Time for a little overshare: Recently, I've been experiencing some seriously awkward bloating after meals, feeling like I swallowed a balloon that just won't pop. This is a new development—and frankly, it sucks. Despite the fact that I eat fairly well, I just haven't been feeling right.
So I started to pay more attention to the way different types of foods made me feel—including dairy, gluten, alcohol, and sugar. You know, my best food friends.
Of course, I knew the problem probably lay in my gut. Like everyone else, I’ve been reading tons about how the trillions of bacteria in your digestive tract—a.k.a. the gut microbiome—affect everything from weight, inflammation, and digestion to sleep issues, allergies, and stress. The truth is, the more we find out, the more our understanding of the gut has the power to transform the way we manage our health and fight illness. Pretty epic.
But I had no idea how to apply this new scientific knowledge to my newly miserable gut. As I paid attention to my diet, no easy pattern emerged—none of the foods I was tracking seemed to be the culprit. People suggested probiotics, but I didn't know where to start, and besides, everyone's body works differently, right? I wanted to know what really made my system tick.
In search of an at-home gut-testing kit, I found Viome.
Curious, I tried it out—which meant that yes, I collected a tiny sample of my poop (the process is way less gross than you might expect) and sent it off. Mailing my poop felt a little weird (but it's legal!), and the results ended up being more than worth it.
Unlike most microbiome "assessments," Viome doesn't just identify the bacteria you have in your gut but also what they're doing and how they're interacting with each other. This is all done via some impressive AI work led by the engineer who built IBM Watson—yeah, that IBM Watson.
My results came back, and I was floored.
Turns out, my gut was in pretty bad shape, and it was finally time for me to take my gut health seriously. My Viome results came with actual, actionable recommendations, mostly ones I would never have come up with on my own—and unlike every blood or genetic test I've taken, the recommendation wasn't just "eat healthy and work out more."
- I learned I should eat less protein, which was a genuine shocker. High-protein diets are all the rage right now, buuuut it turns out I was overfeeding some protein-fermenting bacteria, which have been producing harmful substances and even damaging my gut lining. I was advised not to eat more than 30 to 35 percent protein (and I had definitely been eating way more).
- I probably have SIBO, which is essentially an issue where your small intestine tries to do work the large intestine should... and it can't because it's, well, smaller). This is a surprisingly common thing, related to the infamous "leaky gut," and potentially the cause of my bloating.
- I need to watch my stress (duh). But I didn't know the gut produces the majority of your serotonin and that stress can cause low stomach acid, which can lead to all kinds of bad ish if you eat poorly. My Viome app suggested I take digestive enzymes to help, something I had never heard of before—soon, boom, Amazon was sending them my way!
- I should be more careful about the fruits and vegetables I eat because I had some signs of pesticides and a few vegetable-borne viruses. (So... I guess organic, fresh vegetables win this time.)
- I should avoid raisins. Not sure why, but that's what the recommendations said. I'm totally happy skipping out on raisins. Raisins are whatever.
- Finally, I should experiment with intermittent fasting. It turns out I have quite a lot of "bad" bacteria that thrive in "high-calorie environments," so stopping my admittedly pretty constant flow of snacking may help replace these with better bacteria. The rise of popularity for IF can be explained in part by its effect on gut health—pretty interesting, right?
But these were just the results that affect my particular gut. Other people get their own specific results, including recommendations that they should...
- Eat less spinach. Thirty percent of Viome's customers aren't great at metabolizing oxalates, compounds found in spinach, bran, beets, and some nuts.
- Not rely on fruits such as raspberries, pomegranate, blackberries, and cranberries as a primary source of antioxidants. They contain ellagic acid, which, if not properly metabolized, is useless.
- Reconsider eating large amounts of beef, egg yolks, chickpeas, navy beans, peanuts, and split peas. These contain carnitine or choline, which can be converted by bacteria into trimethylamine, which is associated with heart disease.
So is it legit?
Look, I'm as skeptical of things like this as can be.
No test is perfect—it's SUPER early in our understanding of the microbiome, and there's a long way to go. I believe Viome's leading the way, but a lot of these tests are controversial and most are very limited in application. My results almost certainly applied to a snapshot of my gut when I sent off the sample, not all the time—although Helen Messier, Ph.D., M.D., Viome's chief medical officer, told me these tests are pretty consistent if you mostly eat the same way. And Viome isn't cheap—although it's significantly cheaper than most tests like this at a clinic—so it's a big commitment.
But I'm convinced that understanding the gut is an important new area of health full of potential. These results convinced me that getting to know your gut today can be the start of a healthier relationship with yourself—and potentially surprise you with unexpected ways that can help you live a better life. And the more of us who try this, the more we can push our understanding of gut health forward together (not to mention reduce costs over time).
If you'd like to try Viome, you can get $100 off for a limited time when you use code GREATIST2 at checkout.* (We also make an affiliate cut if you follow through.)
I can only speak for myself, but since I started eating less protein, taking digestive enzymes, and generally following Viome's other suggestions, that annoying bloating feeling has mostly disappeared. I'm just beginning my journey to getting to know my gut and how it affects my health—but this feels like one heck of a start!
*Offer ends July 31, 2018, 11:59 p.m. PT.