MyMicrobiome tests products for the microbiome, gives you valuable tips and food for thought. For this purpose, some companies also provide their products free of charge - thank you! This does not affect our independent and neutral reporting. Have fun while reading!
Microbiome test kits under scrutiny - evaluation
At least since "GUT" (Author: Julia Enders) we know that the intestine is the center of our health and well-being. For a long time neglected, research has been focused on researching the gut and its roommates, our microbiome, for the last 10 years. Along with this, scientists all over the world are cataloging the microbiome of our skin, mouth, lungs, urogenital tract and, above all, our intestines. In this way, they are trying to find out which microbial compounds in each body region represent a healthy, balanced microbiome or how to best restore that balance when the microbial ecosystems on and in us are disturbed.
Microbiome test kits are mushrooming all over the world
In parallel with the scientific efforts, microbiome test kits, available to the average consumer, are mushrooming all over the world. How valuable are these tests? What are the tests and what makes them different? MyMicrobiome took a look at the microbiome tests available on the market.
For the self-test, we asked more than 10 suppliers, including uBiome, Viome, Biohm, Ihcode and DayTwo. A total of five companies agreed to take part and we took a close look at them:
We tested each kit twice, before and after two-week daily consumption of a probiotic yogurt.
Evaluation of tested kits according to different criteria
Delivery / Packaging / Instructions / Return
Overall, all kits have been delivered quickly (within a week). Only the kit from the US has stuck in customs. All kits were nicely packaged in a box, except for the TFTAK kit, which is still under development. In terms of content, the kits from Biomes, Thryve and TFTAK were very similar. There was a swab, a small tube containing a sample stabilizing liquid, and instructions for sampling. The Atlas sampling tube was slightly larger and more sample was needed. Medivere had no stabilizing liquid in the tube and it needed about 25 ml of sample, so here are fewer points. TFTAK, Medivere and Atlas provided fecal catcherswith, TFTAK and Thryve had a replacement set, if something goes wrong.
The easiest return of the samples was with Atlas, Biomes and Medivere, as they had a prepaid envelope or package on board. For the return of the Thryve kit there was a return box, but the mailing costs have to be borne once, upon receipt of the receipt, the amount will be refunded via PayPal. Since TFTAK still has no packaging, there was also no return envelope, or postage, but this will certainly change once the packaging carton is finished.
We had to wait for the results for 2 weeks to more than 3 months, the results of TFTAK arrived at the latest.
The results were either presented in a dashboard (Thryve, Biomes, Atlas) or summarized in a report (Biomes, Medivere, TFTAK). You log in to the dashboard and first have an overview from which you can access the various areas. This dashboard was more or less well arranged. Biomes and Thryve made browsing easy, with Atlas I often had problems finding the data I wanted, some things were very hidden.
Dashboards of the provider
Overall, you can find more information in the dashboards than in a report, but you have to search and browse a lot. An advantage of the dashboards is that you can look at your bacteria in detail, with a click on each respective bacterium you get more information on it.
The reports from Biomes, Medivere and TFTAK were very well designed and give a very good overview of everything. Medivere divided the analyzed bacteria into functional groups and gave a list of the bacterial domains found.
In the new dashboard (as of mid-November 2018), Biomes will summarize the data from the dashboard and make recipes tailored to the examined microbiome available.
TFTAK listed the most common bacteria in the examined sample with their properties, in an additional table the most common bacteria in the healthy comparison population (here from Estonia) were compared with the occurrence in the examined sample.
The results of the different analyzes were very diverse.
All analyzes gave details on the diversity of the microbiome, health tips and nutrition tips. Biomes and Medivere reported a very high diversity of the tested microbiome, while the diversity in the other three tests was lower. In the two weeks of the yogurt diet, however, the variety has increased. The higher the variety, the better for the health.
A classification into different enterotypes gave information on dominant bacterial classes, which give information on the type of diet.
Depending on which bacterial groups dominate your microbiome, a classification into one of 3 enterotypes is possible, related to your diet:
This microbiome is dominated by Bacteroides, where on average they account for up to 80% of the bacterial ecosystem. This means that the diversity of the microbiome suffers from this dominance. These bacteria are fed on simple sugars, animal fats and protein.
This microbiome type is dominated by Prevotella, which are typically isolated from indigenous tribes of the Amazon and Africa. Their diet consists mainly of vegetable fiber and very little to no simple sugar, meat or fat. In Europe, this enterotype is observed mainly in vegetarians.
The group of bacteria that dominates in this enterotype is led by Ruminococcus, followed by Eubacterium, Dorea and others. This group of bacteria is particularly good in the production of butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. This group mainly uses carbohydrates such as resistant starch and cellulose (from lentils, beans or whole grains).
Not every product gave information about the enterotype
While Thryve and TFTAK did not provide any information on the enterotypes, the results of Biomes coincided with those of Atlas. Medivere writes that we have enterotype 3 in both tests, but the results show enterotype 1, ie a dominance of Bacteroides.
Another interesting result is the ratio of the bacterial domains Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. Firmicutes are particularly good at utilizing fats, so with a high Firmicutes / Bacteroidetes ratio, one tends to gain weight faster. The ratio should optimally be between 1 and 3. According to Biomes our tested microbiome tends to a very high calorie utilization, whereas in the other tests we tend to be in the optimum. Atlas Biomed and TFTAK made no statement about the relationship Firmicutes / Bacteroidetes.
Overall, the results differed greatly in the different tests
All tests were carried out with the same sample, but differences were already evident in the required amount of sample and in the type of sample preservation. For Biomes, Thryve and TFTAK, one smear from the toilet paper was enough, while Atlas needed about 2 ml and Medivere even 25 ml of sample. All tests except Medivere had a stabilization solution in the sample vial. This is necessary so that on the one hand the bacteria do not multiply on the way to the laboratory and on the other hand the bacterial DNA and RNA, which is examined in the laboratory, is stabilized. The type of stabilizing solution can influence the results.
In all cases, the microbiome was analyzed by 16s rRNA analysis, a common method but only partially down to the bacterial species level. Since each bacterium has a different number of copies of 16s rRNA, the correct algorithm must be used to determine the actual number of bacteria in the sample. Again, you come to different results. Finally, it also depends on which database the results are compared to. Each manufacturer currently has its own database, which is more or less extensive, mostly regional. The results obtained are always compared with the community and, as appropriate, values are increased or decreased by comparison. Therefore, it is advisable to choose a manufacturer who is possibly sitting in the same country or at least on the same continent. The average microbiome of the European population for example differs very much that of the North Americans or Asians.
Despite the differences in the results, the majority of the analyzes showed similar tendencies in the composition of the microbiome.
In the first test, the test person had rather met the enterotype 2, in the second test the enterotype 3 (Biomes, TFTAK and Atlas). These two enterotypes are very compatible with the diet of the subject. In 3 out of 5 tests (Biomes, TFTAK and Medivere) the proportion of pro-inflammatory bacteria (proteobacteria) was increased. Bacterial diversity improved in all tests from the first to the second test time or stayed the same.
The dietary recommendations are rather general
- Biomes and Thryve offer the matching probiotics mix. Depending on the lack of bacterial groups or species, a special diet is recommended.
Biomes is reviewing its dashboard and has a detailed PDF report on the results in the new dashboard (online from mid-November), including recipes specifically for your microbiome. They tell me which nutrients the analyzed microbiome can make particularly good use of and what nutrients the bacteria lack. In addition, they give indications of possible food intolerance due to the composition of the microbiome.
- Atlas publishes weekly food recommendations via email.
- What I liked a lot: at Thryve I can click on a bacterium and learn with what foods I can promote the growth of this bacterium in my gut.
All analyzes give indications of possible diseases
In all analyzes, I get an indication of possible diseases that can specifically occur due to imbalances in the analyzed microbiome.
- Biomes and Atlas indicated how good the potential is to synthesize vitamins and where it might be lacking. Biomes delivers interpretations of calorie utilization, inflammatory indicators, intestinal mucosa and constipation in the new dashboard.
- Thryve names symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, poor sleep, skin and weight issues, and how likely these symptoms may be to the tested microbiome. With a click you get to specific nutrition tips to improve the symptoms.
- Atlas lists diseases that are correlated with a disturbed microbiome (type II diabetes, obesity, intestinal inflammation, and arteriosclerosis), and the risk of each microbiome examined for the onset of the disease.
Medivere comes rather from diagnostics and provides a very detailed health report. The risk of suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, neurological and metabolic diseases is estimated here on the basis of the microbiome data and explained in great detail on the various characteristics of the bacteria in the gut.
- TFTAK presents the bacteria found in the test and explains in a table what every bacterium can be good or bad for. There is also another table that compares the most common bacteria in the healthy population (here from Estonia) with those in the sample. So you can see where bacteria are lacking or dominant.
The science of the human microbiome is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, there are many clear indications of how our microbiome can affect our health. The results of the different tests vary due to various applied techniques and databases, but tendencies are evident that are present in all tests. Which of the tests has the best analysis method is difficult to say. For people who feel that something is wrong with their intestinal health, or for those who just want to know how to do something good for their health, such a microbiome test is certainly helpful.
Conclusion is, and this was also evident in every test that a low-protein and low-fat and therefore plant-rich diet increases the biodiversity of our microbiome. But that does not mean that you should completely dispense with proteins and fats, but, as we all know, the food should be as untreated, fresh and colorful as possible. The more varied the diet, the higher the diversity of our microbiome.
I am sure that the tests become ever better and more reliable with the advancement of the technical possibilities and the further research to the microbiome. However, universally accepted standards for microbiome analysis and sampling are urgently needed to obtain congruent results!
We'll be testing at regular intervals and keep you up to date.