You’ve heard of calorie deficit weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers, South Beach, and Jenny Craig, but have you ever heard of customized diets that specifically target the microbiome? According to the Wall Street Journal, the “diets of the future” could be customized for an individual’s gut microbiome. But how can regulating gut health lead to optimal nutrition, weight loss, and reduced risk of health conditions?
Growing evidence suggests that individual’s gut microbes respond to food in significantly different ways; therefore, a crop of “precision nutrition” startups are racing to develop and engineer individualized diet programs. Many scientists are growing to believe that more finely-tuned nutrition can help curb the country’s chronic-disease epidemic.
How Do These Diets Work?
Programs typically consist of a test kit, gene-sequencing analysis of stool sample against a database of gene-sequenced microbes, and an app that explains and makes recommendations.1 The companies collect user’s genetic information in databases that can be used to treat chronic diseases.1
Much of the gut microbiome isn’t well understood, as every individual’s microbiome is different (even identical twins). Gut health, generally, depends on a complex interaction between the food you eat and the microbes in your gut. The chemicals mix with the microbes, which then mixes in your blood with your body’s own chemistry to influence your genes and pathways. Regulating this mixture can play a big role in health and disease, hence the development of diets to encourage this.1
What Companies Offer This Solution?
Companies like Zoe, Viome and DayTwo offer personalized diet plans. Already these companies have sold several hundred-thousand at-home test kits, and consumers use the kits to collect samples, send them for analysis, receive personalized nutrition advice, and, in some cases, receive customized supplements.1
Reports from these companies have found that there’s no such thing as “universally healthy food.” And not all companies analyze the specimens in the same way. DayTwo Inc., located in Walnut Creek, California, sells microbiome-based programs to employers, health insurance plans, and clinics. The company, which has been around for the past 6 years, says it has 75,000 users and is aimed at reversing metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.1
Zoe began selling its program 9 months ago and has sequenced the genes of more than 1000 species of microbes. The company gives customers a gut-health score based on their individual ratio of good-to-bad microbes, recommends specific foods, and explains healthy ways to combine them.1
The Zoe program explains to each customer how different foods affect blood sugar, blood fat, and the gut microbiome. It uses a color coding system to determine foods that can be enjoyed freely vs avoided at all costs.1
Viome, founded 5 years ago, analyzes blood and stool samples to provide ratings on metrics like gut health, immune health, mitochondrial health and stress response. The company’s sequencing technology allows it to analyze the gene expression of a variety of gut microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and yeast. Information that’s collected is used to generate recommendations and design individual supplement packages.1
America’s Interest in Health
The COVID-19 pandemic sharpened the public’s interest in health, wellness, and making sure we don’t get sick. Everyone became the CEO of their own health, and health technology companies jumped at the opportunity to increase the study of gut microbes.
According to the article, we are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding our microbiome. The field has drawn intense interest from scientists, academics, and doctors, and there is a dearth of independent research showing the promise of this field. The gut and diet interaction plays a role in heart disease, according to the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. However, most research is still inconclusive, yet doctors are not ready to give up on the microbiome.
“It’s really important to break the mold about what we’ve been told about nutrition,” Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and founder of Zoe stated in an interview with the Journal.1 But the quest to discover a new way of health regulation through the microbiome has only just begun.1
- Morris B. Diets engineered to work with your microbiome are latest startup craze. The Wall Street Journal. Published June 28, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.
- Spencer C. Will latest craze in personalized ‘microbiome’ diets finally solve America’s weight problems?. The Hill. Published June 30, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2021.