within these larger categories were subcategories that were also graded. For example, within the “gut lining” category, there were other subcategories like butyrate production pathways and gut lining health.
One of the things that surprised me the most was that based on my results, the company recommended 56 different ingredients for me to supplement with. This included vitamins, herbs, minerals, food extracts, amino acids, prebiotics, and probiotics “we’ve identified to improve or help maintain your scores.”
Within the Viome portal, you can see what bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, viruses, and probiotics, are present in the “My Active Microbes” section. My test results show that my sample contained several viruses: Paprika mild mottle virus, Pepper mild mottle virus, Tobacco mild green mosaic virus, Tomato brown rugose fruit virus. These are plant diseases, so I did not understand why this showed up in my gut.
As I mentioned before, I eat a diverse whole-food diet, eat pro-and prebiotic foods, forage wild foods, and even brew my own fermented beverages. Despite my efforts to maintain a healthy gut, only one probiotic strain was identified in my sample and my active microbial diversity ranked low.
The company recommends foods that you should avoid and minimize, and also foods that are considered “superfoods” for your body. My avoid list had five foods listed (tomato, paprika, alfalfa sprouts, bell pepper, and mung bean sprouts), while my minimize list consisted of nearly 80 different foods. My superfood list consisted of 17 different foods, including cabbage, apple, artichoke, and broccoli.
Understanding the results
I first felt overwhelmed and stressed about receiving my test results, and decided to share them with my primary care physician. After looking over my results she said she was not concerned at all, especially since I did not have any symptoms I was worried about. I asked her specific questions about why some of my scores were not optimal, and she said that was not her field of specialty, and in all honestly, she wasn’t even sure of who would be best to bring my test results to.
I then decided it would be best to speak with someone from Viome to discuss my results further. I was able to talk with Grant Antoine, a naturopath by training and clinical expert at Viome. The Viome test results are intended to be self-explanatory, and Antoine said, “They’re straightforward, and hopefully, you’re doing a lot of the interpretation on your own.” When I asked who would be best to take the results to for a deeper explanation, he stated that a nutritionist or health coach would be a good option.
I actually have completed my health coaching certification and felt that I still needed to take the results to someone who was more qualified than myself.
Personally, I felt as if supplementing with 56 ingredients is excessive, especially since as a young, plant-based, athletic female, I already take a decent amount of supplements. When I asked Antoine to elaborate on why this is necessary, he said that this recommendation is based on my results, questionnaire, goals, and scores, and then seeing where there might be an opportunity to improve my scores. The recommendations are based on the company’s artificial intelligence engine that calculates the best way to support your scores and gaps with food and supplement.
Purchasing 56 different supplements would be extremely pricey (and take up a lot of cupboard space), but Viome offers personalized supplements it creates for you based on your results. If I did want to follow these supplement recommendations, it would really only make sense to purchase from the company. Viome offers customized supplements for a monthly subscription fee of $150 per month, which includes all of the recommended ingredients.
When asked why I had plant viruses present in my gut, Antoine said that when we eat plants that contain these viruses, they can linger in our gut, potentially causing an immune response or affecting the gut lining. He also said, “What exactly they’re doing, how harmful they are, we don’t exactly know if I am being 100% upfront, but there are indications that they’re inflammatory.”
When I asked Antoine if anyone had perfect scores across all health categories, he said, “For most people, there’s, room for improvement. We do have some all-stars that come through and they’re green across the board. I would say that those are elite athletes; there are some superstars out there.”
After already spending years figuring out what foods I should avoid, and creating health and wellness routines that make me feel great, I have decided to not follow Viome’s recommendations. Even though my results were slightly alarming, Antoine said, “But you actually have a very good result. You have a really good report of your biological age. I consider that to be kind of like your overall report card grades.” Maybe if I did follow the recommendations and take the supplements, I would feel better than I could have ever imagined.
If you are interested in giving Viome’s Health Intelligence Test a try yourself, it is currently available on sale for $199 (It is normally $299). For $129 (normally $199), the Gut Intelligence Test can be purchased on its own.