In my last post I talked about the importance of the diversity of the gut bacteria with regards to health and longevity. In this post I will share with you some of the insights I received about my own gut health, after reviewing my Viome results. I learned that my microbiome is “a little out of balance” and that my metabolic fitness and inflammatory activity are in the medium range. I have average beneficial microbial activity, relatively low unhealthy microbial activity, and an average variety of microbial activities. So what's my interpretation of all that?
Well as I believe I follow a fairly healthy lifestyle, I expected to be above average, so this has definitely inspired me to focus on areas for improvement. It isn't the first alarm bell sounding recently either. A week or so before I donated a stool sample to Viome, I had my C Reactive Protein (CRP) measured, which came back as a whopping 5 milligrams per liter (mg /L). CRP is an inflammatory marker and ideally should be kept below 1mg/L. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) a measurement above 3 mg/L can indicate high risk of cardiovascular disease, if in conjunction with other risk factors including elevated cholesterol. CRP levels are also reflective of acute inflammation and therefore to have a true understanding of your CRP levels, it would be best to have it tested at least a couple of times – maybe 2 to 4 weeks apart. Now of course we know that there are many causes of inflammation including diet, lifestyle and infection. As a paramedic, with an irregular shift pattern that often results in unexpected sleepless nights that can't easily be accommodated, I believe fatigue could be a huge contributing factor to my unhealthy levels of inflammation, and have taken steps to reduce my night shifts in a quest to enjoy health and longevity.
Not all healthy foods are healthy for everybody, all of the time
I also learned, from my Viome results, that many of the foods I'm already consuming, such as apples, avocados, blueberries, lemons, kombucha, tumeric and apple cider vinegar, are in fact on my highly recommended (indulge) list. However, I've been advised to minimise some of the foods that I thought were healthy, such as bone broth, MCT oil, coconut milk and sea /Himalayan salt.
Viome suggest that 60% complex carbohydrates in my diet would be optimal for me, as well as 20% protein, and 20% healthy fats. This is interesting as I've been following a high fat, low carbohydrate lifestyle, for the last two years, and I wonder if this has impacted my microbiome. I'm now at an average level of inflammation, according to my results, but it is unknown whether my microbiome was more, or less, balanced two years ago, than it is now. The good thing is that fat stimulates the production of bile, needed for fat digestion, and bile has antimicrobial properties that neutralises endotoxin producing bacteria, taking care of the pro-inflammatory element. In other words, healthy fats are a good dietary component.
Of course if I choose my complex carbohydrates wisely, I will consume a huge amount of fiber and micronutrients which will help my gut bacteria to thrive, and Viome have provided me with a personalised list of foods that I can enjoy or even indulge in, that will supply these nutrients. Fiber also promotes the digestion of these healthy fats.
I'm happy to say that despite a few alterations, the new food recommendations won't affect me terribly. I can still enjoy chocolate over 70% (and I prefer Green and Black's 85%, so I'm ok there), and I can eat salmon, chicken and turkey, although only the white meat, which means no chicken thighs, my favourite. Eggs, butter and coconut cream need to be limited which means I have to find another way to make ice cream – or just don't have it too often. That delicious, health enhancing bone broth will be limited this winter, although fortunately, I can enjoy chicken bone broth. I can still enjoy in abundance many healthy vegetables, which I truly believe should fill 70% of my plate, and will provide me with the recommended complex carbohydrates. Overall I have a few tweaks to make to my food intake, and I'm very excited to see how my future blood work comes back, and perhaps in a few months I will invest in a followup test with Viome to see if there are any improvements in the balance of my microbiome.
Why Viome may be a Great Tool for your Toolkit
I have to be honest, that I felt a little suspicious when I first received my results, and wanted to be sure that Viome's recommendations were especially tailored to my needs, and not based on somebody's opinion that a high fat diet is bad for you. I wrote to them to ask if it was normal to recommend a 60% complex carbohydrate diet with only 20% fat and 20% protein. They assured me that their recommendations are based upon my microbiome alone, and that they do not follow any specific dietary recommendations. This video explains it in greater depth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq-8Ltnv1CE&t=56s
Also please be mindful that my food recommendations relate to my unique microbiome, and a food that is on my “Limit” list could be on your “Superfood” list. So please don't adjust your diet based on the recommendations Viome made for me. Having said that, there are some foods that should be on everyone's avoid list. These include, but are not limited to unhealthy fats, (such as most seed oils, margarine and feed lot animal products), refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. Such foods are universally toxic and inflammatory, and cause a breakdown in biological functions, something worth talking about in a future post.
Following my investigations, I'm satisfied that Viome can be trusted to help you to identify your perfect diet, based on the microbes in your gut. I took the test because I have a natural curiosity about my health, and I am always open to suggestions on how to improve it. I also want to intercept any problems before they become big problems. As you know, I am a huge advocate for disease prevention. I now know that despite thinking I enjoy optimal health, there is some underlying inflammation in my gut, and I have been provided with some tools to fix that.
Another thing to note is that despite being hugely clued in when it comes to gut microbes, Viome are part of a moving paradigm where health information is being rapidly updated as more studies are contributed to the field. This means, as new information comes out, your recommendations might change, and will be updated on your app. This actually happened to me. I was initially told to enjoy / indulge in things like coffee, sauerkraut, kombucha, olives and apples, but was later disappointed when informed that most of these are now on my “Avoid” list. This is because Viome have learned new information that affects my choices, and I am happy to go along with that. I'm actually very excited to be a part of the movement. Moreover, Viome have introduced a new feature on the app, whereby they tell you why a food is a “Superfood”, or an “Avoid” food for you, and I feel this provides an opportunity to deepen my understanding.
Your Microbes and Autoimmune Disease
Experts suggest that 95 % of people who have a well developed autoimmune disease, definitely have inflammation of the gut. This is empowering information for anyone who has an autoimmune disease, because it lets them know that one important step towards healing is to fix the gut, which can be initiated by cleaning up the diet by
a) cutting out all toxic or inflammatory foods including refined sugar, gluten, processed food, artificial sweeteners and flavours and unhealthy fats, and
b) introducing a huge range of healthy nutrients supplied by organic vegetables, both cooked and raw, healthy fats including omega 3 oils, and grass fed animal products.
Working on gut reparation by looking at diet and checking where improvements can be made, would be a great first step, and Viome could be used a little later in the process, to fine tune dietary intake. If a person has a terrible diet which includes processed foods, excess sugar and bad fats, then it would be pointless spending $400 on a stool test to find out what you should be eating. There is a mountain of free advice on the internet, including on this website, that can help you to get started in a healthy direction. The bottom line being: eat at least 60% vegetables, eat organic where possible, never eat processed foods, cut out refined sugars and eliminate bad fats. For some people this could be a huge endeavour and may need to enlist the help of a health coach, but others may find their way by reading free online articles.
Eating clean, is a great start to getting yourself on the path to optimal health. However, if you are already there, and you know you have inflammation, you may want to consider investigating other areas of your health strategy. Are you moving your body frequently throughout the day, and are you getting enough rest? Try working on these areas of your life before investigating your microbiome. Finally once you have made some positive changes, it might be time to offer up your stool and have Viome make food recommendations that will help to correct your microbiome.