Gut Microbiome Testing is revealing amazing things, but nothing as startling as this: We aren’t who we think we are.
The duality of existence has always been an enigma, spinning the minds of philosophers, artists, and the devout. But dualist conjecture has always centered on our spiritual dimension. Medical science had figured out the basics to our carbon-based bodies.
As reported by the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), we are mostly microbes. Our human genes are outnumbered at least 150 to 1 by the genes of our microbes. In other words, we are completely dominated by the microbes in and on our bodies – so much so that it is more accurate to imagine ourselves as clouds of microbes with a few human cells along for the ride.
Fortunately, most microbes are our friends. Their importance to our physical and mental health is crucial. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the human microbiome is a source of genetic diversity, a modifier of disease, an essential component of immunity, and a functional entity that influences metabolism and modulates drug interactions.
Viome: Breaking Through With Innovation
While practitioners of holistic and functional medicine embrace the immensity of the gut microbiome’s role in our overall health, conventional medicine has been slow “to get it” despite the provocative studies and research.
In fact, one could argue that conventional medicine’s indifference to our gut microbiome is partially responsible for the surge in chronic illness that accounts for almost 50 percent of Americans who have at least one chronic disease. Strong medications like antibiotics not only wreaked havoc on our microbiomes, they also created devastating superbugs in the process.
One company that “gets it” is Viome, a new startup with a team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and physicians who take the gut microbiome very seriously. With the help of New Mexico’s historic Los Alamos National Laboratory, Viome created the Gut Intelligence Test that analyzes a stool sample to determine microbial balance, as well as what gut microorganisms, are actually doing. Based on the result, supplements are recommended along with foods to eat (or not eat) to improve overall health including having more energy, better moods, improved skin, and sounder sleep.
This cutting-edge microbial report is made possible due to advances in RNA sequencing, an analysis technique examining everything in the gut microbiome down to the enzymes your microbes are producing.
According to Dr. Stephen Barrie, Viome’s chief business development officer, RNA sequencing can provide information such as:
- If spinach may not be healthy for you
- If you have a sweet tooth and need to lay off
- If you’ve been to China recently
- If you may not need to be taking a supplement such as glutathione because your microbiome is making enough on its own.
“We are fortunate to live in a time when RNA sequencing of the gut microbiome is not only a reality – it’s accessible,” says Barrie. “Through RNA sequencing we are able to understand their actual function and give you recommendations that actually help support a healthy gut microbiome.”
Gut Microbiome: Beyond the Milky Way
The gut microbiome is so important to our health that it is increasingly treated by scientists as an organ in its own right. We have between 50 to 70 trillion gut microbes – more than all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The gut microbiome is a vast ecosystem of organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and protozoans that live in our digestive tract, which collectively weigh up to 2 kg. (heavier than the average brain). The trillions of gut bacteria, many of which are vital, break down food and toxins and make vitamins.
Our microbes also control our immune system, not the other way around. We used to believe the immune system was in place to control bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. We now know that the immune system is controlled by the microorganisms of the gut, according to NCBI. Any dysregulation of our immune system is largely influenced by the microbial colonization of the gut.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the microbiome “holds many answers” to health and disease.
“Almost daily new research is announced linking dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) to many disease processes from infections to cancer to neurological diseases,” says Adalja.
Not All in Our Heads
When people say they feel it in their gut, that’s not just imagination, according to Dr. Mark Sircus, acupuncturist, and doctor of Oriental and pastoral medicine.
“Our gut instincts are not fantasies but real nervous signals that guide much of our lives,” Sircus says.
This is because the enteric nervous system (ENS), which governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract, communicates with the central nervous system (the brain) via the vagus nerve — the most important nerve you probably didn’t know you had. The vagus nerve is a long meandering bundle of motor and sensory fibers that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut.
The ENS is known as the gut-brain axis and is often referred to as the second brain or backup brain centered in our solar plexus. But in actuality, this second brain often acts as the first brain.
“We now know that the ENS is not just capable of autonomy but also influences the brain,” says Sircus. “In fact, about 90 percent of the signals passing along the vagus nerve come not from above, but from the ENS.”
For example, scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin (a feel good neurotransmitter), dopamine, and GABA, all of which play a key role in mood.
Certain organisms also affect how people metabolize these compounds, effectively regulating the amount that circulates in the blood and brain. Gut bacteria may also generate other neuroactive chemicals, including one called butyrate, which is a long chain fatty acid found in organic pasture raised butter that has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression.
Even the puzzling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD) is now associated with our gut microbiome. PTSD is a disorder that occurs after people have experienced a severe psychological injury or trauma with symptoms ranging from sleep disorders to anxiety to flashbacks.
Turns out the conventional medical community has been looking high when it should have been looking low for PTSD treatment. Research shows that this enigmatic psychological disorder is not all in the head, but rather in the gut of the millions of U.S. adults per year who suffer from PTSD.
An important study by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, found that certain gut microbes can actually prevent PTSD.
Why Diets Don’t Always Work
Healthy foods aren’t necessarily healthy for everyone. Trendy diets that focus on a particular food may be causing you more harm than good. For example, spinach, nuts, beans, seeds, broccoli, and blueberries can give some people trouble. These foods are packed in oxalates, which are known to cause kidney stones and digestive issues. That’s because everyone has a unique gut microbiome with differing needs to maintain a healthy microbial balance. Food is transformed by our microbiomes into either beneficial or harmful products.
Take diets like the Paleo and Ketogenic that lead to a boost in protein intake. This can cause some people with serious health problems if their gut microbiome can’t handle the excess protein. When this happens, certain strains of colon bacteria ferment the protein, which creates harmful by-products such as ammonia, cresol, putrescine, and trimethylamine known to be associated with heart disease and accelerated aging.
“The power of precision wellness starts by examining your biological individuality and through the power of new era analysis, delivers one-of-a-kind actionable recommendations,” says Barrie.
“Treatments that cater to our uniqueness are the next generation of medicine. Interestingly, this ‘next generation of medicine’ won’t be medicine at all. Instead, we are harnessing the body’s and the gut microbiome’s natural ability to heal itself through changes in our lifestyle.”
Viome’s Gut Intelligence test costs $399 and includes personalized and actionable dietary recommendations via a Viome app. The first report normally is received three weeks after initial testing. During the year of service, customers may also re-test for an additional $199 per test. To save $50, click here and use code HONEYCOLONY at checkout.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
Submit your story or essay to Buzzworthy Blogs.