Gut Check

Over the last six years researchers have identified about a dozen more specific types of myositis than previously existed. My updated diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic is Necrotizing Autoimmune Myopathy. The symptoms are the same as with polymyositis but NAM is even rarer, causing less inflammation and higher rates of cell death. The only *known* cause is prolonged statin usage; I’ve never taken statin drugs so it’s clear that my immune system is reacting to something that doesn’t bother the vast majority of other people.

But why do I have NAM and you don’t? And, even more top of mind: why do coronavirus symptoms vary so much from person to person? I think that the answer to both inquiries lies in the foundational truth that, “The human immune system is highly variable between individuals…”.

The first time I started seriously thinking about how my microbiome fits into this was about four months ago. Maria Menounos posted a photo on Instagram about how she was tailoring her meals to a list of her personalized superfoods provided by a company called, Viome. I’m extremely skeptical about sponsored celebrity endorsements so as good as it seemed at first glance, I didn’t buy it right away. I watched a lot of interviews with their C-suite, but this one with Deepak Chopra and CEO, Naveen Jain sold me on it.

In exchange for a tiny scoop of your poop and responses to several health questionnaires, Viome gives you a personalized dataset of (1) superfoods that boost your gut functions, (2) foods you need to avoid or minimize because they promote bad activity in your gut, (3) supplements that will work well for your microbiome, and (4) how you rank — good/so-so/bad — across 20 different gut functions.

Your results are essentially a personalized recipe for balancing your microbiome. Why do you need this? “…The composition of the microorganisms in the intestine…has an influence on the quality of the immune reaction.” A balanced gut means a stronger shield against enemies like the coronavirus.

You don’t need to leave your house or have in-person contact with anyone to submit your stool sample. The only catch is that analyzing every microorganism in your gut takes about four weeks from the time they receive your sample. Given our our current state of affairs I say that four weeks is a drop in the 2020 bucket.

I want to be very clear that this is not a food allergy or food sensitivity test. I’ve taken both and had zero flagged foods. My Viome results, however, showed that foods I’ve eaten daily for years like tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers, were negatively affecting me. While my blood tests and muscle biopsies show little to no inflammation in my tissues, my Viome results, on the other hand, showed high levels of inflammation in my gut. In fact, 10/20 of my gut functions preformed poorly, 9/20 were so-so, and only 1/20 was preforming well. You might expect me to be discouraged by those scores but I’m actually encouraged by the potential for improvement.

I’ve followed their exact food and supplement recommendations for almost 60 days. I regained some range of motion in my neck immediately. I can lift my right shoulder a little more than before changing my diet and I can lift a heavier cup of liquid from my lap to my mouth on some days. At the ~30 day mark my acupuncturist said that my pulse was the strongest she had ever felt it in a year and a half. These may seem trivial but any change for the better makes a big difference in my daily life.

I’ve only just begun balancing the ecosystem living in my belly so I’m going to stick with it. Viome recommends doing an analysis every ~90 days for the first year so that you can adjust your intake as your microbiome changes. Ultimately the cadence is up to the individual. I felt a lot of little changes in the beginning and my intuition is telling me that it’s time to retake it now. I hope this is helpful and that you’ll consider how important your gut is in protecting you from pathogens like the one we’re currently facing as a global community. Let me know if you have any questions or if you decide to try it!


Disclaimers

I am not a doctor. I am a longtime patient and I do my research. Sources are linked wherever possible.

I am not an asshole. I know that this test is expensive and that a lot of people can’t afford it right now; I get it and am right there with you. But the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on income so I am compelled to share my experience knowing that someone can still benefit from this information.

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