Whenever you hear concerning the intestine microbiome, does it ever make you surprise what tiny creatures are teeming inside your individual physique? As a microbiologist who research the microbiomes of vegetation, animals and folks, I’ve watched public curiosity in intestine microbes develop alongside analysis on their doable dramatic affect on human well being. Previously a number of years, microbiome testing methods utilized by researchers like me at the moment are obtainable to shoppers at house. These private intestine microbiome testing kits declare to inform you what organisms stay in your intestine and methods to enhance your intestine microbiome utilizing that information.
I turned very eager about how these house check kits work, what sort of data they supply and whether or not they can actually allow you to change your intestine microbiome. So I ordered just a few kits from Viome, Biohm and Floré, tried them out and sifted by way of my very own microbiome information. Here’s what I realized.
How do intestine microbiome kits work?
All intestine microbiome kits require you to rigorously acquire recent fecal materials. You set it within the varied tubes offered within the package and mail the samples again to the corporate. A number of weeks later, you’ll obtain a report describing the varieties of microbes dwelling in your intestine and options on methods to change your food plan or actions to probably alter your intestine microbiome.
What shoppers don’t precisely know is how firms generate the microbial profile information out of your fecal pattern. A typical strategy I and different microbiome researchers use is to extract and decode the microbial genetic materials from a pattern. We use that genetic materials to establish what species of microbes are current. The problem is that this course of will be accomplished in many alternative methods, and there aren’t any broadly agreed-upon requirements for what’s the greatest methodology.
For instance, microbiome analyses will be accomplished on two varieties of genetic materials, RNA or DNA. If the profile relies on DNA, it may give you a snapshot solely of what varieties of microbes are current, not what microbial genes are energetic or what actions they’re doing in your physique. Then again, if the profile relies on RNA, it might inform you not solely what microbes are current, but in addition whether or not they’re enjoying a task in your digestion or producing metabolites that may cut back intestine irritation, amongst different features. Viome generates its profiles by taking a look at RNA, whereas the opposite firms use DNA.
Different information evaluation decisions, akin to how various kinds of genetic sequences are sorted or which databases are used to establish the microbes, can even have an effect on the extent of element and utility of the ultimate information. Microbiome scientists are normally very cautious to level out these nuances when deciphering their very own information in scientific papers, however these particulars will not be clearly introduced in house microbiome kits.
What I realized about my intestine microbiome
Although I used the identical fecal pattern for every package, combined nicely to make sure uniformity, I used to be shocked that every of the three merchandise I attempted gave me completely different impressions of my intestine microbiome.
Every firm provides an general “rating” on how your microbiome compares with what they think about to be “good” or “wholesome.” My scores ranged from 39% (not nice) to 72% (good). Apparently, Viome, which infers microbial exercise through the use of RNA, gave the bottom rating. It famous that sure microbial actions taking place in my intestine, akin to methane manufacturing and digestion effectivity, weren’t optimum.
I used to be additionally shocked by the variation in whole microbial variety every firm reported. Whereas there was normal settlement within the general teams of microbes current on the phylum degree, a extra normal organic grouping, there was an enormous vary of variation on the species degree, essentially the most particular grouping. One firm reported 527 species of microbes in my microbiome, whereas one other reported 312. One reported solely 27.
Maybe essentially the most stunning most stunning discovering was that my intestine could harbor a microbe that would (there are various caveats right here!) pose an issue for me sooner or later if I expertise sure medical conditions. Regardless that all firms explicitly seemed for this microbe in my intestine microbiome pattern, solely two truly discovered it. Whereas I gained’t title the precise microbe to guard my well being privateness, I’m not too fearful about this consequence as a result of extra data, akin to full genome sequencing of the microbe, is required to raised perceive if that is truly a regarding pressure of this microbe. However this discovering does level to some stunning variation in outcomes throughout completely different testing kits.
Can this information actually enhance your intestine microbiome?
Many microbiome scientists like me would most likely argue that the information these kits present are restricted when it comes to providing you with the ability to change your well being. That is partly as a result of intestine microbiome science continues to be a brand new discipline with many unanswered questions.
One problem is that completely different individuals can have completely different proportions of microbes current of their intestine. This variation has made it troublesome for scientists and well being professionals to agree on what kind of microbial neighborhood makes a intestine “wholesome.” Some particular species, such because the bacterium C. diff, and a few broad teams, like Proteobacteria, are normally thought-about undesirable in excessive quantities. However there isn’t any clear consensus on why one microbiome is likely to be higher than one other.
Even for those who did attempt to enhance your intestine microbiome primarily based on what your intestine check informed you, the outcomes may not end up as you hoped. Probiotics or food plan modifications can alter the range of your intestine microbiome and the way it features, however research typically discover that every particular person can have completely different responses to those interventions, presumably due to their very own distinctive microbiome composition. The personalised ecology of intestine microbial communities, mixed with genetics, food plan and different elements, makes it difficult to prescribe common options.
So why trouble getting a intestine microbiome check? For me, it was illuminating to be taught what microbes I carry round with me every day. After I eat my lunch, go for a run or get stressed, the microbes in my intestine reply to modifications in my physique. Researchers could not fully perceive what these modifications imply and methods to handle our microbial companions, however attending to know who they’re is a superb first step.