The Daily Pee Test Experience with 3 Minute Results
In July 2020 I pre ordered my first 5 home pee tests for $48.26 in hopes of finding out more about results of some lifestyle changes I had made, mainly better eating. I read that Bloom Health, which changed their name to Vessel Health, opened pre-orders for their at home urinalysis kits (pee tests!). They would be making shipments soon and figured why not. If there was a simple way to pee on a stick and get some actionable insights on my body, why not?
I fired off an order and in late November 2020, after a series of update emails, got a shipment notification that my tests were on the way. The wait time has undoubtedly gotten better, now that they are in production and no longer a “preorder”.
The stick based pee tests primarily use coloromatric assays. If you are unfamiliar with the term “assay” basically it just means a test or examination, in this case the examination of colors. Specifically the colors created by a chemical reaction of urine with the chem oaks embedded in the card. For anyone who has taken a pregnancy test (I personally haven’t but checked with some reliable sources) this is about the same thing. If you have you only ever deposited a urine sample into a cup, it’s no harder to take this test although you have to wait around for a few minutes. Trust me though, the 3 minute wait is much less stressful and exciting than the same wait for a pregnancy test. That’s because the results are not really life changing. None of the tests are diagnostic of disease, and are more used as markers for what’s in your body.
The tests themselves are a simple inch and a half wide card with a clearly noted area to pee on. Once the three minutes are up, you scan the card with your phone camera to analyze the color lines. This was extremely frustrating as the app requires that you hold the test still and in great light, but doesn’t use the camera light. I spent a solid 3 minutes trying to get the thing centered without a shadow before caving and manually taking a picture. This might have been one reason why the results were incomplete, a few of the tests did not register (I’ll cover more on that below).
Uncompleted tests were a bummer, and felt like a waste since each test is more than $10. Thankfully Vessel was customer centric in this and immediately within the app noted that the lack of results was unacceptable and I was supplied with a code for a free replacement test. A few moments later I clicked over onto their site and fired off an order for one, while still having half the results to go though.
Thankfully I bought a multi pack so I’ll have other tests to use during the long wait for the replacement. That wait is indicative of the stage the company is at. A quick checked of their website also revealed they are hiring manufacturing positions, and in January 2021, two months after I received my order, they shared on LinkedIn that they had Vessel Health had shipped 100k tests. Since these are in packs of 5, it’s safe to assume that less than 20,000 people (and likely much lower than that) have used the tests so far since much of that production volume likely came after I got mine in November.
Production on this scale should not be underestimated. The chemical composition of the tests are all slightly different and any cross contamination of the reagents would throw off the results and ability of the app to gather results. While the tests appear to be shelf stable and came packaged in what appears to be a sterile and secure sleeve, no doubt there is opportunity for product failure in transit and Vessel should count themselves lucky if they make it to a few million tests without any production batches resulting in unusable tests.
Tests themselves are easy to handle, and I really liked the handy white paper holder to store the additional tests. It sits nicely and indiscreetly atop a white porcelain toilet. Packaging for the tests did seem a bit extra though as the box itself was more than 90% air. This can’t be good for Vessel’s cost of goods and is sure to be optimized to reduce shipping and storage costs as the company matures.
Tests appeared professional and the sealed bags were perforated to make them easy to open, but the rest of the packaging felt like a beta version after thought.
Next we’ll cover the app experience which also has the same initial professional look along with plenty of areas for improvement as they grow.
Scientifically Backed Results
How the tests are taken is one thing, but what is tested and what you can do with the information is the critical information for any daily wellness tracking. Vessel does a great job of showcasing what the science behind the tests means.
There are 6 major areas of testing. Some of them, like magnesium, B Vitamins, Ketones are directly linked to things that you can alter about your diet – which is nice. The others, PH, Hydration, and Cortisol are a mix of things that are more affected by lifestyle changes like increasing sleep or simply drinking more water and electrolytes.
These are all exciting, and the future is bright for more tests. Over time I can see Vessel adding scans for a bunch more markers. Each would require its own FDA testing, especially if they were being used for diagnosis. Still, with papers saying that diseases like cancer diseases like cancercan be detected in this method, the upside potential is huge.
PH, Hydration, and Ketone Tests:
Of these three tests the PH has failed both times. Realistically there is no action I would alter if this was off, other than calling a doctor. Kidney and liver function might be off if this is wrong but there is no way I would trust the results and my doctors office seems to take this as well and more reliably.
Hydration is also an interesting one. The tests are taken in the morning so it’s possible this is more a sign of your sleep environment than daily hydration.
Either way, a simple color check of urine does just as good of job, although after noting mine was high I did consider adding some more electrolyte type beverages (coconut water, cucumbers).
The next test was ketones. Of all the tests it appears Vessel might be optimizing for this. That is in part due to the popularity of Keto diets.
Having your body in ketosis is way to increase fat burn. Measuring ketones will confirm if your high fat, high protein, Keto diet is working well.
While I am not on a Leto diet, with food tracking it’s possible to make alterations and see how this effects things. The next time I test I plan to do just that, cutting out carbohydrates a week before (or at least cutting back carbs) to see if I can influence this value.
Magnesium, B Vitamins
Each of these tests are simple to address. A daily vitamin to supplement magnesium or B vitamins is simple to acquire, and can be done much less expensively than the $40/month Vessel subscription.
Personally though I prefer making diet alterations before diving into supplements. With a low magnesium rating my goal is to reintroduce spinach based green smoothies! They are delicious and can be a good source of lots of nutrients.
Sadly all the B vitamin tests failed. It is frustrating to see these still displayed on the App for Vessel as it’s just a reminder of the short comings. At the very least the app should be dynamic to bury inconclusive tests further down the page. Also, given the failure rate, Vessel needs to find a better solution than shipping new individual tests.
For the subscription fee it would be nice to just reduce a subscription costs, or generally just have a pay for results. Because of production back logs the replacement tests aren’t shipping for weeks. For now A daily vitamin that includes B vitamins is fine.
Biotin especially is linked to metabolism as well as cosmetic health (hair, nails). It’s one of the main markers I was excited for in the test and so even more disappointing to have no results on both of my first two tests.
Cortisol is another test that can showcase a number of issues. Control of blood sugar, metabolism, inflammation, memory formation – all of this relates to cortisol levels.
Typically cortisol is also thought of as a stress indicator, since it’s released by adrenal glands in response to fear or stress. Great sleep and reduced stress can bring this down and it would be interesting to see daily trends of this and map them to emotional states. Sadly again, this test failed on both tests I have tried.
Overall having having 37% of the tests fail, including this one, calls into question the legitimacy and accuracy of the others. No doubt this is a hard problem for
Food and Dietary Recommendations
Part of Vessels business model is to upsell the plans and coaching based on test results. This in large part manifests as diet changes and additional supple to they will sell.
The cost for me is way to steep to consider using them just for supplements. Checking on Amazon the same things can be had for a fraction of the cost and with the need for all the extra month packaging that will pile up from Vessel.
The results did do a good job of linking to studies and information to better inform diet and lifestyle changes though. Even without any coaching or counseling added on, if you want to learn more about the results the opportunity is right there.
Home Urine Testing Market
Vessel is one of the only products on the market that offers these tests at home and over the counter. Their business model is based on individual tests being sold, ideally for them as a part of a regular subscription. Thankfully a monthly shipment of physcial tests will ensure that you never forget about the subscription and find out you have been paying for it without using it!
The testing market however is only a portion of the value that Vessel and others can provide. Their real value is on monetizing the habits and lifestyle shifts that are recommended as a result of the readings.