Written by: Amy Myers, MD
Amy Myers, MD is a two-time New York Times best-selling author and an internationally acclaimed functional medicine physician who specializes in empowering those with autoimmune, thyroid, and digestive issues to take back their health and reverse their condition.
The gut is the gateway to health and for that reason it is where I recommend people focus first when working to reverse chronic health conditions or to achieve optimal health. It’s the home of 80% of your immune system. In addition, 95% of your neurotransmitters — the molecules responsible for keeping your mood stable — are made there as well. I cannot stress the importance of gut health on your overall health strongly enough.
I like to think of the gut as a rainforest, home to a vast and diverse range of living organisms living in a delicate balance known collectively as your microbiome. Trillions of microflora work together to ensure proper digestive function. They also aid in the production of essential vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin K and act as a protective barrier for the immune system.
All the while, the good bacteria discourage bad bacteria and keep yeasts such as Candida from getting out of control. Each person’s gut microbiome — their gut bacteria — is as unique as they are, impacted by both inherited microorganisms and the environment.
Control your health at its roots
Recently, I sat down with my good friend, Naveen Jain, the founder of a cutting-edge company called Viome, to talk about the microbiome. Here are the high points of our fascinating discussion.
Naveen: I know you’re an expert on this, but I’ll just quickly review what the microbiome is for everyone else. Micro means it’s small, and biome refers to life. So these are the small organisms that live on us and inside us.
98% percent of all these organisms live in our gut, which is a part of our digestive system. The gut is the large intestine, and these together — the gut and what lives inside it — are actually this missing organ whose function we had never been able to identify properly.
Now research is pointing to almost every single chronic disease — whether it’s an autoimmune disease, obesity, or cognitive disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, and even the many types of cancers such as pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer — are all actually being caused by what’s happening inside the gut.
So anyone who does not believe those microorganisms are actually part of who we are as human beings is in for a total surprise!
The science has evolved, and what we are starting to see is entirely groundbreaking. And I don’t use that word very lightly! Now, we are able to see the actual biochemical signature of the diseases inside your gut.
Until now, everyone has been trying to find out what organisms are inside the gut. What really matters to human health is what these organisms are doing. It’s not who they are; it’s what they are doing! Because our bodies only care WHAT is being produced, not WHO is producing it.
And that, to me, was really the key when we started: to look at the RNA sequencing rather than really focusing on DNA or 16S. That fundamentally changed everything! Fast forward to today. We now have a predictive signature for the onset of obesity, diabetes, depression, and IBS.
And we can literally tell you the exact onset of these diseases! Now we are doing 15 double-blind clinical trials to show that, not only can we understand what’s causing the disease, we can intervene and prevent, or better yet, reverse these chronic diseases.
We are right in the midst of the trials for things like depression and anxiety. We are doing a trial on autism and Parkinson’s. We are doing a trial on obesity, and fatty liver disease, and on PTSD. And we’re doing four types of cancer right now: pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer.
I hope that in the next six months or so, we’ll be able to show the actual efficacy of balancing your gut, that reducing the inflammation is reversing these chronic diseases. And that’s the day — imagine! —when we can go in there, say, “We can cure these diseases without a synthetic drug.”
We can simply use food as medicine. And I cannot wait for a day when we stop being victimized by the pharmaceutical companies who are using chronic diseases to get lifetime customers.
Dr. Myers: My mother passed away from pancreatic cancer four months to the day that she was diagnosed, so I’m thrilled to hear that you are doing some research there. Is this research you’re doing on your own, or are you doing this in conjunction with a medical institution?
Naveen: If you’ll recall, there was a researcher at NYU who showed how pancreatic cancer is caused by the gut microbiome moving from the gut to the pancreas, shutting the immune system down, and allowing cancer to grow.
This researcher actually put the enzyme microbial directly into the pancreas and killed that microbiome, and the immune system actually got rid of the cancer. Now we are working with them to show how the gut microbiome moves through pancreatic cancer, and that we can actually use food as a medicine to reverse it.
My dad passed away from pancreatic cancer just a few days before Thanksgiving. And it was a heartbreaking thing because we knew it was happening from the gut and I begged the doctors to do something and put an enzyme microbial into his pancreas, and they said, “That is not the protocol. We will not do that.”
When he was dying, I told him, “Dad, I can’t save you, but I promise you I’m going to work as hard as possible to make sure no one else suffers.” Here we are together working on this thing.
I know you have dedicated your life to autoimmune diseases. I can tell you that there’s no doubt in my mind we are seeing how autoimmune diseases are caused by the imbalance of the gut microbiome because our immune system and our gut microbiome are continually interacting.
So I think, Amy, for what you’re doing and your work, God bless you, because this world needs more people like you.
Dr. Myers: Well, thank you, and you as well! I got a little teary-eyed. It sounds like even though we couldn’t save our parents, we both dedicated our lives to helping other people. Tell us, what can somebody do?
Naveen: The interesting thing is that from the time we are born, we are told that we need to eat healthy food. And what is surprising is that there is no such thing as universally healthy food. A food that is good for one person can be very harmful to someone else.
For example, when we are young, we are told that spinach is a magical thing! Popeye eats his spinach and becomes strong. Well, it turns out that spinach is not good for everyone. In fact, now that we have taken 100,000 people through the test, almost 40% of the people we tested are actually harmed by spinach.
Dr. Myers: I’m one of them! I used to each spinach in salads, and my mother had these amazing salads, and we’d eat spinach every day, and after doing your test, I mostly stopped eating it. I would always get spinach and end up with a headache, or not feel great, so now my salads don’t really have spinach in them anymore.
Naveen: Isn’t that amazing? Most people would think we are cuckoo to tell them, “Don’t eat spinach.” But it makes a tremendous difference, right?
For me, the result says, “Don’t eat apples.” At the time I was born, it was “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” In my case, an apple a day brings the doctor! Because I have apple chloric, technically, a virus in my gut. When I eat an apple, I’m feeding that virus.
Likewise, I can’t eat bananas or lentils. Being a vegetarian in India, lentils used to be my staple food. Guess what? My gut microbiome was taking the protein, fermenting it, and releasing the ammonia and sulfide, causing inflammation.
It really is that specific — that when we look at your gut, we’re looking at precisely what is being metabolized, what is being synthesized, what signaling molecules are being produced. For each food, we can tell you, this food is good for you and why; this food bad for you and why.
We build a predictive glycemic-response model that, for every food, by just looking at the biological activity of your gut, we can tell you what the glycemic response will be. So we can say, “Don’t eat almonds because it’s going to be bad for you compared to someone else.” We see that people are completely different.
Dr. Myers: Is this a test that people can purchase?
Naveen: Yes, it’s an at-home test kit. You don’t need to have insurance, you don’t need to have a doctor order it. You order a kit online at amymd.io/viome.
When you order the test, a few days later, you get a beautiful box at home, you do a simple test, and you send it back to us. Within two weeks, you’ll get the results on your smartphone, your desktop, or your iPad. You’ll be able to see exactly what foods to avoid and why, what are your superfoods and why, and what supplements you need.
We don’t sell you anything based on your test results. Our job is simply to tell you what’s good for you so you can stay healthy and have a wonderful life.
Dr. Myers: What advances have been made in the last year since I’ve done the test?
Naveen: We have now incorporated all of the predictive glycemic responses in the test. We are going to be adding more and more scores. So we’ll be telling you how much mucid you’re producing, how much lipopolysaccharide you’re producing, how much are primary bile acids or secondary bile acids. We’re going to be showing you there’s also sulfide and ammonia, and we’re going to have your digestive score, your neuro scores, and your metabolic scores.
We’re going to keep adding in more and more information for you. More importantly, we don’t just tell you, “Here is what’s happening.” We tell you what to do about it. That’s the trick. And as we update the app, people who have already taken the test get the updates at no cost.
Dr. Myers: So many of us, the early adopters of this, thought, “Well, that’s great. Now I know what bugs I have.” At Viome, you have taken it a step further, which is to say, “Not only can we see who these guys are in here, we can actually see what they are doing.”
Then you take it another step further to say, “And here’s what you need to do to get them to stop doing the bad stuff and keep doing this good stuff.”
Naveen: The key is that it’s actionable. That’s the reason we think we can make illness optional. It means you know what to do in terms of diet and lifestyle, and you may decide not to do it. However, you know exactly what to do to stay healthy.
Dr. Myers: What are some of your favorite stories or the biggest success stories you have heard?
Naveen: Honestly, that’s why I get up at 4:00 a.m. and jump out of bed! It is so heartwarming when someone says, “You changed my life. I’ve been sick for so long, and I feel better. Thank you.”
I don’t even know what to say to them because I never ever thought I would be in a position to change someone’s life like that.
If we want to eliminate chronic diseases from the face of this earth, if we can get two million of us to come together, we all will have everything that we need to know. We will have all the data that it takes to be able to fundamentally understand these chronic diseases and make recommendations to get these chronic diseases to go away. Imagine a world where chronic disease is truly a matter of choice, not a matter of bad luck. I can’t wait for that day.
Dr. Myers: It will be very exciting!
Naveen: Our mission is exactly like yours. To have people live a disease-free life. That’s our absolute mission.
Dr. Myers: Thank you so much for your contribution to the medical community, to the community at large, and for creating Viome so that people can find out about their propensity towards disease right at home. More importantly, it’s a tool they can use to take control of their own health and to use food as medicine to reverse these chronic conditions.
Naveen: All I can say is thank you very much for dedicating your life to this vital cause. We all have to remember all diseases begin in the gut. One man’s food is another man’s poison. And let food be your medicine.
Dr. Myers: Thank you so much for your time, and your contribution.
If you’re interested in checking out the amazing work going on at Viome and getting your own results, you can go to amymd.io/viome. It’s a wonderful value, especially now because you’ll automatically get the updates on new foods sent directly to the device you select. You’ll get exact guidance on what you should eat and what you should avoid, based on what’s actually going on in your own body right now. No doctor visits! No insurance forms! This is truly groundbreaking, and available to you right at home.