Viome is a gut sequencing subscription service based on a small sample of poo that you ship for testing. Viome then offer dietary recommendations based on your results that are designed to increase your diversity and improve your health.
One of the key differences between Viome and other gut testing services is in the nature of their sequencing methodology. Most services use 16S sequencing which identifies the genus level, while Viome uses Metatranscriptome sequences which identifies down to Species and Strain.
That’s the difference between knowing you have Methanobrevibacter (Genus) or Mathananobrevibacter smithii ATCC 35061 (Species and Strain).
VIOME Review – Is Viome Gut Testing Any Use?
You may like the idea of carrying a list in your pocket of every active strain of bacteria, eukaryote or virus active in your gut but there very quickly becomes a time when you say “and so what?”
You may have Ackermansia Warriorwomanii present in the gut but what does she do – friend or foe? Do I want to encourage her and if so how do I do this?
Which of my bugs is contributing to my obesity or am I missing a strain that would make me whither away if only I could find the right probiotic or risked a transpoosion?
I’m afraid none of that information is available from the Viome gut sequencing service. But perhaps that is just a – not available yet. Viome will constantly be learning and as they get more and more customers they should be able to start correlating specific species with healthy phenotypes. As usual the early adopters get a bit of a raw deal.
Dietary Recommendations from Viome
The recommendations are detailed and varied enough to suggest that Viome already have more insight than they are sharing with us.
Given that most of the info in each phylum suggests “not much is known” I was beginning to wonder if the recommendations were based on anything substantial or whether we were just involved in an elaborate experiment where half of us were told to indulge in beets while the rest were warned to avoid them like the plague.
Recently Viome have released a video providing further explanation of the gut sequencing info available in your results and this suggests that functional, metabolite detail, not currently made available to us in the app, is used for recommendations.
Generally I would say the recommendations feel pretty good. I’m saying this with no real scientific basis though, just on a satisfaction that it fits in with my current views of a healthy diet. The best thing I can say is that Viome do not recommend any variation in the SAD (or standard American diet). It’s not fat phobic and isn’t afraid to suggest certain product types are restricted, for me that includes wheat, raisins and margarine (which shouldn’t be considered a food product by any sane individual anyway).
My dietary recommendations to fit in 40% of calories from protein is fairly challenging and on a 2000 calorie day would require me to squeeze in something like, a chicken breast, can of tuna and a large steak each day. Doable, but probably not enjoyable.
My superfood list is interesting but disappointingly isn’t supported by evidence or at least not evidence that Viome have considered sharing with me. Still, I like beef and beets and I could mix all those ingredients into a tasty meaty borscht so there seems no harm in giving it a go.
Where do Viome go Wrong?
In summary, Viome customer service is a bit shocking and they seem to be rather slap dash with your results and your accounts.
Viome have Changed my results without notice
I can imagine a future where knowing the species present in our guts in would lead to a specific action, perhaps a medical intervention if for example you discover you have a nasty parasite present.
As a result I think Viome should inform their customers of any errors discovered in the test results and alert us to changes. That doesn’t seem to be part of Viome’s business model though.
I coincidentally noticed that my results were changing when I started comparing screenshots of the app that I was preparing for this review.
My rare bacteria list had changed.
When my results were first issued, I of course poured over the details, hoping to find something interesting. The closest I Came to that was discovering a rare sludge bacteria was residing in my gut.
Around a month later, I’m going through my results again and discover that my rare species list had been overhauled.
While Viome are continually reporting results from new customers, what may once have appeared rare could soon turn out to be ten a penny amongst the new cohort. I therefore went searching for my sludge bacteria amongst the list of non-rare bacteria but it was nowhere to be seen.
I got on to customer service and asked them what had happened to my sludge bacteria, why had my results changed?
I wasn’t terribly impressed by the response from Viome….
Viome thinks I ought to be grateful
we re-ran the sequencing on 3 samples that we suspected could give more precise results.
- On one level that sounds fine but why wasn’t I told about the updates?
- What would cause a bacteria to disappear on the re-test, did they have a contamination that they hoped to keep quiet?
I asked these follow up questions and the response seemed to suggest that ought to be grateful that my results had been updated and significantly changed.
for some people it inspires confidence to know that we are always double and triple checking our work. Most of the time there is no difference in the result.
I’m not happy with the service from Viome or the response to my questions. I don’t have the full set of data for the first test result in order to be able to compare to the retested results so I can’t tell if there were even more changes. I’m left wondering if the results are in anyway robust.
My recommendations don’t appear to have changed with the changing results and that as well is odd.
Random charges to my account
The final nail in the Viome coffin is that they, again without notice, took a second payment from account a few weeks after the initial payment.
When I challenged this, Viome told me that they had made a mistake with the initial charge as they charged me in the wrong currency. When they detected it they decided to attempt a correction by taking the top up from my account. They got that wrong as well and took too much.
They have since refunded me but there seems to be a theme going on.
Make error, attempt to correct error, don’t bother to talk to the customer.
Will I remain a Viome Customer?
Well I have already had quite a harsh correspondence with Viome telling them in no uncertain terms that I do not want them to take any further money from my account. So the answer is no I will not remain a Viome customer.
I will wait for the second test which has already been paid for though and see if the insights and information available improves.
I do have high hopes for the company, I’m sure the insights will become more useful to the consumer but I cannot continue to do business with a company who appear to have been so cavalier with my results (and my money) and then have the cheek to suggest I should be grateful.
What does everyone else say about Viome?
Well the big names in the self-quantification world are totally raving about the Viome Gut Sequencing service.
Ben Greenfield for example, tells us that his results were “pretty astounding” and goes on to list an array of amazing benefits you can hope to achieve after forking our substantial sums for the subscription service:
Having tried it for myself, I think I’ve made it clear that while I have some hopes for Viome’s future as a self-quantification tool, I am currently “totally underwhelmed”. The fact that the big names in the biohacking world seem to lavish nothing but praise on the current service leads me to question how much the financial incentives in promoting Viome have clouded their judgement.
The founder of Viome, Naveen Jain does seem to be quite an interesting guy and an impressive entrepreneur. I would recommend listening to the following podcasts before you decide to invest (they are entirely positive so you will have to look for balance elsewhere).
It’s also worth giving the bulletproof forum a once over as a few people are posting about their experiences and discussing the recommendations they have received from Viome.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has also paid for the Viome Gut Sequencing. Have you been impressed? Have you found a way to do anything positive with the results?