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From your friend pushing supplements, to former President Trump dangerously and erroneously suggesting the use of disinfectants to treat the coronavirus, it seemed like everyone had an opinion on how to take care of your health when the pandemic first began. But as we inch closer to an “endemic” reality, more and more people are taking back control of their personal health and well-being through the use of at-home testing kits that not only identify potential risks and ailments, but offer users the ability to find ways to treat them.
The Austin-based startup, Everlywell, says it’s seen “significant increases” in the number of people buying its at-home health tests since the pandemic started. A rep says the site’s Vitamin D kit (which tests for vitamin deficiencies that could lead to sleep issues and fatigue) saw a 118% increase over the first few months of 2020, and a comprehensive “Women’s Health” test saw an uptick of 64%.
While these at-home tests aren’t meant to replace regular doctor’s visits (and anyone experiencing severe discomfort, pain, or other major symptoms should consult a physician), companies like Everlywell say they hope their tests can help ease some of the stress of those who can’t get access to regular checkups, especially if you’re concerned about exhibiting symptoms.
Everlywell is just one of a number of sites offering at-home health and wellness tests. A spokesperson for the popular site, 23andMe, says the company has sold more than 12 million units of its at-home DNA kit. These days, 23andMe is also touting its “Health + Ancestry Service,” which gets you more than 150 personalized reports that range from health predispositions, to finding out your carrier status for inherited medical conditions.
The team at 23andMe says their goal is to motivate people to take a more serious — and targeted — approach to well-being. They tout an internal survey in 2019 that found that 76% of respondents were taking “at least one positive step to improve their health” after receiving their 23andMe genetic reports. 23andMe says its reports meet FDA criteria for being scientifically and clinically valid, and their sample collection kit is manufactured in accordance with FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice regulations.
A favorite of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lauren Conrad, buzzy gut health startup Viome’s Health Intelligence Test is also quickly gaining popularity for its unique approach to analyzing your health. Think of it like 23andMe, but for your gut — using a blood and stool sample, the at-home test gives users personalized food recommendations (such as a list of “avoid, enjoy and minimize” foods) and customized monthly supplements (including pre- and probiotics) based on your microbial and human gene expressions.
After you send in your test, you’ll receive personalized scores (all accessed on the Viome mobile app) with over 30 health insights based on your unique biology and gut microbiome, including factors like Mitochondrial Health, Cellular Health, and Immune System Health. Results will also include a “biological age”, which, if older then your current age, Viome says could indicate that your cells aren’t performing as well as they could be.
For the world’s first commercially available at-home mRNA test (how your genes are actually expressing), Viome’s insights go far beyond what any standard DNA, nutrition, or gut health test could accomplish individually. Analyzing mRNA allows the test to accommodate both internal and external factors, such as your diet, stress levels, or any pathogens that may be affecting you. Grant Antoine, N.D., a clinical member of Viome’s Translational Science Team told Rolling Stone that this means a longer-term view of your health, and results that won’t be affected by a weekend of eating junk food or binge-drinking.
“While digestive efficacy might be a shorter view, your active microbiome shows the long view, and how your body has been effected by everything from antibiotics, to medications and [medical] treatments over time.” Instead of relying of recommending dangerous fad diets where you’re eliminating entire food groups, or pushing the same generic supplements for every person, the tailored approach is also this kit’s biggest strength. Viome recommends that you follow the food and supplement recommendations for at least 4-6 months to reap the maximum benefits, and then test again.
Antoine says that the Health Intelligence Test and its recommendations aim to benefit not just those who are looking for more preventative health insights, but those with chronic illnesses, even Long Covid, who are looking to improve their overall quality of life. “If you already have an autoimmune disease, such as RA, it’s the same preventive measures you would take to treat [chronic illnesses] that you would to prevent the disease: diet, nutrition, in combination with foundational lifestyle changes.”
As opposed to simply handing you insights and leaving you to interpret how to radically switch up your diet to move the needle on your personal scores, Viome’s supplements also serve a dedicated purpose. “Supplements help with more targeted delivery of nutrients,” says Antione. “You’re not gonna go eat three bushels of blueberries a day. It’s a way to grab some of the same nutritions from these herbs and foods, and based on research, you’ll see quicker improvements with food and supplements than with just diet changes alone.”
And then there’s Everlywell, which continues to offer more than 30 different sanctioned at-home tests, that let you monitor everything from heart health, to cholesterol levels, to your metabolism. If you’re looking to monitor a particular aspect of your health, their specificity is welcome if you don’t want to get too overwhelmed by more general recommendations.
Similar to Viome, Everlywell’s testing kits utilizes saliva samples and blood samples (taken from a small finger prick). The company says samples are reviewed by an independent board-certified physician, and results are delivered within a matter of days, not weeks.
Though South is quick to caution that these tests are not meant to solve your health issues, but rather to bring some clarity to the picture. “These tests will identify any risks beforehand, so you can take action and prevent long-term damage,” she says.
“You don’t have to feel helpless,” she adds. “You can be proactive, you can take action, and you can hopefully change the downstream outcome.”