Since their launch in 2016, Viome has raised over $45MM to analyze fecal samples to determine what gut bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungus and mold actively impact health. Their key competitive advantage is that they analyze RNA to see what is being expressed. Their main competitor, DayTwo, focuses on DNA which is less accurate. In 2019, Viome acquired personalized nutrition service competitor Habit.
Viome provides personalized food recommendations to over 10,000 customers from their research continuously monitoring microbiome activity on people eating a variety of meals. Their science, technology, user experience and food recommendations have improved considerably each year. For example, from 2016-2018, they were criticized for not providing details on why they recommended certain foods be added or removed from their customer’s diets. Now they provide details for their recommended superfoods and the foods to avoid. Their Facebook site offers opportunity for further discussion.
Viome has endorsements from health and wellness celebrities like Deepak Chopra, Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Ray Kurzweil, the famous futurist and transhuman advocate, is on their scientific advisory board. Skeptics claim they oversell the capabilities of their science and that it is not possible to tell you exactly what to eat based on your microbiome. The skeptics are correct, especially since microbiome analysis cannot detect potential allergic reactions or whether you like the taste of certain foods.
However, Viome does provide a useful service as part of setting your health baseline and knowing what to restore if that gets disrupted or in testing whether probiotics survive in your gut. For example, one Viome customer took the antibiotic penicillin for strep throat in April 2019. This caused a drop to 109 microbiome species from the 172 species from their 2018 baseline test. Because more species provide your body more functionality, the customer began taking probiotics to restore and rebalance their microbiome. In ninety days, the customer will re-test to check if the probiotics survived.
There is further validation of their science in that Viome has partnered with life sciences companies to run ~15 studies exploring potential links between the microbiome and various cancers, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s disease.
You can register with Viome using one of their regular “limited time offers” for $149 including free shipping for your fecal sample collection kit. Otherwise, they charge $399. Given they are trying to grow from 10,000 customers to 250,000 customers, we expect these discount offers to continue.
Because of state laws, their service is not available in New York.
Each Viome member gets to invite 5 new members to join for 25% off their fee.
An automated assistant named Vie guides you through short multiple choice assessment surveys covering Personal, General, Lifestyle, Symptoms and Nutrition. The format is easy to use and the response choices keep it simple.
You’ll receive an elegant, fancy kit in the mail containing instructions and a vial to collect your stool sample. There’s something to celebrate in collecting your sample and mailing it first class. You’ll be asked to provide details on your most recent three-days of meals to go with it. Viome won’t provide your results without that information.
Here’s what Viome has to say about their services:
“After your sample has been approved, you should receive specific results and food recommendations from our AI-powered app in the next 3 to 4 weeks. Having your own personalized food recommendations can help you conquer any food issues you may have but are not aware of.”
There have been reasonable concerns about the quality and analysis of Viome data and recommendations. Microbiome analysis is a new field and progress is continuous. Some questions include:
- How representative is a single stool sample? How often should updates be re-submitted?
- What if you had a particularly decadent meal that day? Or were too busy to eat much?
- How does the diet/food intake in the 72 hours prior to sample collection impact the data? Is there data on the variability within microbiome readouts in short-time intervals? How stable is the population they are capturing?
After completing the Viome process, you will receive a list of all the species found in your stool sample. Those organisms are evaluated to score your gut on metabolic fitness (see below), inflammatory activity (see below) and microbial richness (see above in background section).
What is Metabolic Fitness?
An analysis of some of the microorganisms and function that have been shown to be associated with body weight and glycemic response.
This score includes several types of microbes and pathway acitivities that have been shown to be associated with satiety, macronutrient use, blood sugar control, and caloric intake.
What is inflammatory Activity?
Your microbiome’s activities and functions related to inflammation.
Several pro-and anti-inflammatory types of microbes and pathway activities are used integratively to calculate this score
Understanding Your Score
Your score is reflective of processes taking place in your microbiome that are known to be associated with inflammation. A less than optimal score doesn’t necessarily indicate inflammation in other areas of your body.
Viome provides a helpful guide on how they give recommendations along with a video tutorial of a demo user receiving their food and supplement recommendations. Foods are categorized as “superfoods”, “enjoy”, “minimize” and “avoid”, along with recommended serving amounts and portion sizes. Here is a .pdf example of a set of Viome recommendations with their explanations on why they are important.
Viome believes that eating their recommended diet will diversify and optimize your microbiome.
Some recommendations are surprising, some quite puzzling and a few too generic. For example:
- Viome typically, if not always, recommends minimizing pork, yet no other unprocessed meats are in this category or the avoid list. There is no explanation why pork is worse than other meats.
- Viome identifies plant viruses which affect foods like green beans, bell peppers and shallots. They recommend against eating affected foods because they believe the viruses then cause inflammation.
- Viome’s recommendations can change quite significantly with some superfoods even switching to the avoid list after new tests.
- Viome recommends olives, but doesn’t say which of the 26 varieties are best. It’s most likely that some varieties are better for your microbiome than others.
- Viome has a food tips section which lists additional foods which do not contain beneficial components and are known to be harmful to all microbiomes. Although most like corn syrup and artificial sweeteners make sense, their list also contains granola bars. It is hard to believe that all varieties of granola bars are not beneficial and harmful to all microbiomes.
Viome also recommends supplements. They’ve switched from recommending specific brands to a more generic list of bacterial species and ingredients.
For more information, there are other well-researched reviews and comparisons of Viome with their main competitor, DayTwo:
- Can You Trust Your Gut for Food Advice? (Viome vs DayTwo) (Feb 2019)
- Richard Sprague on DayTwo (Nov 2017)
- Richard Sprague on DayTwo vs Viome (Feb 2018)
Richard Sprague update on DayTwo and Viome (July 2018)
After you order your microbiome baseline test, reward yourself by purchasing some novelty toilet paper. It makes a nice addition when hosting parties.
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