Is illness optional? Momo Vuyisich, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at Viome with over 25 years of R&D experience, believes it is. Tune into this fascinating interview to learn how understanding your microbiome, then tailoring your diet to improve it, could prevent and even reverse illness.
Founder of Viome
Momo Vuyisich is a founder and Chief Science Officer of Viome. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico Tech. Besides providing scientific leadership at Viome, Momo focuses on product development, clinical accreditation, and clinical research. Before co-founding Viome in 2016, Momo spent 12 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was the leader of the Applied Genomics team. His research focused on applying modern genomics to the areas of gut microbiomes, host-pathogen and microbial inter-species interactions, pathogen detection, cancer biology, toxicology, infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, forensics, etc. He also helped set up several genome centers in Africa and Asia. Momo received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Utah, and BS in Microbiology from the University of Texas at El Paso.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:36] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier Podcast. Since digestive health has been such a popular topic on this show, I’ve brought in a fascinating individual for you guys today who is a top researcher and scientist whose goal and mission is to eradicate chronic illness and disease by better understanding the microbiome, your gut microbiome and the organisms in it. Now, if you have any sort of health problems, it’s a great idea to look at what’s going on in your gut. So I’m not just talking about digestive issues. I’m talking about any health issues across the board. And that’s because our digestion is really the root of our health. You guys know that I say this all the time on the show. Our digestion and our immune system are very intricately intertwined. And when our digestion has compromised, our immune system is not working at its maximum. It’s not as efficient and effective as it could be. And this can lead to chronic illnesses and a higher risk or susceptibility to infections. Taking care of your gut health is super duper duper important. You guys know that I always Thetas. So I really hope that this interview inspires you to go beyond just eating healthy or taking your probiotics, which are important, but to actually understand where you’re at and to really look at your microbiome instead of guessing about it. If you’re interested in testing your own microbiome with the most comprehensive tests that you can. I will be sharing my own experience, testing my own microbiome at the end of the episode with details on how you can get access to the most effective test as well.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:03:28] I’m here with Momo Vuyisich, who is the founder and chief scientific officer at Viome. He’s also an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico Tech. Besides for providing scientific leadership at biome, he focuses on product development, clinical accreditation and clinical research before co-founding BIO in 2016. Spent 12 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was a leader of the Applied Genomics Team. His research focused on applying modern genomics to the area, got microbiomes host-pathogen and microbial interspecies interactions, pathogen detection, cancer biology, toxicology, infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance and forensics. Momo received his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Utah and B.S. in microbiology from the University of Texas, El Paso. Thanks so much for being here, Momo.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:04:21] My pleasure.
Maria Marlowe: [00:04:22] Thank you. So as a chief scientific officer at Viome, which is a microbiome testing company, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how Viome came to be?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:04:34] It’s a long story, but to make it digestible for this format, I had a health issue. I started having rheumatoid arthritis symptoms when I was about twenty-five and by the time I was 40, the disease was debilitating to me. And so over that 15-year period, it progressed slowly to the point where it was affecting my life in a pretty significant way from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep. I had to think about how I’m going to do things because they I couldn’t do things normally. So during the last few years of that disease, I had read every article there was on the planet. I didn’t want to take the drugs because they were going to ruin my life. And so I wanted to find out what is it that was causing this disease. And I wanted to get rid of it. I wanted to get rid of the root cause and not the symptoms. And so luckily, I did find a study that actually led to solving my problem. But during that process, I also realized that the gut microbiome and personalized nutrition would really be the next frontier in medicine and that we are going to switch health care from the current system, which is essentially symptom management to a system where we can prevent diseases.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:05:45] And so that led me to think that, wow, we can really do that. And all is needed is to develop quite a bit of technology. And so as a scientist and a team leader of Applied Genomics Team, I shifted my entire team’s focus to studying the gut microbiome and developing the technology needed to study it. And when it was ready, I left the government and formed the company. Now, going back to my own disease, it turns out that even though many doctors think that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, it’s not necessarily an autoimmune disease. It’s caused by inflammation. And inflammation can be caused by many different reasons. And so it turns out that in my case, this inflammation was caused by the over-reactive immune system that was reactive to a small carbohydrate produced by all mammals, but not humans. And so if I consume any mammalian products, that’s all red meat and dairy, I will immediately develop the symptoms and they will last for several weeks. And so once I remove those products from my diet, my symptoms slowly went away over the following couple of months and then it took just over a year to heal essentially completely. So I’m now perfectly healthy and as long as I avoid those foods, I’m perfectly fine.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:07:00] So I really wanted to bring science to personalized nutrition because before I figured out my solution, I had tried all these different diets. There’s Mediterranean diet and paleo and ketogenic and all these different diets. And I tried many of them and none of them really helped me at all. But one in particular, the ketogenic diet really hurt me in that I started losing my memory after a few months of that diet. And so it didn’t help my symptoms at all. In fact, that made them worse. And by that time, I also started losing my memory and it took me three to four years to recover from that. And so it was a really, really bad experience. Very terrifying. Right. And the reason for this is that we’re completely guessing everyone says that this one diet is the best for everyone. Right. If there was one died that was best for all humans, we would have definitely found it. There is no doubt about it. It would be such a simple solution. But the fact that there isn’t one that works for everyone means that you have two guests and you have to try different things and you don’t know what the consequences of that could be. And so what we need is simply to bring science to this whole field of personalized nutrition and then be able to tell people exactly what to eat and what not to eat in order to prevent chronic diseases.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:08:17] And that’s the goal of Viome. And I also wanted to make a slight correction to what you said earlier, that we are a microbiome company. We are actually, we have focused so far on the gut microbiome. However, we are definitely not going to be limited by the gut microbiome. We are an entire ecosystem company, so we want to understand the entire human body. And the gut microbiome is an extremely important component of our body and it has an extremely high level of influence on our health. But there are there factors. And so, for example, currently we are about to release a blood test that tests for food sensitivities. That’s going to be released on the 1st of April of this year. And then we are currently clinically validating another blood test, which is going to be the first of its kind in the world for measuring the gene expression of all human genes and blood. And so we’re gonna get a really deep insight into both the composition and function of the gut microbiome and also the gene expression of our own genes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:21] Ok. So, so many things that I want to ask you from that in terms of finding your food sensitivities and figuring out the best diet for you. What kind of stool? Tell you. Versus a blood test. And why would we maybe want to use both or as one superior to the other?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:09:41] Yeah. Great question. OK. So our bodies are like a chemical vessel and we have lots of chemicals that come from food, lots of chemicals that come from the gut microbiome. In fact, hundreds or thousands of chemicals come from the gut microbiome. And then we have many, many chemicals that we produce using our own genes. And then we have this very complex immune system that’s supposed to be perfectly distinguishing between our own body and all foreign molecules. And so it’s a very complex sort of a chemical reaction going on every day in our body. And so the factors that majorly contribute to our health and disease are the nutrition and then the gut microbiome activities. So the biochemical activities and then our genes and their function and our immune system. So when we look at all those factors, there is no one test that is possible to do and then figure out exactly what can be wrong. It’s just a part of the picture. And so I’ll give you one specific example. Inflammation, for example. It’s sort of a mystery to the modern medicine. And that’s because no one really studies the origin of inflammation. The only thing that modern medicine can do is sort of put, you know, douse water on that fire. But it turns out that the gut microbiome activities, biochemical activities determined the level of our inflammation. So the gut microbiome produces so-called pro-inflammatory compounds. And they also are chemicals in the gut. Microbiome also produces anti-inflammatory chemicals. And it’s the balance of these chemicals. And there are many of them that determine the inflammation state of our immune system.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:11:18] And so we can, with the gut test measure how much pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory signals our gut microbiome is producing. However, some of those signals may or not make it to our bloodstream where they would actually cause changes in our inflammation. So if we have a leaky gut, they may influence our inflammation far more than if we don’t have a leak. You got, for example. And so it’s just one side of the story. When we go to the bloodstream and we measure the actual inflammation of our own physiology, then we can understand whether those effects are there. Now, ideally, you would want to measure the gut microbiome and then the blood transcript don’t like I said. And then the hormone levels and the immune system reactivity to a whole bunch of foods. And those are exactly the systems that we’re looking at analyzing. So the gut microbiome test is something we’ve had for a while. We’re doing a food sense to be tested starting in three weeks. We’re doing blood transcript on tests starting in a few months. And then I’m very, very hopeful that we’ll be able to measure the inflammatory pathways in human blood fairly soon by the end of this year. And so that’s gonna give us a really holistic picture of what’s happening and everything that we do at biome. The input is personalized nutrition. And so we’re learning how to use personalized nutrition to fine-tune all these systems in order to provide the right balance for a healthy human.
Maria Marlowe: [00:12:45] That’s incredible. So one of the main points that you emphasize at Viome and on your website is that imagine living in a world where illness is optional. So do you believe that all or a majority of our disease and chronic illness is associated with diet?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:13:04] The vast majority, absolutely. So there’s lots of diet as a big factor. However, I think one of the bigger challenges is actually the microbiome. So if you just imagine how humans lived at, let’s say a thousand years ago or ten thousand years ago, we were completely one with nature, meaning that we had no soap’s we had no way to sterilize things.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:13:28] We ate with food, I mean, with hands. And so we were continuously introducing environmental micro-organisms into our gut. We never used antibiotics. We never had any preservatives in our food. Right. And so our gut was very rich and was able to produce just the right balance of biochemicals to not cause a lot of inflammation or cause a lot of physiological distress store bodies. And what we are experiencing now is we are experiencing a huge reduction in the complexity of our gut microbiome because of the daily insults. Right. We overuse antibiotics. We overuse preservatives in our food. And so if I can just step back one step here.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:14:10] So our bodies essentially have evolved to depend on, let’s say, thousands of chemicals produced by the gut microbiome. So if you look at humans, we have fewer genes in our genome than a worm that’s like a millimeter long. Right. And the reason for that or one of the reasons for that is that we don’t need to be producing thousands of chemicals because we have the gut microbiome to produce them for us. That’s how we evolved as a human species. However, now that we have reduced the gut microbiome by a lot, that means that we’re missing those biochemicals. And so, yes, we can replenish some of those biochemicals with personalized diets and supplements, but we also really need to enrich the gut microbiome. And so that’s a separate topic that has to do with probiotics and rewilding your gut and going and playing in nature. But another key component that we’re trying to figure out right now, at Viome and we’re making very good progress is that all other companies and entities are looking for the healthy, got microbiome and they’re looking for a composition of gut microbiome.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:15:10] We, meaning members of the community that provide sort of a healthy gut microbiome, not only have they not found it, but we actually have data to show that it doesn’t exist. So there is no such thing as a healthy microbiome at the compositional level, meaning that two people can be extremely healthy and can be essentially completely different gut microbiomes at the compositional level. But luckily, even though they have totally different microbes in their gut microbiome, those microbes can, in fact, produce healthy biochemicals in both of those people. All you have to do is feed them different diets. And so that’s really what I would like everyone to think about, is that anyone’s gut microbiome can likely become healthy as long as you combine it with the personalized diet that makes that gut microbiome produce healthy biochemicals and supports our healthy physiology.
Maria Marlowe: [00:16:04] So that brings up a great point with this whole individualized diet, because there are a lot of foods I think that people think are healthier that are healthy foods. Right. Like blueberries, for example. But it is possible that for some person that blueberry is not great for them. Right?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:16:22] So I have not seen all the data that our A.I. has learned about, particularly blueberries. I have not seen any data to show that blueberries are detrimental for someone, but I have seen data to show that blueberries and other foods that are rich in antioxidants, they may not actually benefit the person consuming them because those antioxidants are not actually found in the blueberry. They are found in biochemicals that are produced from blueberries by the gut microbiome. So the gut microbiome has to process those foods and turn them into antioxidants. And so if you don’t have the right gut microbiome, you may not be benefiting from blueberries. You may, let’s say, benefit more from pomegranate or another source of different antioxidants like carrots or something else. And so really, your gut microbiome determines which foods you benefit from the most. And without knowing which microbes you have in your gut and what they’re capable of performing biochemically, you don’t know that. It’s just a guess.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:21] Interesting. Yeah, that’s a great distinction point. It’s really not what you eat, but what you’re absorbing and what you’re really digesting and your body’s metabolizing.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:17:29] That’s exactly right. It’s not you are what you eat. It’s you are what you’re absorbing. Right. And between eating and absorbing, there is this thing called the gut microbiome with 40 trillion micro-organisms basically processing that food that you eat. And then what they produce is what you absorb.
Maria Marlowe: [00:17:46] So are there any foods across the board that you think are not healthy or that you found to not be healthy for that got.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:17:55] Yeah. So we’ve struggled with this quite a bit and we do have a shortlist of foods that are bad for everyone. And these are basically highly processed foods like French fries, deep-fried in very bad oil that has a very wrong ratio of omega 6 omega 3 fatty acids, right. That’s one of the examples. And so there are a few more. And we actually may in one of the iterations of our app, display those as these are generally bad. You should just avoid them, period. But. I don’t know yet how the product team is going to handle it.
Maria Marlowe: [00:18:29] So, for example, like what about something like gluten? Because I’ve seen a lot of research that links that to leaky gut. So I’m curious in your experience, what you’ve seen.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:18:39] Yeah. So gluten is definitely not bad for everyone. There are many people who have celiac disease and that’s clearly those people should avoid gluten for the others. It turns out that there are actually other parts of wheat. Some complex go for saccharadies that can actually cause food sensitivity. I would say that there is just not enough science yet to be sure how gluten affects our health. So it’s just not a clear solution. I would say one of the simplest things to do is to simply test for food sensitivity to gluten and wheat and then see what the results are. Another complexity to this issue is all about processed foods versus organic versus not organic foods. And let me explain a little bit there. So we talk about processed foods. And what that really means is I’ll give you one specific example in my particular case and I’ll give you example for exactly me. If I eat white rice, my blood sugar doesn’t go so high, but it goes pretty high. Right. If I take that same white rice and grind it up into fine powder and make rice milk and I consume the exact same amount of that white rice, it’s going to get absorbed much faster into my body. It’s going to spike my blood sugar much higher. And so that’s one example for me. But in the literature, what they have shown is that the fineness of the grain of wheat affects the blood sugar level, first of all. And second of all, production of chemicals called short-changed fatty acids. So viewed rate as the most famous short-changed fatty acid. And it’s known to be very, very good for the host. It’s sort of a required for our mental and physical health.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:20:20] And so if you take a grain like wheat and you grind it up to a very fine powder, it’s never gonna make it down to the colon. And the colon is like the lowest end of your GI tract where anaerobic organisms would take that wheat and fermented and convert it into butyrate. All of that wheat will be consumed in the aerobic, so oxygen rich upper GI tract and convert it to sugar and then you’ll absorb it and you’ll it’ll spike your sugar. So exactly the same product, exactly the same amount. If you grind it to a fine level, it will actually be detrimental to you, whereas if you don’t grind it to a fine level, it’ll actually be useful to you. And so this is what we talk about, processed foods just grinding. It can make a big difference. And then let’s talk about preservatives. If you look at the ingredients list in the non organic section these days of the stores, many products even frozen on refrigerated and canned and jarred products have preservatives. And the reason food companies use these products is because their cost of operation drops significantly because they don’t have to worry about overgrowth of bacteria. Right. There are ironically, if you go look at the sauerkraut aisle, for example, in the non-organic section, every single sauerkraut has preservatives in it. And so they ferment the sauerkraut and then they kill all those bacteria so that it can stay in a jar for 10 years. Right. And so you’re buying sauerkraut thinking, wow, this is great for my probiotic.
Maria Marlowe: [00:21:46] There’s nothing in there.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:21:49] But not only has that preservative kill the bacteria that were there. Now you’re going to consume it and you’re gonna introduce that preserve it into your gut microbiome, and it’s actually going to wreak havoc on your own gut microbiome. So instead of it being beneficial, it’s actually detrimental. So that’s how much of a difference it makes. Which products you choose. Whereas if you go to a co-op or your health food store and you’ll find an organically made sauerkraut that doesn’t have preservatives, now it’s going to be beneficial in terms of sauerkraut. I actually recommend that people make it at home. It’s a fun family activity. It’s easy and it’s great. But these are the kinds of choices that we make every day, right? When you go and reach for a product, you really need to read it what it has in it. And, you know, many times, obviously, the food companies are not going to say anything bad. So they’re going to say something like to preserve freshness or to preserve color. Right. But what that means is that it’s a chemical that’s gonna kill your microbiome. And then antibiotics, as you know, there is a huge problem with overfeeding animals with antibiotics. If you’re eating animal products that are not organic, you can bet that you’re consuming antibiotics. And that’s slowly over time changing our gut microbiome and killing off species that your health depends on. And so we’re simply destroying our health by consuming this kind of food.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:08] So for animal products that someone wants to consume animal products, they should really only be consuming organic.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:23:15] Yes, that’s what I firmly believe that it should only be organic.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:19] Yeah, that’s what I preach. You know, if you’re going to consume animal products, it is really, really important, not just for the antibiotics, other reasons as well. But I think the antibiotics are a huge reason for choosing organic.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:23:31] I 100 percent agree, and I not only preached that I practice it, I’ve not had non-organic meat in many years.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:37] What about seafood? I’m curious. I would imagine it’s the same thing. I think a lot of guys don’t realize that seafood also farmed seafood is given antibiotics.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:23:46] Yeah, I go find out how farmed shrimp is made and after you read, you won’t. You will. You won’t eat it. You know you won’t eat it because it’s truly what you’re eating. Chemical vessel basically. The production of shrimp is like an industrial chemical process. It’s not really anything to do with nature. There is lots of controversy about farmed fish versus wild fish. I’ll give you my opinion. And my opinion is that farmed fish will have lots of chemicals that will have lots of antibiotics and it will simply not be good for you. Whereas wild-caught fish will be natural and good for you. But there is a big exception to this, and that is predatory fish. Fish species will contain a lot of mercury. So if you consume a lot of tuna, you’re essentially poisoning yourself. And so what I do is actually I eat very little fish. And there’s just it’s really difficult to pick fish out these days that you are very confident it’s going to be good for.
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:43] Yeah. Definitely wild helps. Wild is typically have much lower levels of mercury and PCBs even. But, you know, in New York, there was like just working with people. A lot of my clients had mercury poisoning because what did they do after work? They go and get sushi three or four times a week. And there was an article in The New York Times that they basically took samples from different sushi restaurants, just like a I think a single size serving of tuna sashimi or whatever different tuna dishes. And just one serving of it was actually higher than the legal mercury limit. So, you know, if you’re eating it on a regular basis, it is possible to get mercury poisoning, which you definitely don’t want. So it’s fairly important. And one tip that I usually tell people is choosing the smaller fish, because the smaller fish, the size of a dinner plate are smaller, typically aren’t going to be those predatory fish. They’re typically going to be younger. Less time in the water, less mercury. Yeah. So. And then in terms of organic produce, what is your feeling on organic produce and why should we choose organic produce?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:25:42] Yeah. So we still have to do a lot more science on this. But this is what I preach and this is what I practice. So first of all, we are gardening and the produce that we pick from our garden, we just either shake off the soil from it or we just rinse it gently, but we never peel it and we never wash it really thoroughly. So like our carrots are all, you know, soiled up and our lettuce from a watering with the water being there’s lots of soil on it. We don’t actually wash our lettuce at all. We simply go pick it right before the meal and put it in a bowl and we eat it. So there’s clearly visible soil on it. So we’re doing that. And when I buy organic produce from the store, I do the same thing. I don’t wash it at all. Now, there is a risk of getting some sort of an infection from that. And this is an unknown factor. But I still think that the benefits outweigh the risks. So I practice that. So when I buy organic carrots at the store, I don’t wash or peeling or anything. I just simply get him out of the bag and eat the same thing with all other organic produce. So I think that’s the right way. But, you know, there’s gonna be so many factors to the question, is this really good for you or could it be bad for you? Just, you know, organic farming is not uniform. There’s lots of different environments. There’s lots of different kinds of soil. There’s lots of people handling it. There’s lots of equipment handling. And so there is a risk if you don’t wash it and peel it. But I’m willing to take it.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:02] Yeah. And you had mentioned antibiotics earlier, so, we know, antibiotics are not great for us, but I’m curious, you know, if you were to get an infection and need to take an antibiotic. How bad is one round of antibiotics? And is there maybe another way or any natural antibiotics that you would use instead?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:27:22] Yeah. So this is a very frustrating issue because we don’t know. We don’t know any of these questions. Right. So just recently, you know, for decades people used to take antibiotics just until they felt better and then they stopped using them. And then in the 90s, we discovered that if you do that, it can increase a chance of that particular pathogen becoming antibiotic resistant. Right. And so sometime in the 90s and early 2000s, the whole world, the government, the doctors, whatever recommended that you take the entire course of antibiotics regardless of when you actually start feeling better. It wasn’t until, I think, 2018, when some studies showed the opposite is true, that really you should just pulse the antibiotics and use them for as little as needed to get rid of the symptoms and then stop using them. So I don’t think there’s clear evidence for either or. And then the choice of when do you want to take antibiotics or not. That’s a tough choice to make. Right. If it’s your 15-year-old son and he’s got strep throat, of course, you’re going to want to give him an antibiotic, right? Chances are ninety-nine point nine percent that nothing is gonna happen if he doesn’t take antibiotics.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:28:25] But your mind has to think about what if. Right. And so it’s sort of a safer thing. So what I would what I really like to do is to think about how can we minimize the impact of antibiotics? And then the other part is how can we minimize the use of antibiotics. But using data instead of a guess, for example, right now, if you give someone antibiotics because they have a strep throat, you don’t know if that antibiotic is going to work and you don’t know if it’s necessary. But there are molecular data in that sample that you could use, determined that we just don’t do that right now. And the technology’s out there. We actually have it at Viome. It’s just that lots more studies and money is needed for that. And we are not at that stage where we can do that. But it’s very frustrating that all the technologies there, we just have to implement that and we’ll know the answers to your question. But we’re not there yet.
Maria Marlowe: [00:29:14] I’ll soon I’ll be waiting for that answer. I know that diet and you’re a huge proponent of diet and how that plays such a large role in our health. But I know a lot of people, even when I was growing up, I was always told or heard that our genes play a huge role in our health. So where do genes fit into all of this? And, you know, for someone’s listening who maybe has a family history of some sort of chronic illness, whether it’s diabetes or heart disease or whatever, is where did the genes come in and where does the food come in in that in terms of determining their personal outcome?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:29:52] Yeah. So our genes certainly play a significant role in our health and disease, but the complexity of it is vast. And what can you do about it is another question. Right. So advice on we’re very focused on actionable information. And so if you go out and do a genetic test from any one of the many genetic companies right now, and they tell you that you have 8 percent higher chance of developing some kind of cancer.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:30:20] What exactly are you going to do about that? There’s literally nothing you can do about it. There is nothing. There is no action from that. What are you going to eat? Healthy? Sure. You want to eat healthy. But what is healthy for you? You don’t know. So it’s sort of like a game. They tell you something, you’re like, oh, that sucks. Or Hey, that’s great. I have a lower density for this cancerous. You’re gonna go out and eat and drink whatever you want. I don’t think so. So genetic tests right now are sort of a game. They’re not really actionable. Or at least that I’ve seen. However, our genes definitely play a role in our physiology. And that’s one of the main reasons that we are coming out with this blood transcript on product. But we are fundamentally looking at our genes from a different angle. So, for example, we all have about twenty to twenty two thousand genes and you’re born with them and you die with them. So if you look at your DNA, it’s basically static. You keep the same DNA from the moment you’re born until you die. There are very few changes during the lifetime, whereas what really matters, store physiology is the expression of those genes. And so if you can measure the expression, you can correlate that with health and disease. And very importantly, if you can figure out what controls that expression. And we already know that diet and gut microbiome specifically affect our gene expression. And so really our goal at biome is to understand what gene expression profiles or patterns correspond with health and disease and how can we shift that balance towards healthy pattern and healthy profile using personalized nutrition and gut microbiome modifications.
Maria Marlowe: [00:31:54] And in terms of the specific task. So the Viome test, it’s a stool sample that you send to the lab. Then the lab will give you this detailed report on foods that are better for you in foods that are not great for you that you should avoid. But would it give us any insight into, for example, if we had leaky gut, or any sort of infection like a parasite?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:32:15] Yeah. So every clinically accredited test like ours has to have a clinical report, which we do our clinical report right at the moment, literally today is a direct to consumer inclined report. So we don’t currently mention pathogens and parasites, even though we do detect them and we do see them. And so we are preparing now a clinical report that is going to go to a physician ordered test. And again, this is a product question. So I’m not sure how it’s going to go. But right now, our tests can actually detect essentially any pathogen in any parasite. And those would show up in the report as of right now. They just wouldn’t be labeled as such. And we struggle with that, because I’ll give you a simple example. Clostridium difficile is now in the United States, the number one infectious disease killer. Right. It kills 30000 thousand people and it makes many others extremely sick. So it’s a very significant pathogen. However, 30 percent of the people in the United States carry it in their gut. And so 30 percent of the people have it all the time. And you can have it all your life. And it doesn’t ever do anything. It’s in those people that it turns pathogenic, which usually happens after a course of antibiotics, that it becomes pathogenic. And so do you label that as a pathogen or not? We would call that in microbiology, opportunistic pathogen. And so maybe relabel it as an opportunistic pathogen, but it’s hard to know what the effect is going to be on people who don’t know the microbiology of this pathogen, because if they see opportunistic pathogens, they may get really discouraged and really pessimistic about their health. And so this is sort of a product question, but the technology’s there and there is literally no living organism that is in the database of one hundred ten thousand different microbes that we cannot identify with our technology. Our technology doesn’t select for any organisms. It looks for all of them all at once.
Maria Marlowe: [00:34:11] Wonderful. So it sounds like eventually, hopefully you could do a Viome test and kind of do part of it. You would get that information directly. But if you’re working with a doctor, you could get that deeper look.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:34:24] So actually, it’s all about just label that we are actually displaying. We’re already displaying all the micro-organisms that we found. It’s only about grouping them and labeling them as a pathogen or not pathogens. But if you have Clostridium difficile in your stool, you will actually have a display. We don’t withhold it. I see. If you have parasites like Giardina, it will go there in your eukaryotes. So we don’t withhold anything. It’s just about labeling right now. We don’t label them.
Maria Marlowe: [00:34:51] Well, that brings up a good question. So a lot of times if someone’s having digestive issues, they might go to their doctor and get some tests done themselves through the doctor. So is there a difference between doctor’s tests and Viome? Like what would the differences be?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:35:08] Well, so doctors can order clinically accredited tests. And violence is one such test, and so currently, I think in 48 or 49 states, doctors can in fact order our test. It’s a physician ordered test. So that’s a possibility. How are our tests differs from other tests? Well, every test tests for different things. So I don’t know if you have specific questions about any other tests, but this is a very unique test in that it identifies all living organisms. So there is no asterisk. And then below it says, oh, except these, these, these and these. Right. There is no asterisk at all. There’s no fine print. We detect absolutely all living organisms whose RNA contributes one in a hundred thousand parts in the gut microbiome. That’s it. It’s clinically validated for that. Other tests will likely focus on particular groups of microorganisms, but many other tests also measure metabolites, for example. So these are chemicals produced by the gut microbiome. So it just depends.
Maria Marlowe: [00:36:08] Yeah. I brought up that question because I’m personally I had a lot of digestive issues many years ago from different food sensitivities and allergies. And going to the doctor was quite frustrating because they would order tests for certain things that they thought it might be, but it wasn’t for everything. And I ended up besides for the food issues. I also had a parasite, which I literally had to go three or four times and ask the doctor to test for parasites until they actually found it, which it came up positive. So like, I just feel like it’s a wonderful thing that Viome really tests for everything and we’ll give you the whole spectrum of things versus having to, you know, pick, you know, this test, that test, that test to test for individual things.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:36:49] Yes, absolutely. Yes. And on that note, we’re actually going to initiate another round of validations for this test to try to increase the sensitivity by tenfold, which I think is quite doable. Which means that right now we can identify things that contribute to the gut microbiome. One in one hundred thousand level and we want to step up to one in a million, which would be really significant because if something is present at such a low amount, it’s unlikely to be actually affecting the whole system in a significant way. So that’s really important.
Maria Marlowe: [00:37:20] So are there any things in general that we should be doing to really maximize the health of our microbiome and make sure that we’re keeping it healthy and happy?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:37:30] Ok. So I think there are and this is what I am preaching and this is what I actually practice. But, you know, I’m not telling anyone what to do exactly. But these are the practices that my family and I implement. So, first of all, we don’t wash our hands 40 times a day. The only time we really wash our hands anymore is if we go to like a public restroom or like a grocery store during during like a sixth season because we’d want to pick up something nasty. But if we’re out in nature and we go camping and hiking, we literally don’t wash our hands, even if we pick up rocks and sticks and whatever. And then we eat with our hands as much as possible. And then we took up organic gardening a few years ago. So we produce quite a lot of vegetables in the summer. Then, like I said, avoiding non-organic food and avoiding all foods that have these preservatives just completely. I would rather not eat that, eat something that has preservatives in it. Another I think a huge factor is don’t eat at restaurants because restaurants are going to obviously go for cheaper food ingredients. That’s for their benefit. And cheaper food ingredients are cheaper because they’re using preservatives. So by default, the restaurant model is to get the cheaper ingredients which contain preservatives. That’s obviously not the case with all restaurants in some restaurants claim to have organic and locally sourced foods and all that stuff.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:38:46] But you don’t know what percentage of that food is organic. You just don’t know. They don’t disclose it, you know, during a lecture in the kitchen to inspect every single ingredient that went to your meal. So eating out to me is one of the huge risks, because you can introduce antibiotics, you can introduce preservatives, you can also introduce chemicals that are added to food. I mean, if you look at right now, the FDA has approved a list of more than 10000 chemicals that are synthetic chemicals as food additives, more than 10000. These are not naturally occurring chemicals. If our bodies have evolved over millions of years to have a healthy physiology, now they’re struggling with 10000 different chemicals. How is it? I can’t imagine that we can have a healthy physiology when we’re insulted every single day by so many different things. And so I would avoid those. And then I don’t eat anything out of microwave plastic, for example. We avoid plastic bottles as much as possible because there’s plasticizers. You know, we discovered just recently that BPA was extremely toxic and was affecting our hormones in our gut health. Right. It affects profoundly the gut health. And the companies switch from BPA to BPC saying, oh, this is good for you now. And now the first studies are emerging again. The BPC is bad for you. Right. So, I mean, it’s just never-ending insult from all these kinds of chemicals.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:40:06] So. Why would you drink out of plastic bottles, you can buy a steel bottle or a glass bottle and you can use it a million times and never have to deal with plastics. So, you know, there are so many other things like the choice of detergent. The choice of a toothpaste, you know, toothpaste that comes with triclosan, the preservative. It’s killing your oral microbiome. The mouthwash is killing your own microbiome. We now have extremely strong evidence that of bacteria from the oral microbiome actually cause colorectal cancer and that porphyria one is gingivitis from the oral microbiome might cause Alzheimer’s. Just a paper came out on this two weeks ago. Right. So we are essentially completely reshaping our oral microbiome by doing the mouthwash. And we have no idea what consequences that can lead to. And so simple use of mouthwash could eventually turn out to be a significant contributing factor to rapidly rate increasing rates of coracle cancer and Alzheimer’s. And we don’t know that. Why would you use mouthwash? We didn’t evolve with a mouthwash that never existed for four million years of human evolution. Why would you now use it? That makes no sense. So just to me, a general sort of guideline is did humans use that hundred thousand years ago if we didn’t? Why would you use it today? Our bodies and our physiology are not equipped to deal with it basically.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:28] Right? Yeah, I agree with you 100 percent on all of those points. And even with the mouthwash, again, growing up, I used to use all the regular toothpaste and the mouthwash because that’s what everybody does. But once I switch to the natural stuff, I remember when you start using those things, you have to always use them and continuously use them because your mouth, your breath always stinks because it’s like all the good bacteria has also killed in your mouth. So when you go to sleep and you wake up in the morning, you have morning breath and it’s like all this nasty think when you start using natural toothpaste, like I use a Hyperbiotics, has a probiotic toothpaste and they even have a dental probiotic that you can sort of just suck on and repopulates your mouth with the healthy bacteria. Your breath is great all day long. Like it never smells bad and everything is false. And it’s just you know, I think that we’ve looked at bacteria as this bad thing that we need to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. But you don’t want to kill ninety-nine point nine percent of the bacteria in your mouth. Really? I would imagine anywhere in your body unless it’s causing an infection. So I think the way that we think about hygiene needs to shift. Absolutely. So one last question. We’ve talked about a lot of things. If there’s just one tip or one piece of advice that you could leave our listeners with, that will help them live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Momo Vuyisich: [00:42:49] Actually, I can, but that tip has nothing to do with the gut microbiome. But even better. But it has worked for me really well, and that is that vast majority of all stress in our lives is completely self-induced and unnecessary, meaning that something that causes you stress today, a year later, you likely won’t even remember that event at all. And yet today you thought it was the end of the world. Right. And so just take a chill pill and realize that the world’s not coming to an end. And it’s OK. It just takes a deep breath and de-stress and move right along and enjoy life.
Maria Marlowe: [00:43:29] That is the best step you could have given. Thank you so much, Marla. This was so insightful and so thankful for all your knowledge.
Momo Vuyisich: [00:43:36] Thank you, Maria. This was a pleasure for me.
Maria Marlowe: [00:43:43] If you’d like to test your microbiome head to viome.com/marlowe, that’s v i o m e dot com forward slash m a r l o w e and you’ll get one hundred dollars off your Viome test kit. Conversely, you can use the special discount code MARLOWE at checkout for that hundred dollars off. Now if you’ve ever been to a gastroenterologist or functional medicine or integrative medicine doctor, you know that gut health tests can get very, very pricey and they’re typically upwards of six hundred dollars a test with Viome. It’s extremely affordable, especially with that hundred-dollar coupon off, it will be less than half that price. Now when you order the kit, here’s what you can expect. Viome will send you a sample test kit in the mail. It’s going to take you less than five minutes to take that sample. And I promise you, it’s super easy. I just did it this morning, actually, and just sent mine out so I can vouch for it and say that they make it very user-friendly and easy to do. Then you just drop the little sample test tube into the prepaid package label that they have for you. So they give you an envelope. The prepaid label on it just dropped that in the mail. Then it goes back to their laboratories where they are going to analyze your microbiome within 90 days.
Maria Marlowe: [00:45:12] You are going to get an extremely detailed report of your microbiome, at which point you can start making changes to your diet based on their recommendations. When you make those changes, you are likely going to start feeling better. Your digestion is probably going to improve. Your skin is going to look a little bit better and overall you should start feeling healthier. Now, if you look at those results and you do see that you do have some pathogenic microorganisms in there, you can then take that to your doctor. Ideally, a functional medicine or integrative medicine doctor who is more deeply trained and got health and the microbiome, and then they can devise a treatment plan for you to start eradicating those issues and getting you back to perfect health. I hope you’ve learned a ton in this episode and are inspired to take better care of your microbiome. As always, remember that you can send me your general health questions or topic ideas for the podcast direct on Instagram @mariamarlowe and you may hear the answer to your question on an upcoming episode of Happier and Healthier. Thanks so much for tuning in this week. And I will see you next week on Happier and Healthier.