What exactly is the gut microbiome? In short, it is a term which refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your gut. In recent years, studies have increasingly shown that our microbiome plays a critical role in immune-related, complex diseases, as well as the regulation of predisposition to other diseases. We may have taken our gut's functionality for granted in the past, but we shouldn't: our gut is responsible for digesting our food, producing certain vitamins, regulating our immune system, and keeping us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria. It's what keeps us GOING (literally) and HEALTHY.
I first found out about Atlas BioMed when I had an ad targeted to me on Instagram or Facebook after I had spent a morning reading about gut health.
As someone who has had chronic health and inflammation problems (is it IBS? Crohn's disease? PCOS? The verdict is still out...), and has been upping the training for some bigger upcoming mountain aspirations, I've been trying to use more data/evidence-based medicine to inform my lifestyle choices, so this product/service seemed to fit the bill. Atlas BioMed was kind enough to provide me with a free Listen to Your Gut microbiome test to try out. And it was pretty easy to do: it only took 5 unglamorous minutes of at-home collection, a trip to the local post, and an 8 week wait for results (which was totally worth the wait for all this fun DATA!!).
Here are the biggest takeaways from my experience/results:
1) MICROBIOME DIVERSITY: Score was 6 out of 10. The results section actually seems to indicate to me that 6 out of 10 places me in a very good category. The overachiever in me on the other hand wonders why I'm not up at a 7 or 8. But what is the actual maximum, I wonder? I've seen pro athletes end up with similar results, so maybe I need to just get over it. Or do I?
With a very heavy vegetarian / plant-based diet, and recently consuming what is probably the cleanest diet I've eaten in years (no more late night crisps!), I expected this to be higher. But maybe what this has taught me is that clean is not always complete. We require not only healthy, plant-based foods, but a diversity of them, in order to ensure we are meeting all of our dietary needs and checking the boxes on each and every necessary vitamin. Based off of the food recommendations to increase this diversity, I should be eating a lot more of the below yummy fruits and veg. OK by me. What is neat: they send you weekly recommendations to improve your biome and each week they are different, so it gives me an excuse to try new weekly recipes incorporating recommendations.
2) NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES: My areas of weakness are Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and Vitamin K. This is not uncommon in people who eat plant-based and avoid dairy like myself as these vitamins can be found in certain foods such as milk, meat, eggs, nuts, enriched flour, as well as green vegetables. Easy enough, as Atlas tells you exactly what foods you can eat to improve this. I think I'll also throw a few supplements into my Amazon shopping cart to see if I can't get these vitamins to a little bit closer to normal levels.
3) DISEASE RISKS: My results list a few diseases (diabetes 2, colitis, Crohn's disease) as "very low risk" for me, which I gather means I should not be too worried as at the same time, Atlas indicates that my current diet is very good at protecting against these very diseases. Not sure what to do with this information other than to store it in the back of my mind, but if I'm doing everything I can now to prevent it, then I think I'm good to go. Wish this had a bit more data behind what's driving the information (Atlas does give a disclaimer that this should not be taken as medical advice, but merely as insights/suggestions/things to be aware of).
4) GUT FLORA TYPE: The most amusing part of the test for me is that they put you into three categories of gut flora. Large-scale metagenomic studies have identified "enterotypes": stable combinations of bacteria co-existing in communities. Each person's microbiome falls into one of these three groups, which correspond with different styles of nutrition. Atlas says that your microbiome type can change should you significantly modify your diet or be subjected to external factors. Supposedly, I am a VILLAGE PEASANT. Whatever that means :).
My biggest takeaway is that my body seems to be pretty good with fiber, and I eat a lot of it (beans, beans, the magical fruit...), so all good.
The categories go as follows.
Bacteroides dominate this type of microbiome, where they represent 80% of the ecosystem on average, meaning that there is a lack of diversity. Other bile-resistant genera present in this cluster include Parabacteroides, Paraprevotella and Odoribacter. Some researchers associate the first type with the "Western diet" that is rich in simple sugars, animal fats and protein. This cluster is similar to the first enterotype described by M. Arumugam (Arumugam et al., 2011).
Dominant genera of bacteria present in the third microbiome type include Eubacterium, Dorea, Ruminococcus, Anaerostipes, Blautia, unclassified Lachnospiraceae and, to a lesser extent, Collinsella. Due to the increased representation of Firmicutes, this cluster is good at producing butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. It is common in people who consume a lot of resistant starches and dietary fibre, like the rural Russian population. These bacteria are "picky" and eat only specific types of food. This cluster is similar to the third enterotype described by M. Arumugam (Arumugam et al., 2011).
Prevotella dominate this type of microbiome, which is common in isolated tribespeople from the Amazon and Africa. Their diet is rich in plant fibre with hardly any simple sugars, meat or fat. In Europe, the second type is mostly found in vegetarians. This cluster corresponds with the second enterotype described by M. Arumugam (Arumugam et al., 2011).
I'm looking forward to seeing how Atlas Biomed tweaks their results and data over time, based off of customer feedback and improvements in testing abilities. Data is a sure fire way to ensure we are achieving optimal nutrition / gut health and I love and fully support any platform or technology which is making this available to everybody.
My only hope is that the next time I take the test, my tests and biome diversity will be improved and I won't just experience data deja-poo (you didn't think I would end this without at least one more poo pun did you?)
Overall, I found the test interesting, informative, and fun. Rating: A-*
(*simply because poop tests are gross and always will be)