Personal Science Week 230323 Microbiome Reloaded
Revisiting key microbiome results and how to test your microbiome today
Personal Scientists use science for personal, rather than professional reasons. This is a weekly update, delivered each Thursday, with lessons we think will be helpful to anyone who wants to be a Personal Scientist.
Taking down microbiome science
The microbiome — that collection of invisible microbes in and on you — has been well-proven to associate with just about every human pathology, from allergies and diabetes to obesity and heart disease. Intriguing new relationships are discovered and published literally every day.
To a Personal Scientist, the microbiome is especially interesting because, thanks to low-cost at-home testing, you can do much of your own research. We’ve written extensively about microbiome testing in previous editions of Personal Science Week (for example, see 18 Aug 2022, or just search this site for “microbiome”.)
One of the most inspiring examples of what’s possible with microbiome research came from a 2006 groundbreaking study that showed how a “microbiome transplant” could cause an obese mouse to become lean and vice versa. This led to decades of research into “microbiome” pills to help people lose weight by modifying their microbiome.
Well it turns out that much of that research was misguided. Obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet points to significant methodological problems that calls many of these results into question. One of the most detailed breakdowns of the study is in a blog post by Matthew Dalby. And an even more detailed, statistical analysis by Jeffrey Walker. Despite the effort and ingenuity of the experiment, which involved “poop transplants” among the animals, the researchers failed to account for ways in which mouse digestion is significantly different from humans.
Always be skeptical of research on mice (and see the hilarious Twitter account @justsaysinmice for regular examples).
What’s the best microbiome test today?
Although I’ve done hundreds of near-daily microbiome tests in the past, these days I only test myself every couple of months.
If plain ole curiosity is your main motivation to learn about your microbiome, I recommend signing up for one of the free clinical studies that will send you a gut kit and report the results:
The MACO study from Endominance wants to understand the relationship between the microbiome and anxiety. Fill out a 100-question survey to get a gut test kit. They’ll pay you $40 and give you your results when you’re done.
NYUFamili gives you a $25 gift card for completing a questionnaire and emailing a gut sample.
If you’re more serious and want to get a detailed breakdown of the microbes, I recommend either:
Ombre, which for $100 will give you a very broad (“16S”) look at your gut microbiome.
Tiny Health ($200), which though specializing in infant and women’s health, offers a good general-purpose high-quality report for adults as well.
Many people are looking for a test that will help them with a diet, either to lose weight or to solve some other gut-related issue. In that case, I would look at:
Viome ($300), including a blood and saliva test based on their “transcriptomics” technology. You’ll get a ton of information, mostly related to food suggestions.
If you’re suffering from a specific ailment that you’d like to consider for a microbiome-related treatment, I strongly suggest you see an expert. Search your local area for “digestive” or “gut” doctor, or for a condition like “IBS” or “SIBO”. Go with doctors who use tests from Doctors Data or GI MAP from Diagnostic Solutions. Unfortunately there is wide variation in quality among gut doctors, so you’ll need to shop around, and hopefully get a referral from somebody you trust.
A University of Oslo dietician at MyMicrobiome did a thorough feature summary of microbiome tests available in Europe. While not all of the tests are available in the US, it’s a good breakdown of what to look for in these tests.
For more information, including PDF downloadable copies of all of my microbiome tests, please check the new Personal Science Microbiome Tips Page.
Weekly links of interest
The newly funded direct-to-consumer science research company PeopleScience is looking for volunteers for a sleep study. You’ll get a two week supply of Sip2Sleep®, an over-the-counter sleep aid made of cherry extract and and a leaf extract from Apocynum venetum. I signed up and will let you know what I hear.
Bryan Caplan offers a list of reasons why First-Hand Experience is Less Biased than the News. Worthwhile reading for Personal Scientists.
GPT-4 exceeds the passing score by 20 points on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). We will soon be in a world where normal people can beat experts.
The Algorithm for Precision Medicine by Matt Might: a lengthy resource for how to treat (mostly genetic) diseases that have stumped your doctors.
About Personal Science
Nullius in verba is the motto of the Royal Society, established in 1660 and it’s what we think too.
The Royal Society’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.