They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. As it turns out, there’s some real truth to this expression as our gut health is intimately tied to our overall health and aging process. Personalized wellness regimes, such as customized diets, can significantly impact an individual’s digestion, mood, energy, sleep, hormones, skin, and ability to support a healthy weight — all of which can influence healthspan and longevity. Companies have begun developing and commercializing at-home testing kits that help profile the body to create optimal diet plans for individuals. And now, you can add such a test kit to your online shopping cart at one of America’s luxury department stores.

This week, the Seattle-area startup Viome Life Sciences announced a partnership with Nordstrom to sell kits that offer health insights and set you up for personalized nutrition recommendations based on an individual’s microbial and human gene activity levels. The Viome Health Intelligence Test, which goes for $199, provides insights around critical aging areas like gut health, immune system health, cellular health, and biological age. To do so, this at-home kit, which will first be sold online and then at stores starting in 2022, measures patterns of gene activity in your gut microbes and blood cells. The test supplies a safe and simple way to help you give a small blood and stool sample that gets sent to a lab for analysis of gene activity patterns in your cells and the microbiome — the aggregate of all microbes that reside on or within human biofluids and tissues, such as the gut and skin.

“Both Viome and Nordstrom believe that true health and beauty start from within. There is no such thing as a universal healthy food or healthy supplement. What is right for one person can be wrong for someone else, especially when it comes to nutrition which is key to human longevity and vitality. Precision nutrition is the future! This partnership is a giant step towards making our technology more accessible, so people can understand what’s right for their unique body,” said Viome CEO and Founder Naveen Jain.

How does the microbiome affect your health?

In and on every one of us, trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes) of thousands of different species, including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, coexist peacefully. The largest populations of these microorganisms are found in the small and large intestines and throughout the body. The microbiome is even labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body.

The microbiome consists of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful. Most are symbiotic (where both the human body and microbiota benefit), and some, in smaller numbers, are pathogenic (promoting disease). In a healthy body, pathogenic and symbiotic microbiota coexist without problems. But if there is a disturbance in that balance—brought on by infectious illnesses, specific diets, or the prolonged use of antibiotics or other bacteria-destroying medications—these regular interactions come to a halt. As a result, the body may become more susceptible to disease.

The microbiome can stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids. A healthy person’s microbiota will also protect pathogenic organisms entering the body, such as drinking or eating contaminated water or food.

Can diet even affect your microbiome?

Diet plays a major role in determining the kinds of microbes that live in our gut. For example, a high-fiber diet, in particular, affects the type and amount of microbiota in the intestines. Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota living in the colon. And most of us are probably familiar now with probiotics, which are foods that contain beneficial live microbiota that may further alter one’s microbiome. These include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.

While you’ve probably heard of probiotics, there’s a similar-sounding term called prebiotics that’s gaining traction. These compounds are called prebiotics because they feed our beneficial gut microbes. Although there are supplements containing prebiotic fibers, there are many healthful foods naturally containing prebiotics. The highest amounts are found in raw versions of the following: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed. In general, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like wheat, oats, and barley are all good sources of prebiotic fibers.

Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are released as a result of fermentation. This makes the colon acidic, which determines the type of microbiota present that would survive in this acidic environment. The acidity limits the growth of some harmful bacteria. Growing research on SCFA explores their wide-ranging beneficial effects on health, including stimulating immune cell activity and maintaining normal blood levels of glucose (sugar) and cholesterol. 

At-home testing and personalized nutrition are backed by clinical science

Current dietary recommendations are often generalized, conflicting, and highly subjective, depending on the source biases. This results in confusion, skepticism, and frustration in the general population. As an alternative, we propose an objective, integrated, automated, algorithmic approach to diet and supplement recommendations that are powered by artificial intelligence that analyzes individualized molecular data from the gut microbiome, the human host, and their interactions. The question is, do precise, personalized, and data-driven nutritional recommendations that consist of foods and supplements based on the individual molecular data support human health?

To back up the power of precision nutrition, Viome conducted blinded studies in April 2021 that have revealed a significant impact from its precision nutrition approach in four major chronic disease areas. This included Depression (reduced by 32%), Anxiety disorders (reduced by 40%), IBS (reduced by 36%), and Type 2 Diabetes (reduced by 30%).

These efforts have allowed Viome to help individuals better understand what’s happening in their bodies through powerful insights related to gut microbiome health and uncover the root cause of long-term illnesses. In a world overwhelmed by information relating to diet and supplement advice, Viome wants to use testing to give users the ability to gain actionable insights. To date, Viome claims to have helped over 250,000 individuals improve their health through precision nutrition powered by microbial and human gene expression insights.

“We are inspired each day by the incredible changes our customers are seeing in their health, including improvements in digestion, weight, stress, ability to focus, and more,” said Jain.

The Viome Health Intelligence Test will be available at select in-store Nordstrom locations beginning in 2022. Viome plans to rapidly grow its retail presence in the U.S. over the next year. The Viome kit can be found at other retailers besides Nordstrom; just a quick internet search can land you at sites from online retailers that sell the product. You may even find it at a discount on sites like Groupon.

The at-home testing kit market for personalized nutrition

Viome isn’t the only company in personalized nutrition to offer an at-home testing kit. Genopalate uses information from DNA swabs to create customized nutrition plans for the user. DayTwo focuses on the gut microbiome to provide customized diet recommendations, while Sun Genomics develops probiotics specifically for the user based on their gut health. What sets Viome’s product apart is that it is the world’s first at-home mRNA test commercially available.