Certain things are basic human needs like food, water, and shelter, but we often overlook how important good health is. Without good health, these basic needs just don’t cut it. Without good health, you can’t thrive. Life isn’t just about surviving; it’s about truly living, and in the last several decades, global health has seen a rapid decline. In the U.S. alone, we spend nearly a fifth of our national GDP on healthcare. This is up nearly 20% from just a few decades ago. The majority of these costs come from chronic diseases.
Viome’s mission has always been to make chronic illness optional – a goal we firmly believe is not only achievable, but within grasp when enough people care to solve the problem. Artificial intelligence requires a massive amount of data in order to identify patterns, especially when you factor in the many different activities that may cause the same disease in different individuals. We’re racing to 2 million gut microbiomes in an effort to unmask the mystery that clouds many chronic diseases including how individualized the activity of one’s gut microbiome truly is. Each month of our Race to 2 Million campaign we focus on a chronic disease and what we’re learning about it in relation to the gut microbiome. For the month of August, we’re zeroing in on depression.
When Viome started down this path, we knew we had many hurdles to jump. Even as recently as two years ago, one of our Gut Intelligence Test would have cost nearly $5000 per person, but as a company we have worked hard to lower our costs and make our test accessible to all. We believe access to insights and better health is a basic human right and that our customers should have the tools they need for personalized health available to them, right in their pocket.
One of the many things that makes Viome’s technology unique, is that we are the only company that has the capability to do a comprehensive functional microbiome analysis. While many gut microbiome tests focus on what microbes are present, we’re more concerned with how they are behaving and how it is affecting your health. Viome can not only tell you the strains and species of microorganisms active in your gut, but more importantly, we can tell you how they’re affecting you, like producing:
Beneficial nutrients like butyrate, an essential food for your intestinal cells to keep them healthy and defend against inflammation
Harmful compounds like LPS, a molecule that can cause severe inflammation in your gut and in your entire system if it passes through your intestinal lining.
The key to our advanced technology is a combination of metatranscriptomic technology and artificial intelligence analyses that quantify the microbes and their active functions inside you and deliver personalized nutritional recommendations right to your smartphone. These actionable recommendations are specifically targeted at improving the health of your gut microbiome and no one else’s. This means you’re not getting general advice based on what works for “most people”, but rather comprehensive scores that reflect your gut microbiome and the foods that we’ve identified that will optimize your gut.
The science behind Viome is more than just about improving your diet using science-based algorithms: it’s about total health. Our gut microbiome does so much more than help us digest our food. It also plays a major role in most chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune, Parkinson’s Alzheimers, cancer, and more. There’s not a day that goes by without new research that supports this relationship between the gut microbiome and diseases as well as the opportunity for therapy.
Since what we know about the gut microbiome showcases how dynamic and evolving this field of science is, it’s important to get familiar with how connected our health is to the health of our gut. This article highlights key research efforts that have unveiled direct links with the gut microbiome and disease. We are going to define important terms, find out why understanding the function of the gut microbiome is so critical, and look at its role in digestion, immunity, hormone balance, mental health, skin appearance, aging, heart health, and even cancer. Ultimately, we will discuss why promoting the health of your gut microbes is essential for your health and wellness.
Your Gut Microbiome Origin Story
Our bodies are rich biospheres that support many living organisms. If you thought of yourself as just a simple human, you might be a bit off the mark. Instead, you are a complex superorganism that has an intricate relationship with the microorganisms that thrive on and inside you. In fact, you are covered in tens of trillions of microbes, with your gut being the richest source. You have many different microbiomes on your body, but your gut microbiome plays a distinct role in maintaining and causing changes to your health.
Before you were born, some of these microbes already made their way into the womb and passed into the placenta, eager to meet their new host. After birth, you are covered in your mother’s microbes as you pass through her vaginal canal, introducing you to a new world of microbes rich from your new environment. Over the course of the next three years of childhood, you begin the process of building your fully mature gut microbiome.
From there, what you eat and come in contact with continues to evolve your gut environment for the rest of your life. Though these changes continue to shift as you age, scientists also believe you maintain a microbial signature, or a “fingerprint,” completely unique to you.
As you go through life, your gut plays an essential role in many functions that facilitates your day-to-day health. Some of the most researched areas include:
Your digestion and nutrient absorption
Your immune system stability
Your hormone balance
Your cognitive function
Your skin appearance
Your rate of aging
Your heart health
Your risk for cancer
There’s no doubt about it, the gut microbiome’s role is far-reaching – so let’s take a closer look.
Your Microbes & Your Digestion
The microorganisms living in your gut help you extract many nutrients you wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain from your food. Some of the ways they do this is by synthesizing byproducts that your body can easily absorb.
These microbes also process foods we can’t digest on our own, including many fibers found in plants. We once thought these polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, and other carbohydrates were completely indigestible. But it turns out our microbes break these down and ferment them into beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. You’ve probably heard people regularly refer to these fibers as ‘prebiotics.’
Short-chain fatty acids are protective against obesity, insulin resistance, and are anti-inflammatory. Due to the disease fighting power of these fatty acids, Viome’s personalized recommendations aim to support bacteria that are known to be high producers of them.
Our microbes also largely regulate the energy extraction, storage, and use from our food. So much so, that scientists believe our weight may have much more to do with what microorganisms are in the gut, than how much we eat. Studies indicate a healthy gut microbiome may be more important when it comes to a healthy weight.
Your Microbes & Your Immune System
Not only is 70 percent of your immune system housed in your gut, but it actually originates in your gut, leading many scientists to refer to it as the “immune organ.” Your gut microbes keep in constant communication with your immune system, helping it determine when it comes in contact with pathogens.
The interwoven relationship and constant communication between the gut microbiome and the immune system is a primary reason why researchers (and Viome) are searching for cures to all sorts of illnesses in the gut.
An imbalance of gut microbiota (also called gut dysbiosis) can contribute to increase permeability in the gut lining, which is more commonly called “leaky gut” – a disorder where gaps in the gut lining allows toxins, bacteria, and food particles to pass through and leak into the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation throughout the body. This process has been implicated in:
Type 2 diabetes
And this is by no means a comprehensive list. You can read more about specific illnesses already linked to an imbalance of the gut microbiome in our blog: A Suspicious Gut Microbiome: 19 Conditions Linked to Dysbiosis
As you can imagine, restoring the gut lining is a top priority in most chronic illness protocols. However, the problem with most gut health guidelines is they are generalized and often incomplete. Fortunately, Viome is able to see the gut inflammation and make recommendations based on what’s actually active – so you have recommendations that are specific to you. Learn more about what you can see with Viome’s gut microbiome scores here.
Your Microbes and Your Hormones
The gut microbiome regulates an incredible amount of our body’s systems and is essential to hormonal regulation and balance. Our endocrine system secretes a hormone for just about every process that goes on in our bodies. Many of our emotions are driven by these hormones and balancing them is a difficult task. Much like balancing on a slack rope, shifting either way the tiniest bit might result in you losing that balance. It’s our gut microbiome’s job to hold the rope taut and offer a helping hand when necessary.
When your gut microbiome is unhealthy, it can lose its grasp and make your hormones sway. The effects of hormone imbalance can spread throughout the body and lead to a cascade of health conditions, ranging from unexpected weight gain to thyroid dysfunction. This has led many researchers to examine how our gut microbiome can be used as a tool to tighten the reins on temperamental hormonal conditions.
Your Microbes and Mental Health
Scientists have discovered that our brains have a direct line of communication to our gut through the vagus nerve, appropriately called the gut-brain axis.
Changes in our gut microbiome have been linked to the mental health on many levels – it affects:
Your pain tolerance
Your cognitive performance
Your mental health
The gut-brain connection is so strong, many neuroscientists are already looking to the gut first when deciding how to treat these issues.
Your Microbes and Your Skin
If you experience blemishes, break-outs, or other dermatitis issues, it might not be your skincare routine – it might be your gut. The gut microbiome plays a direct role in the appearance of your skin by influencing:
Inflammation – The underlying cause of most diseases.
Oxidative stress – A major cause of inflammation.
Tissue lipid levels – A factor important for a healthy metabolism.
Glycemic control – Your ability to balance blood sugar.
Neuropeptide levels – A factor linked to your mood, pain tolerance, and body’s homeostasis (balance).
Opportunistic bacteria – Harmful bacteria that can cause conditions when it overgrows.
In many cases, when it comes to autoimmune skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, the gut is known to be a major driving factor behind the worsening of these conditions. The gut’s fundamental role in skin health is why so many people feel like their expensive creams and lotions are a waste of money – they just don’t work.
When it comes to our customers, an exciting piece of feedback we regularly hear is how Viome recommendations improve their skin. The skin is considered a window to gut health, and when you work to restore the gut – your skin reaps the benefits.
Your Microbes and Aging
We all get older, and as we do our organs and our cells become less efficient at their tasks. Not to mention, elderly adults often suffer from digestive issues and struggle with nutrient absorption—symptoms connected to gut microbiome imbalance.
Scientists have found that many conditions linked to chronic and systemic inflammation may stem from gut dysbiosis as well:
Irritable bowel Syndrome
As aging adults often experience long-lasting, systemic inflammation, coupled with frequent digestive issues, balancing their gut ecosystem can relieve the stress on their immune system, improve the nutrients they obtain from their food, and decrease their risk of aging conditions.
Your Microbes and Your Heart
Having a strong, resilient heart is one of the most important components of our health. Scientists have found that certain metabolites, such as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), could be a good indicator of heart disease risk. High levels of TMAO in the body occur when bacteria convert choline into trimethylamine (TMA), which is then absorbed by the body and converted to the harmful version – TMAO.
Another food component associated with heart disease is choline, found in many animal products and legumes. If your gut microbiome has a higher level of TMA production activity, you might want to cut back on choline-rich foods. For example, if you have high levels of bacteria which are known for this conversion, it’s more likely that high choline foods will contribute negatively to your heart health.
Your Microbes and Cancer
Cancer is a truth in our society, and studies are showing more and more how our diet can impact our risk.
The term “cancer” simply refers to the excessive proliferation of cells that can occur when enough genetic mutations accumulate. When this happens, a tumor can form and become dangerous to the cells around it, spreading its “legs” out and even walking through our body much like a crab (hence the name). Our risk of cancer can be associated with the gut microbiome in many ways, including how digesting certain components in low-quality foods can be converted to harmful byproducts like hydrogen sulfide – a gas molecule that can promote mutations and increase your risk of cancer.
Alternatively, when our gut ecosystem is healthy and balanced, many of our gut microbes create butyrate – that favorite food for our human intestinal cells in the colon. When butyrate production is high, it contributes to the health of our colon. In some studies, butyrate can even reduce the risk of colon cancer. Many scientists believe these beneficial microbes may be the answer to preventing many health conditions.
Balance and Diversity Are Important
There is no doubt that the gut microbiome plays an integral role in nearly every aspect of human health, but each of us requires individualized attention to promote our own optimal health – and that means stabilizing and balancing our gut to operate at the best of its ability.
To do this, preserving and promoting diversity is essential to good gut microbiome health. This is because a diverse gut microbiome is more resilient to changes and can stay better balanced over time. Just like how ecosystems found on earth - such as jungles - can survive extreme changes when there is a stable biodiversity of plant and animal life. Our gut depends on the balance and diversity of activity in the gut microbiome. The more active microbes you have within you and the more beneficial types you have, the more stable your gut environment to help promote the health of you and your gut microbiome.
The bottom line is this: A more balanced gut microbiome, is a healthier gut microbiome.
It’s up to us to counterbalance the harmful effects of our environment and diet to promote better gut microbiome health.
We Are Revolutionaries of the Health Care System
Our world is full of chronic disease and the damage it has done to our own lives and the lives of our friends and families. Whether it’s Alzheimer's, autoimmune disease, diabetes, or any other number of conditions – we all know once treatment begins, there is no assurance it will work. Viome’s hope is to help customers find balance and lower inflammation, the root cause of many chronic conditions, by providing them with informed dietary choices to improve their health dramatically through a personalized nutrition plan.
The testimonials Viome receives on a daily basis are utterly inspiring. Weight loss, clear skin, pain reduction, better digestion, mood stability - these are at the very surface of what Viome can do. The benefits have been reported in all forms and this is because we all experience our own symptoms and the effects of our diet. While Viome can’t guarantee what your personal results may be – we continue to uncover more benefits each day that strengthen our confidence in what we’ll be able to provide in the future.
Your Gut Intelligence Test
Your Viome test can easily be done at home and mailed in the prepaid envelope to our labs. Once you answer a series of questionnaires online, you’ll get your results delivered right to the Viome app within just a few weeks. Your Viome recommendations break down the foods you should eat into personalized food categories and serving sizes:
These foods are designed to make your personal gut microbiome more diverse and balanced – which as you know, is the cornerstone of good health. Face it. We’ve all wasted enough time googling symptoms, walking up and down the vitamin aisle, and buying organic foods we’d hope would make us feel ourselves again. The truth is that to know what you need, you must ask your body first.
Viome Clinical Research Supports Symptoms-specific Personalized Nutrition
Since our we began this path, we have focused on optimizing our gut microbiome to minimize general symptoms, like bloating, gas, digestive issues, inflammation, blood glucose regulation, and more. We have also been working hard on finding ways to address specific diseases and conditions. Viome has already completed 15 clinical programs whose goal is to treat, prevent, and possibly reverse many chronic diseases, such as IBS, depression, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancers, etc. So far, we have performed clinical studies with several thousand participants and built predictive, machine-learnt models that have revealed direct connections between the gut microbiome and many diseases. We have been able to show that gut microbiome functions are strongly associated with chronic diseases, and our upcoming clinical trials will demonstrate that changing these microbial functions will have a positive effect on several chronic diseases.
Now through September 2nd, when you order your Gut Intelligence Test or Bundle, Viome will donate 5% to NeverAlone, a global campaign on suicide prevention and mental wellbeing.
"The Offering" and NeverAlone movement aims to support ambassadors in communities who can champion grass root initiatives and be the voice for young adults and others, and provide content/resources with information on warning signs, conversation starters, and tips on how to sustain a conversation around mental wellness.
Important Gut Microbiome Terms at a Glance
High diversity of microorganisms is associated with better gut microbiome health and overall human health. Low microbial biodiversity is associated with many chronic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance or dysfunction in the gut microbiota. Dysbiosis has been associated with numerous chronic health conditions, from autoimmune disease to Alzheimer’s and more.
This is the collection of messenger RNA molecules from expressed genes by active microbes. This is an important distinction because not all microbes nor their genes are active. A typical microbiome contains over a million genes, but less than 1% of them make up a vast majority of all microbial activities. Metatranscriptomic sequencing technology allows Viome to see what's actually active through gene expression.
Strains vs. species vs. genera (plural of genus)
These terms are used to group organisms based on their similarity. For example, wolves and coyotes fall in the same genus (Canis).Wolves and dogs are the same species (Canis lupus), but they are very different. The same is true of microbes. For example, there are E. coli strains that are deadly (such as O157:H7), but many strains of E coli are beneficial, as they help us absorb iron from our food (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30146159). They all belong to the same species, so we cannot say that all E. coli is bad. Most gut microbiome tests can only distinguish species and genera, but Viome’s Gut Intelligence test can identify strains, so we can distinguish very specific types of microbes.
Bacteria like Clostridium difficile (commonly known as C. diff) are usually referred to as “pathogens.” But these bacteria live in a happy relationship with 42% of Viome customers. So, instead of calling these bacteria “pathogens,” it’s more appropriate to call them “opportunistic” because if given the chance, they may bloom and cause infections. However, we’re finding that we need them for basic biological functions.
Pathways are a series of steps that make up biochemical reactions in the body. There can be different pathways that end in the same result, just as there are different routes to get from New York to Washington D.C. Your gut microbiome is very dynamic and can use different combinations of food and microorganisms (pathways) to get important metabolites made.
Functions are the end result of a pathway. The same function or result can occur from different pathways. Functions are how Viome can create health scores and give you deep insights into your gut microbiome health.
*The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome is providing this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.