I never thought I’d be shitting on a flimsy paper hammock but here I am, hoping I don’t miss my target and that the paper doesn’t rip. I put myself through this delightful process because I decided to find out how my gut bacteria is affecting my health and if I should actually stop eating cheese once and for all.
There’s a growing body of research that links the bacteria in your gut to a number of things such as your weight, your mental health, how you react to certain medications, how your genes work, as well as a number of different diseases, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. And due to this growing popularity of gut microbiome research, a rash of at-home gut bacteria testing kits have popped up on the market all claiming to be able to help you improve or fix your health.
The testing kit I used is called “SUPERBIOME” from a Toronto-based startup lab called uBioDiscovery, and costs about $255 (I was comped for the purposes of this story). The nondescript box comes in the mail and is equipped with a very basic set of instructions, two sample tubes, two “feces collection devices,” a bottle of probiotic vitamins and two pre-paid UPS mailing envelopes.
The particularly graphic act of defecating on a piece of paper that wraps around your toilet seat is step two and four of the gut bacteria testing kit. The first step is to activate your account and fill out the surveys about your background, diet and lifestyle; a.k.a. boring stuff.
After collecting and mailing your first “sample,” you then take probiotic vitamins twice a day for the next 30 days. You also have to keep a food diary for the first week, which made me feel like my every food choice was under intense scrutiny and being used as a benchmark for how well I was coping as an adult. (Hint: not well).
Still, I documented my food and and took all of the included probiotics without any major upsets. Then came time for sample number two (pun intended). My second sample was due right after the Christmas holidays where I’d eaten nothing but carbs, cheese, and red meat—not ideal dietary conditions for this kind of experiment. Nonetheless, I mailed off my samples to a next-generation sequencing lab where they would sequence the bacterial DNA in the sample and I waited for my results.