This review is written with the intent to be as unbiased as possible. However, it represents the opinion of an individual reviewer and is therefore subjective. Furthermore, at Nebula Genomics we seek to educate the public about the benefits of Whole Genome Sequencing. Information about our Whole Genome Sequencing DNA test is therefore incorporated into the review.
September 28, 2020
Table of Contents
- 7 Facts from our Viome Review
- Viome Introduction
- Review of Viome’s Science: RNA Sequencing
- Taking a Viome Test
- Review of Viome Products
- Review of A Viome Report
- Payments and Insurance
- Viome in the News
- Viome Reviews
- Review of Viome Pros and Cons
- Nebula Genomics
Edited by Christina Swords, Ph.D.
7 Facts from our Viome Review
- Location: Head Office in Bellevue, Washington, USA. Viome’s laboratory is CLIA-certified and located at Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
- Products: “Gut Intelligence” and “Health Intelligence” services
- How it works: Uses RNA sequencing technology to identify a customer’s gut microbes and use that information to assess overall gut health
- Ordering: You can order online at Viome.com or online retailers like Amazon and Groupon.
- Reports: Both tests return microbial gene expression results. “Health Intelligence” also reports on the expression of a selection of the customer’s genes. From this information, several personalized nutrition recommendations reports are provided.
- Cost:”Gut Intelligence” – $149 , “Health Intelligence” – $349
- Complementary products: Nebula Genomics (Whole Genome Sequencing with weekly updated reports)
This is a review of Viome, a health testing company that provides at-home testing kits focusing on gut and digestive health. Specifically, it aims to challenge the healthcare industrial paradigm that links molecular phenomena and disease. It does this by analyzing the microbiome to provide optimal health recommendations. Viome’s Gut Intelligence Test is available in the United States (excluding New York), Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The Health Intelligence test is available only in the United States (excluding New York) at this time.
The company was founded in 2016 to provide commercial gut microbiome testing that results in personalized diet and wellness recommendations. Recently, the company has expanded into gene expression testing from human cells, which measures the expression of several thousand genes, and is advertised as a good compliment to the gut microbiome tests.
A person’s microbiome consists of all microorganisms that live in and on the human body (like bacteria and archaea). The gut microbiome is traditionally thought to be responsible for defending against pathogens, breaking down indigestible content, and helping with intestinal health. Recent studies have suggested that the gut microbiome is also linked and the immune system and various brain functions. However, gut microbiome research is a fairly new field, and a number of experts caution consumers that many tests “can only provide limited information for now” and may not be ready to make robust recommendations for optimal health.
Each Viome test includes sample collection tools, written instructions, and prepaid return-shipping labels. The company produces the Viome test kits and sends them to their own CLIA-certified lab. Customers can expect results within 4 weeks.
Results are delivered to customers through Viome’s secure platform from any device, or through their mobile app (available as an Apple App Store download, or is available for download on Google Play).
Review of Viome’s Science: RNA Sequencing
Let’s first review Viome science and technology that is used for testing.
Viome differs from other gut testing services (and genetic sequencing services) in that it uses RNA rather than DNA in its analyses. Viome refers to it as advanced metatranscriptome sequencing.
DNA contains all of a person’s genetic information and in general, each cell in the body contains the same genetic information. Yet, different areas of the body only need to use (or express the genes from) certain bits of the DNA sequence. Cells achieve this specificity by using DNA as a template to make smaller bits of RNA, which go on to make only the molecules that are needed.
By sequencing RNA, Viome selects and sequences only a small part of the full human genome. Specifically, this method selects the “active” parts of the genome that are expressed. The company sequences the microbes present in the customer’s gut as well as some of the genes in the customer’s mitochondria and blood.
RNA sequencing has some interesting advantages, but also comes with some drawbacks. It can be difficult to extract and sequence high-quality RNA from samples. Additionally, RNA sequence databases (especially for microbes and bacteria) are not comprehensive, and in some cases can’t accurately differentiate between the RNA of several microbes within the same sample. These issues can complicate and even compromise the accuracy of a customer’s results.
Review of Viome Gut Microbiome Testing
The main service offered by Viome is their “Gut Intelligence” test, an at home gut microbiome test. The human gut contains an enormous range of gut bacteria and microbes (= microbial richness) that perform a wide range of tasks in the body. Each person’s gut microbiome is unique, and the specific microbes present are linked to the person’s diet and overall health. The goal of the Viome gut test is to identify the customer’s active gut microbes, diagnose the customer’s gut health (including gut lining health which is important for the absorption of nutrients and immune response and other gut issues), and ultimately make diet recommendations based on the results.
The Gut Intelligence Service analyzes the customer’s stool test to determine the bacteria and microbes living within the customer’s gut. These results are fed into Viome’s proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to give customers over 20 different health insight scores evaluating things like digestive efficiency, inflammatory activity, and metabolic fitness.
Unlike some diagnostic testing, gut microbiome testing is still very new and is extremely complex. In many cases, the presence or absence of certain microbes in a sample is not enough to make any strong statement about an individual’s health. Viome’s algorithms cross-reference large collections of microbiome data coupled with the personal information of other customers to make its recommendations.
It’s important to note that according to section 38 of Viome’s Terms of Service, “THE SERVICE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR, AND DOES NOT PROVIDE, MEDICAL ADVICE OR CLAIM TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE, OR PREVENT AND DISEASE OR ILLNESS. THE SERVICE AND THE INFORMATION ON VIOME WEBSITE IS PROVIDED … WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT VIOME IS NOT ENGAGED IN RENDERING MEDICAL ADVICE OR RECOMMENDATION AND IS NOT TO BE USED FOR THE DIRECTION OF OR CARE OF INDIVIDUAL PATIENTS UNLESS OTHERWISE EXPLICITLY SPECIFIED OR AGREED.”
Review of Viome Human Gene Expression Testing
Viome has recently started offering a “Health Intelligence” service designed to complement their Gut Intelligence test. The customer provides a blood sample from which thousands of active genes are sequenced, both from the blood itself, and the customer’s mitochondria. Compared to the Full Genomic Sequencing offered by Nebula Genomics, this product provides far less information. The idea is that RNA sequencing could instead characterize only the active portions of the customer’s genome. Viome claims that their product is a good alternative to DNA tests, and can help understand the customer’s energy levels.
The mitochondria are the part of a cell that packages and provides the cell with energy. It has its own RNA sequence, and by looking at certain expressed mitochondrial genes, Viome creates several metrics like Mitochondrial Health and Biological Age. Likewise, RNA from the customer’s blood is sequenced and analyzed in order to provide additional metrics like Cellular Health and Stress Response.
The metrics reported are all Viome’s proprietary metrics, meant to give qualitative or a broad-strokes idea of the customer’s health. They are provided with the understanding that “THE SERVICE AND THE INFORMATION ON VIOME WEBSITE IS PROVIDED FOR EDUCATIONAL, INFORMATIONAL, AND ENJOYMENT PURPOSES ONLY”, and are not to be taken as medical advice.
Taking a Viome Test
Viome offers two at-home test kits.
Inside the package, customers will find an activation code that is needed to register a customer’s kit to their online account via their Viome login. They are also required to answer a health and lifestyle-related questionnaire. These responses allow the Viome health team to provide personalized support and health recommendations. It is important to note that company’s Terms of Service state that “while this information might point to a possible diagnosis or treatment, it should always be confirmed and supplemented by specific medical and clinical testing results.”
Both tests require a stool sample (which some customers may find unpleasant), while the “Health Intelligence” test also requires a small blood sample taken from the finger. After the blood and stool samples are taken, customers use the provided postage-paid shipping label to return the samples to Viome’s lab to be analyzed.
Customers receive their results less than 4 weeks after the lab receives the kit. Viome analyzes the data using their proprietary AI algorithms which output your health and wellness results and recommendations. Results are made available through the company’s website and mobile app.
While a typical report includes personalized recommendations regarding a wide variety of healthy foods and a large list of the microbes living in your gut, they do not make your raw data available or give much detail about how their recommendations are arrived at. This will be discussed more in section 6: A Viome Report.
Review of Viome Products
Viome offers 2 products to assess your gut microbiome health and mitochondrial health.
Gut Intelligence Test
|Gut Microbiome||Sequences RNA of the microbes living in your gut||Stool Sample||$149|
Health Intelligence Test
|Gut Microbiome||Sequences RNA of the microbes living in your gut||Stool Sample|
|Human Gene Expression||Sequences RNA of the cells in your blood, including mitochondrial cells||Finger Prick Blood Draw|
Review of A Viome Report
Viome emphasizes the diet recommendations each test provides. Reports come with a long list of foods grouped into three categories (Superfoods, Enjoy Foods, and an “Avoid” list of foods) as well as Gut Health metrics. Both the Gut Intelligence and Health Intelligence tests provide these results, though they may use different data to make these recommendations.
The number of foods and metrics included is quite large. The example reports given on the Viome website for just Food Recommendations and Gut Health add up to 75 pages, which may be somewhat overwhelming. The search function on the free Android and iOS apps can help customers sort through all of this information.
Some of the most popular insights a personalized action plan for an individual’s diet based on their gut microbe results. The action plan provides sections on:
- Superfood list
- Enjoy foods list
- Minimize foods list
- Avoid foods list
- Supplement list
Review of the Viome Gut Intelligence Test
In addition to food recommendations, Viome helps with weight loss and other health goals. To achieve this goal, the Gut Intelligence test gives science-based qualitative assessments of gut-specific health and “pathways” like the activity level of a customer’s Methane Gas Production Pathway. An example of this result is shown below.
These results allow customers to approximate how “good” these metrics are compared to other customers’ results. However, since these are proprietary metrics, it is difficult to know what “good” means exactly.
An example of one of these metrics is the Intestinal Barrier Health score. This score could help customers diagnose a leaky gut, in which a compromised gut barrier leads to a bloodstream infected with harmful material like toxins and bacteria.
Review of the Viome Health Intelligence Test
The Health Intelligence report includes everything in the Gut Intelligence test, as well as a selection of additional mitochondria and cell-based metrics. Below is a sample of Mitochondrial Health results.
Potential customers should note that the majority of these metrics are reported as the percentage of other Viome customers they tested. Since these metrics are calculated using Viome’s proprietary algorithms, it’s not clear what “better” means exactly.
Payments and Insurance
Viome tests cost either $149 or $349 snd are likely not covered by insurance. The company accepts credit/debit and PayPal.
By submitting samples, customers agree to “transfer and assign to Viome and its assigns and successors all right, title, and interest in and to the Samples, Self-Reported Information, analysis, Test Results, Sample Data, Test Data, and other data derived therefrom.”
In general, data will be de-identified and made anonymous. Data provided by the customer is used for the purposes of service and quality improvement, research, or other business operations. In particular, the Viome diagnosis algorithm will use the results of your test, coupled with the answers from your questionnaire to help analyze other customer’s tests.
Viome in the News
- Forbes has reported that despite billions of dollars coming into the microbiome market, ex-Viome staff have described the kits as having dubious value, and the food recommendations as pseudoscience.
- In 2019, Viome entered into a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic to try and better understand sleep and obesity.
- In 2019, Viome entered into another collaboration with GSK to help study chronic disease prevention.
- In 2021, the company received an FDA breakthrough label to use its AI platform to screen for cancer.
Viome has provided services to over 100,000 customers yet very few customers have provided Viome testing reviews for the product. Among the positive reviews, many customers describe being satisfied with a large number of recommendations and were occasionally surprised by some of the suggestions. Among the negative reviews, many customers were disappointed with receiving generic diet advice, longer than described wait times, and poor customer service.
Review of Viome Pros and Cons
- Taking samples is fairly simple (though some customers may find the stool sample to be particularly unpleasant)
- The iOS and Android apps make searching through Viome results easy
- Each test provides lots of recommendations and metrics
- The validity of the Viome results provided are questionable
- Customers may not find some of the metrics useful
- Proprietary metrics and data analysis may make it difficult for medical professionals to interpret results
- Costly, especially considering that Viome recommenders customers retake the test every few months
We finish our Viome review with a comparison to Nebula Genomics.
Services offered by Nebula Genomics and Viome are very different. However, customers interested in their gut and cellular health may also be interested in their predisposition to certain illnesses and sensitivities that a Nebula Genomics test can provide. Nebula Genomics offers the most affordable 30x Whole Genome Sequencing service.
Similar to Viome, the Nebula Genomics test does not provide medical advice. However, our Whole Genome Sequencing data is of the highest quality and can be used by physicians and genetic counselors. Individuals who believe they are at risk for a genetic disorder should consult a healthcare provider before taking DNA sequencing tests.
|Testing method||RNA from gut microbes (stool sample), human RNA (blood sample)||DNA; Whole Genome Sequencing (all 20,000 genes and regulatory regions)|
|Reporting||Gut microbes present, proprietary “health scores”||Genetic predispositions|
|Data access||No data that can be accessed||Yes (FASTQ, BAM, and VCF files)|
|Cost||$149 / $349||$0 – $299|
|Aid for making medical decisions||No, and data minimally useful in consultation with physicians.||No, but our data is of the highest quality and can be used by physicians and genetic counselors.|
Interested in gut health? You can compare these gut health testing companies with our other product reviews:
- Atlas Biomed (microbiome and nutrition recommendations)
- Biohm (gut health, including bacteria and fungi)
- DayTwo (gut health, personalized recommendations for blood glucose optimization)
- Ixcela (blood test for gut health and personalized recommendations)
- Kean Health (gut health, recommendations, plus a gene test with 100+ traits)
- Onegevity (gut health and personalized recommendations)
- Psomagen (gut health and gene test)
- Rootine (personalized supplement and vitamins based on DNA test)
- Sun Genomics (gut microbiome testing and personalized probiotics for adults, children, and babies)
- Thryve (personalized probiotics)
- Viome (gut health and microbiome testing)
For general health and wellness, you may also be interested in these other at-home lab tests and products:
- BlueChew (at home diagnosis and prescriptions for erectile dysfunction)
- Everlywell (wide range of health and wellness tests)
- Goli Nutrition (apple cider vinegar gummies)
- Hydroxycut (weight loss supplements)
- imaware (at home blood tests for wide range of health conditions)
- InsideTracker (biomarker health tests and optional DNA test)
- LetsGetChecked (wide range of health and wellness tests)
- MyLab Box (at-home STD testing)
- Prevagen (a supplement designed to improve memory)
- Relief Factor (supplement to reduce pain)
- Resurge (deep sleep supplement for weight loss)
Other reviews include Curology (personalized skincare), Plexaderm (skin anti-aging), Yoga Burn (weight loss) and Medishare, which may be able to help with emergency health bills through cost sharing ministry.
Did you like our Viome review? You can read more reviews on our blog and check out our complete guide to the best DNA test kit and other home tests.