Many of you may remember that early this year, I did a little survey to find out what topics in particular you might be interested in hearing more about. One of the top requests was to hear more about companies doing microbiome testing. I had covered two of them a little way back when in this post, but as the cost for the testing is pretty steep – and I make no money from this blog – I couldn’t really afford to run one to tell you about my experience. I was very excited then when Richard Lin, the founder and CEO, of Thyrve contacted me to ask if I’d like a biome test done, in exchange for an unbiased blog post about my experience. That seemed perfectly fair to me, especially as I know you’re all interested.
Firstly, the kit was attractive and super easy to use. (So you know, the cost of their report is $149, by the way, which is markedly less expensive than their competitors, Viome and DayTwo.) Within just a few weeks, my results were available, which I’m happy to share with you. Firstly, let me say that I eat an EXTREMELY healthy diet, organic and mostly plant based. I am not a vegetarian, but I am not a huge meat eater. I do enjoy the very occasional steak or burger; some turkey; not a lot of chicken as I’m not a big fan – but most days, I do not eat meat. I do eat seafood once or twice a week, and a bit of cheese. That’s really it on the animal product front. I eat a lot of vegetables, little bread or grain, some fruit. I am a sugar addict so I mostly avoid it because once I start, I don’t want to stop. 🙂 I exercise almost daily and my BMI is right in the middle of the normal range, at 21. I take 330 billion probiotic units daily, in the form of Visbiome or VSL#3, as well as basic vitamins, omega 3s, magnesium.
My home page ended up looking like this:
Notice in the top corner, my gut score is 70%. If I click on that, I am told this is my overall wellness score, as determined by the balance of beneficial/commensal bacteria and pathogenic, as compared to those of a healthy population from the American Gut Project. My gut is “going in the right direction but needs some work.” The average is 62%. Interestingly, my diversity score is 92%, which is considered superb. (The average is 83%.) Lower on the page, I am told that based on my microbiome profile, there are 9 symptoms I am more likely to have including abdominal pain, bloating, dry and itchy skin, fatigue, poor sleep trouble maintaining a healthy weight, etc. Certainly some of the symptoms fit my profile. I’ve battled IBS since infancy. I can barely sleep at all – sleep for me is, well, a nightmare, to make a bad pun. I actually dread going to sleep. Of course, I suffer from fatigue which I battle through ‘cause I’m tough! I have to restrict my calorie intake severely to not gain weight, in spite of being an active person. I found this “predictive” part of the report the most interesting, especially since clicking on that box brings me to a page that tells me what bacteria I have in low amounts, which may be responsible for that symptom. Here is a part of that page:
Go back to my home page for a moment. If you look at the bottom left, you’ll see a box that talks about my bacteria level, which is only 20% optimal. This is a little confusing to me, actually, as I was told that my gut was better than average on the top of the page and that I have a particularly diverse microbiome. This box states that I am low on 9 types of bacteria: Faecalibacterium, Bacteroides, Akkermansia, Alistipes, Bifidobacterium, Roseburia, Lactobacillus, and Eubacterium. Clicking on the box brings me to a summary page on each, and tells me how to increase my levels. As you know, probiotic formulas only really contain limited species, mainly Bifido and Lactobacillus, and thus, this page mentions that these two types can be increased by both probiotics and diet. The rest must be increased by diet alone. Take Akkermansia, which I have talked about on this blog fairly extensively. (Here and here, as just 2 examples.)
Here’s what that page about my bacterial deficits looks like (again, this is just a part of the page):
Again, using Akkermansia as an example, here’s a close up:
If I click on this to get more information, here is what appears:
According to Thryve, my Akkermansia levels are in the toilet. As you know from reading my posts, this species of bacteria is not yet available in probiotic form so all we have is diet. While this was all very interesting to this point, in a kind of academic way, the real purpose of using a service like this is to find out what we can do to improve our gut health. And here is where I found myself a little disappointed. At the bottom of this page, there are buttons for “see my probiotic plan” and see my diet plan.” (You can get to the diet plan from the home page as well.) The diet plan: I’d really have liked to see this fleshed out way more. I’m told that my diet should include a huge variety of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, seafood, etc. I’m told I should avoid grains, molasses, glucose, fluid milk and gravy? (Gravy? Sorry folks, but eating gravy is not a major factor adversely affecting anyone’s gut flora.) The diet plan is really just a generic “eat more healthy foods and not junk” kind of thing.
In terms of probiotics: I can also buy their probiotic which they say is formulated specifically for me based upon my profile. While I don’t doubt their choice of species (their recommendation for me consisted of 10 strains), a dose is only 5 billion units. A one month supply of this is about $35, by my calculations, which is not unreasonable but…I currently pay for about $48 for probiotic that has 110 billion units per capsule (dose), and I take 3 of those per day. A 5 billion unit probiotic is extremely low potency. Even in the ordinary health food store, I’m guessing the average strength is about 25 billion. I’m not sure I understand Thyrve’s dosing protocol. (By the way, I should also mention that on the page which lays out the 10 strains, there is also a section telling me that I should be taking vitamin C and the prebiotic, inulin.)
One more thing I need to point out: I cannot comment on the company’s methods of analyzing the samples and I did not see that there is any outside research or third party testing of their methodologies. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, or that their methods are not accurate. I simply do not know because I’m not a scientist. Mr. Lin kindly shared two documents with me: the first is called “clinical information” which is not really helpful in this regard but the second contained what science they have, I believe.
It is an internal 3 month long validation study conducted on 99 of their customers showing that “…the dietary suggestions from Thryve might be able to provide positive impacts on the gut microbiome and potentially improve their life quality.” This is not a published, peer-reviewed, double blind, placebo controlled study. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s invalid: it just means I don’t know with certainty that it IS valid. Their results: “The last analysis shows 0.09% enhancement of Akkermansia, 0.87% enhancement of Bifidobacterium, 0.87% enhancement of Roseburia, 0.24% enhancement of Lactobacillus and 1.45% enhancement of Faecalibacterium compare to the initial tests.” I’m not sure that those results are actually statistically significant, again, because I am not a scientist. This paper also mentions that their results suggest that people may be eating a more plant-rich diet after checking their results. That alone is likely responsible for any health improvements they may experience, as they state (and as I noted in opening sentence of this paragraph).
Here’s my other issue, which is NOT the fault of Thryve: I already eat an extremely healthy diet which includes many of the foods on their “recommended” page. I take a much more powerful probiotic (one that has been studied in scores of clinical trials), include inulin and other prebiotic fibers in my diet, and take 1000 mg of vitamin C twice a day. I’m way ahead of the curve on their recommendations, and still, my microbiome appears to be lacking in many key probiotic species. So…ultimately, they have little to offer me, mainly because firstly, I don’t believe the science is really there yet in terms of specific recommendations to fine tune the microbiome, and secondly, many of the species that might make a key difference in my health, like Akkermansia, are not available as a probiotic.
To sum up then: I found Thryve’s process easy and enjoyed looking at my report. For $4.99 per month I can get way more details, like a look at my short chain fatty acid levels, my intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut) status, and so forth, and were I planning to follow their probiotic plan, I might take them up on that. However, I can’t see that I will personally be making any changes to what I’m doing as I’m already doing everything possible and it doesn’t appear to be making much difference. For example, according to Thryve, I’m still low in Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, even after years of high potency (and high quality) probiotics containing those species. How is taking a fraction of the amount (1.5% to be exact) going to change things?
If any of you do decide to give the testing a shot, I’d love to compare results. And I do not doubt Thyrve’s claims that by eating better, taking even a low potency probiotic, a prebiotic (inulin, for example), some people find their health improved. This is an ongoing conversation and the science behind personalized nutrition is growing pretty much daily at this point. As a nutritionist, the concept absolutely fascinates and excites me (as you know because I’ve written about it enough)! I personally do not believe we are there yet in terms of the science to actually micromanage (another bad pun!) our microbiomes…but I absolutely believe we will be able to do so someday. And in the meantime, if companies like Thyrve can inspire people to at least think about the health of their biomes, what they are eating, how this affects their health now and in the future, to make some healthy choices…well, that fits right not my “can’t hurt, could help” mantra.