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Personal Science Week 231026 Vivoo
A new at-home urine test
Personal scientists are always looking for new ways to test ourselves.
This week we tried a new at-home test that uses a small urine sample to decipher information about our health.
Personal Science is delivered each Thursday to anyone who wants to use science for personal, rather than professional reasons.
Vivoo is a San Francisco-based company that recently raised $12M to promote their at-home health test. They sell a thin card strip that will tell you all kinds of health details based on a simple urine test. It’s very simple and painless. Just take a photo of one their cards after you’ve poured a little pee (“mid-stream”, they say) on it.
Urinalysis is a very common test that is cheap, easy, and generally pretty accurate. Most of these tests rely on specially-dyed paper that changes color in the presence of different levels of acidity or specially-tracked molecules. Usually you need to eyeball the results against a rainbow collection of colors to find the closest match to your sample. Vivoo eliminates the manual matching by having your smartphone do it. Just point it to the card and in a couple of seconds you get the answer.
But we personal scientists don’t take any single result at face value. We’re open-minded and curious, because we think everything is a possible learning experience. But we’re skeptical, and we realize most things are far too complicated to be summarized in a single result. For at-home tests like this one, the first two questions I ask are:
Is it consistent?
Is it measuring something useful?
Consistency means you’ll get the same results if you test a sample multiple times. Incidentally, many direct-to-consumer tests will boast that they are “CLIA-certified”, a reference to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988. Although CLIA certification requires passing a difficult and rigorous process, it says nothing about whether the test “works” or not. It’s just confirmation that some important people with PhDs inspected the lab and confirmed that it consistently returns similar results on similar samples.
CLIA has nothing to do with FDA approval, which involves actual clinical trials intended to prove that something correctly identifies or cures a condition.
I took my first test, as instructed, on my second trip to the bathroom after waking up. Apparently most people are too dehydrated if tested immediately upon getting up, though as you’ll see that didn’t seem to matter for me. For the 12 hours before my test, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink except for one cup of coffee. Makes sense that I was dehydrated.
Then I repeated the same test 12 hours later.
As you can see, of the nine parameters measured, about half improved by the end of the day and two of them worsened. I understand why “water” improved — I probably drank enough throughout the day. But why did, say, Vitamin C drop so much?
I’m not sure what to think. At first glance, it looks like Vivoo fails the consistency test, but to be fair, I didn’t conduct the tests on the exact same specimen at the same time. It’s possible that there is intra-day variability that I should account for when reading my results.
Of course, maybe I should run tests at the same time of the day. Would I see consistency across days? It’s possible.
But if the test varies that much throughout a single day, is it measuring something that matters physiologically? In my case, for example, should I really be concerned about my lower Vitamin C levels at the end of the day if they bounce back by morning anyway?
I reached out to the Vivoo scientists and will let you know what I hear.
Walmart sells a pack of 100 test strips for $16 that includes 14 parameters: calcium, glucose, protein pH, leukocytes, nitrites, ketones (ketogenic diet, keto, ketone, ketosis), bilirubin, blood, urobilinogen microalbumin, creatinine, & specific gravity. You can get 10-parameter kits for under $10. Vivoo tests for magnesium — and I couldn’t find many other tests for that, except for lab-grade ones from Quest and others.
None of these tests are as convenient as the Vivoo one and none will give you personalized health advice through your phone. But if you plan to do lots of testing, these less formal tests will be much cheaper.
About Personal Science
Personal Scientists are skeptical about everything. It’s in our motto: Nullius in verba, the 1660 motto of the Royal Society: “take nobody’s word for it.” As much as possible, we try to present information that is testable from personal experience. If you have questions, ideas, or comments for future issues, please let us know: