Custom Probiotics and Your Gut Microbiome — Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’d love to open up my email inbox to you. There are usually around three to four supplements or vitamins pitched to me each day. On an annual basis, that number is staggering. And so, we at aSweatLife are increasingly careful about the vitamins and supplements we talk about.

It’s a wild fact that the supplement industry is barely regulated. The FDA technically has oversight, but they don’t review new products before they go to market, which is why we see such proliferation.

So, when Sun Genomics, the maker of Flore Custom Probiotics reached out to me to talk about what they created, I ignored their first couple of emails, if I’m being honest. But the founder and CEO of the company, Sunny Jain’s background caught my attention. 

If you don’t want to hear about going number two, I would quickly close this tab if I were you. 

Still here? I’ve gone through my own gut health drama over the past decade or so. I’ve had IBS for as long as I can remember, which meant I was usually going to the bathroom way too much and it was usually pretty urgent. I warned you. Then over the summer of 2020, I had an emergency colon resectioning, which means I probably have less colon than you do and more scar tissue than you have. The symptoms I experienced were exacerbated by the surgery because suddenly I couldn’t handle the staples of my diet: nuts, seeds, raw veggies, and dried fruit.

I was in a state of mild desperation when I spoke to Sunny, founder CEO of Sun Genomics and the creator of Flore. But I took my time getting to know the company and the product before buying it, and after buying it, I took time to feel the effects of my custom probiotic before putting virtual ink to virtual paper.

To give you a sense of the timeline here, I spoke with the founder of Sun Genomics – parent company of Flore – in July of 2022, and I’m writing this in November of 2022.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sunny Jain had a background in genomics and microbiology when his son was experiencing gut health issues in 2016. So, when a doctor recommended giving his son a probiotic, he looked at the labels on commonly available probiotics, dove into research on the gut microbiome and asked himself the big question that drives his team today: if every person’s gut microbiome is more diverse than even their DNA, why would a probiotic formulation be one-size-fits-all?

So, he sent stool samples from his son and himself to a lab, and “was so surprised by the amount of organisms living inside his own gut and his son’s gut.” But he was specifically curious about the inflammatory gut organism that was living in his son’s microbiome.

Here’s where it gets interesting: he did research into what could suppress that inflammatory critter, sourced it, and “took a leap of faith” fueled by science and he gave his custom formulation to his son.

This was the aha moment for Sunny. “At that point it was highly contested that you could change your microbiome at all,” he said. “And now we’ve found that you can by feeding the good microbes and provid[ing] microbes that will inhibit the growth of microbes that are detrimental to your health.”

After seeing his son’s health improve, Sunny tested every member of his family and went through the same process with them. And in 2018, he launched Flore, a customized symbiotic prebiotic and probiotic. 

So what does testing for a custom probiotic look like?

That catches us back up to today. After speaking to Sunny, I felt a sense of, “what do I have to lose?” I had recently canceled a dream trip to Peru because I was worried about where I would go to the bathroom on the mountain while hiking to Machu Picchu. It was safe to say that my gut issues were interfering with my life, so I decided to go through the process myself.

It’s insane to think about, but yes, I sent a tiny sample of my poop through the US Postal Service. And, you guys, it’s not super uncommon. Have you heard of Cologuard

After following the directions, it wasn’t actually that gross. On a scale of 1-10 – ten being sitting on the floor of an airplane bathroom, this was probably a three.

After my microbiome was sequenced, I received a report on the Flore app that gave me an overview of which critters were living in my gut, as well as giving them a rating of good, bad or variable. I also had a chance to speak with a microbiologist from the team who – dare I say – had a nerdy passion for the gut that I found completely endearing. She explained that there was a microbe that was super prevalent in my gut that is technically “good,” but can create some of the symptoms I was experiencing if there was too much of it. Answers!

A few weeks later, my first month of custom Flore probiotics arrived, which is made of a combination of Flore’s library of 150 ingredients and was specific to my body’s needs.

I’ve been taking them for three months, and for the first time in years, I’m not worried about running, traveling or generally being in unfamiliar territory when it comes to bathrooms. I’m serious, the other day I noted that for the first time in years, I had to exert effort to *go*. That’s a noticeable and important shift.

And included with my $79 monthly subscription, I retest every 4-5 months so that Flore can reformulate my probiotics if necessary. 

Toilet reads about the gut:

I asked Sunny to share anything interesting he’s found over the years as his team tested the guts of tens of thousands of humans. I’ve included research for each, in case you want to read this while you … go. 

  • The pescatarian diet results in a healthier more diverse microbiome. (A research paper and an article from Eating Well)
  • Pre-pandemic, the key concerns of people signing up for Flore were IBS and IBD and throughout the pandemic, it’s been an increase in anxiety and depression. In certain chronic conditions, like IBS, IBD, and gut-brain conditions like mood, there are certain depleted good organisms. (a research paper and an article from The Cleveland Clinic)
  • 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so creating a healthy gut can be pivotal for mood. (a research paper and an article from Healthline)
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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.