SUSHI GAVE ME WASABI VIRUS, & OTHER THINGS I DISCOVERED ABOUT MY IMMUNITY THROUGH GUT BIOME TESTING
Updated: Apr 28
I first heard about microbiome testing two years ago, and it was nicely written in my 'things to get done someday' list that seemed to be ever growing. This year, I moved it to the top of the list after reading more on the importance of the gut microbiome and experiencing my first cold in over five years. The research, from Johns Hopkins University stated immunity is primarily a function of how fit your microbiome is. After a lot of desk-top background reading, I decided to go for the Viome test. Viome favourite amongst the biohacking community, and founded by Naveen Jain, who outside of being a passionate advocate of the microbiome, also is an entrepreneur in the space industry.
This was pre-Covid, and living in Singapore, I found out the test was not yet available here. I spoke to a doctor who was passionate about bringing the test in, but rather than wait for it, I took matters in my own hands got a kit sent to me on whilst I was on a trip to London. The process is quite simple, basically you provide a small sample of your stool, answer questions on your previous day's meal, and ship it off after scanning the box and downloading the app. Yes, it's not the most fun process but the information you get from it is priceless.
Results take around two weeks, and this happened to coincide with when Covid really started making a global impact. I landed back in Singapore to a country that was starting to self-isolate and so I ramped up our immune-boosting habits, foods and supplements including vitamins C, D3 and a myriad of others whilst waiting for my labs. I was looking forward to seeing how 'fit' my microbiome was, especially during this pandemic.
IMMUNITY and the GUT
With the onslaught of the Covid virus, the media has been filled with discussions on when a vaccine will be ready. Of course keeping our environments as sterile as possible seems to be a good strategy, but our bodies are far from being sterile - we are a hodge lodge of different microscopic organisms, working in tandem with our immune cells. These relationships have been shown to affect inflammation, and our susceptibility to getting bacterial and viral infections. Having three children, one with asthma and severe allergies, I've been researching more and more on how to keep our immune systems as robust as possible. A large portion of our immune system is housed within our gut, and plays a pivotal role in determining when and how well our immune system operates when it is confronted with a threat. Depending on the balance and the fitness of the microbiome and gut flora, and the quality of our gut lining, our immune systems can be strong or weak. I was intrigued, and wanted to know how diverse my gut flora was, considering I had taken antibiotics last year.
Beating out the Bad guys
Most of us have heard about taking probiotics to strengthen the gut, especially to fend of pathogenic bacteria. But did you know that these good bacteria can also help to fight viruses too? Bacteria are also susceptible to viral infections and want to fight them off. When there is a diverse population of good bacteria, they communicate between each other when they recognise a new virus that is entering the body. This communication is called 'quorum sensing' and they learn from viral strains, passing on this new information on how to fight viruses to their own offspring. In turn, this means if our bacteria is robust and healthy, it is a greater chance for us to fight off viral infections as well. On the Viome website they state that:
Surprisingly, our gut microbes might even affect viruses that impact us.
Some viruses, such as the influenza virus, enter our lungs and require rapid antibody responses from our immune system. The faster the recognition of the virus, the faster our immune system can work to remove the infection. For immune cells patrolling the lungs, quick identification of the viral pathogen means a better outcome. Several studies have documented that our gut microbiome helps support “adaptive immunity” or our specialized immune response that fights disease by producing antibodies. Our “adaptive” immune cells carry a variety of “keys” – each key matching with a different virus’s “keyhole”. Scientists believe that some of our gut microbes might actually be the ones providing the “keys” to our immune cells. For example, it could be that some of the byproducts these bacteria produce are converted into the keys they need to recognize viruses. In the case of the influenza, scientists found that this exchange between the gut microbes and our immune system resulted in faster recognition of the influenza virus from immune cells inside the lungs.
Wasabi and Tomato Viruses, and a whopping high score in the Diversity department
What I learned from my results:
I had a great score in terms of overall diversity of my gut flora, at the 84th percentile. This means that rather than having a few guys in the trenches, I learned I have quite the army, meaning I am doing something right in terms of eating a diverse number of foods, taking good supplements with different bacterials strains, and ensuring the prebiotics are in place to ensure they thrive.
I also learned what my kryptonite foods were, basically foods that I had either caught a virus from that made me weaker to these substances. Surprisingly, I found out I have a virus from tomatoes, wasabi, as well as a type of bell pepper. I even had a tobacco virus! (Who would have thought?) It also listed foods I may react to, which surprisingly were accurate, and unfortunately my favourite fruit of all time, cherries, was on the list. I learned which foods were superfoods for me, and those on the neutral or avoid if possible list.
The bad scores - digestion. Although I was feeling very happy in terms of the gut diversity score, I found out I was in the bottom 25th percentile in other areas, all around strength of digestion. Viome recommended supplements as well as probiotics, and enzymes to increase my overall digestion and absorption.
Overall, I think getting a personalised analysis of your gut microbiome is an essential tool for health so that you can ensure your habits are truly working for you. The Viome test was simple to use, inexpensive (they have a subscription model at $999 per year including four tests - I did an introductory rate of $129 for one initial test), and is something I will repeat yearly to see how my microbiome is flourishing after I implement the suggestions in my report.