Part 6 – The DNAfit genetic test

Over the last few posts, we have learned how genetic variations between us make us the individuals we are, both on the inside and on the outside. We know that food speaks to our genes and in turn, our genes can affect how our foods are processed. We understand that knowing our genetic differences can help us to exercise more efficiently and maintain a healthy weight. And we know that we can help our genes stay healthy as we age.

We now appreciate that we have more influence and control over our protein-encoding genes than we realised. Thankfully, we can positively influence our genetic health trajectory. The more ‘inside knowledge’ of your personal genetic make-up you have, the better you can tweak your diet, lifestyle and training, to optimise your health.

During March 2019, I am offering the complete ‘DNAFit Diet Fitness Pro 360’ package at a 35% discounted rate, down from £179 to just £119 inclusive of VAT. You will receive an easy-to-understand, full colour report which you can access via an online through the DNAfit website. I have also secured for you, complimentary 3-month access to a personalised diet, meal planner and fitness planner, again accessible online.

Your report will tell you:

Nutrition-specific predispositions

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Your recommended diet – Mediterranean, low fat or low carbohydrate and the best proportion of macronutrients to eat

Carbohydrate sensitivity – The amount and types of carbohydrates to eat to help you to understand and manage your cravings and weight. It will tell you if you need to follow a low carbohydrate diet, a reduced fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet.

Saturated fat sensitivity – How many and which types of fats you should be eating for weight loss, lowered inflammation and for good general health.

Lactose intolerance – Some of us are born with an inability to break down lactose, many others acquire it as we age. Find out if dairy is a healthy option for you, or not.

Coeliac predisposition – Coeliac disease develops in approximately 30% of the population, which carry this genetic variant. This test will identify your susceptibility. (Note-coeliac disease is only diagnosed from a blood test done by your GP).

Caffeine sensitivity – Find out if you are classified as a “fast” or “slow” metaboliser of caffeine, and therefore the optimal amount to consume.

Liver Detoxification ability – Find out if you need to eat more cruciferous vegetables to support better liver detoxification function.

Methylation cycle and B-vitamin need– Find out if you need more vitamin B6, B9 (folate) and B12 to keep your methylation cycle working efficiently.

Vitamin D need – Find out if you need above the daily recommended allowance, based on your genetics.

Anti-oxidant needs – Learn which anti-oxidants are key for you and in what quantities.

Inflammation predisposition– Learn your genetic vulnerability to inflammation to guide you to eat more anti-inflammatory foods, improve your sleep and maintain regular exercise.

Salt and alcohol sensitivity– Learn how much salt and alcohol it is best for you to consume for optimum health.

Stress sensitivity– learn if you are a natural “worrier” or “warrior” and what you can do to help yourself handle stress better.

Fitness-related predispositions

Power versus endurance profile – Know your genes that influence power or endurance activities and learn how to train to your genetic strengths.

Aerobic potential – Understand your “potential” (not actual) VO2 max for endurance sport.

Recovery speed – Understand what your genes tell you about your natural recovery speed and how to plan your exercise schedule accordingly.

Recovery needs – Learn about your body’s need for vitamins and micronutrients to optimise your recovery after training.

Injury risk – Some people are genetically at more risk of injury than others. Learn where you are on the injury risk scale and what you can do about it.

How to get your test kit

Please contact me directly. I will send you an email outlining the administration and then send you the test kit in the post. You will take a cheek-swab at home and send it off in the box provided. It’s very easy and the instructions are simple and clear. 10-14 days later, you will receive a full-colour report, grouped into two sections, your nutrient predispositions and recommendations and your exercise predispositions and recommendations.

DNAFit is a Queens Award-winning global genetics company 2018 and shortlisted for BT Sports Industry Awards 2018. DNAfit has been used by Olympians like Craig Pickering, Andrew Steel and others like Mo Salah.

Fiona Golfar, Editor-at-large at Vogue UK said, “Impressively, in just over a week following my recommendations, I went down a clothes size, which convinces me that knowing your body’s needs at a genetic advantage is a huge leap forwards”.

The Today Show reported, “Massive increase in everything. These are the kinds of gains you can get when you work with your genetics and not against them.”

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this mini-series about nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics, and I hope you are keen to delve more deeply into what your own personal genetics are telling you so that you can improve your health as a consequence.

I wish you good health and happiness,

Dawn

Part 5 – Optimising healthy ageing

So how do we help our genes continue to work well as we age? How can we prevent DNA damage? Let’s take a look at three diet and lifestyle factors you can optimise to support healthy genetic ageing – micronutrients, inflammation and stress.

Micronutrients and DNA Health

Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals play key roles in the making and repairing of DNA. Too much, or not enough, micronutrients can cause nicks and breaks in the DNA bonds. If the cell doesn’t have enough key micronutrients, then it can’t make the right proteins to repair itself. This can lead to mutations. There is a developing body of research which links DNA damage to infertility, cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodevelopmental disease, cognitive decline and risk of early death.

Key micronutrients for making, repairing, and keeping DNA working well are:

  • Polyphenols (natural beneficial chemicals in plants)
  • The antioxidant vitamins A & C
  • B2, B3, B6, B9, B12
  • Zinc & iron
  • Magnesium & calcium
  • Manganese & selenium

We can get all of these from a diet rich in deeply-coloured fruits and vegetables, lots of dark green leafy vegetables, lean high-quality meat and fish, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and healthy fats and oils. For those of us who don’t, or can’t, eat enough of these foods, supplements may be an option.

If you are thinking of taking supplements it is best to do it under professional guidance, otherwise you might just be wasting your money on ineffective supplements that are not the right fit for you. Where possible, get your nutrient levels tested first. Feel free to ask me if you need any help or guidance with that. Then order a genetic test to learn your genetic predispositions for key micronutrients. Then, you can use both specific foods and supplements to make up for any shortfalls and reduce your risk of the problems that deficiencies can cause to your health.

Healthy ageing depends on good ‘methylation’, which is a biochemical detoxification process that happens in every cell, all the time. Vitamin B6, folate (B9) and B12 are all needed to keep the methylation cycle working efficiently and prevent the cells normal toxic waste products from building up. This detoxification process requires a protein-encoding gene called the MTHFR gene to make an enzyme to convert dietary folate (B9) into active methyl-folate. There are common genetic variations (SNPs) within the MTHFR gene, which can slow the function of this enzyme by up to 30-40%. If you have this variation there are plenty of dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to help yourself. For example, eat lots more green leafy vegetables and other foods high in folate such as eggs, asparagus, beetroots, citrus fruit and Brussel Sprouts. You could also add a methyl-folate and B12 supplement (but remember to test to make sure you keep within a normal range); avoid exposure to chemicals in your diet and environment (household cleaning products, body sprays, creams, pesticide residues, ultra-processed food); practice stress reduction on a daily basis and get the right amount of sleep for you.

Inflammation

Inflammation is a driver of chronic disease. Certain genes are responsible for regulating the amount of protective inflammation that our immune system creates in our body. We need a certain amount of inflammatory processes to repair cell damage, clean up dying cells, repair injuries and recover from infections. Again, it’s the balance, not too much and not too little, which is the hallmark of a healthy body. A prolonged, excessive inflammatory response is associated with many degenerative diseases, while an under-responsive immune system leaves us vulnerable to infection. We can influence our levels of inflammation in many ways, one crucial way is by eating an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean diet.

In 2010, Bakker et al. published a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They studied various anti-inflammatory dietary compounds, resveratrol (found in the skins of red grapes and red wine), green tea extract, vitamin E, vitamin C, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and tomato extract. Together, they were given to overweight men who had elevated blood markers of inflammation. Researchers saw specific changes in gene expression that brought about lowered inflammation – a great result for their disease risk.

Here are some anti-inflammatory compounds you may want to increase in your diet.

Omega 3 fatty acids – Foods that contain essential omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, trout, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds. We all have different SNPs in the Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha gene which influence our unique level of inflammation.

Curcumin – Curcumin is found in turmeric. Turmeric blocks a pro-inflammatory molecule, Nuclear Factor-kappaB (NF-kB) that turns on genes related to inflammation.

Antioxidants – Many berries like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and other cherries contain antioxidant compounds that have been shown to help reduce inflammation and help recovery from hard exercise.

Beetroot juice – Beetroot contain a micronutrient called betaine which has anti-inflammatory properties. It also dilates blood vessels to helps get plenty of oxygen to muscles when you exercise.

Cooked and sun-dried tomatoes – These are high in lycopene which activates antioxidant production in our cells, and is particularly beneficial for prostate health.

Onions, leeks and garlic – These are high in quercetin which turn off a pro-inflammatory gene called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a).

Cruciferous vegetables – These are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Pac Choi, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, rocket, greens, horseradish, kohlrabi and Mizuna. If you cut up your cruciferous veggies an hour before cooking, it allows the formation of more sulforaphane which is a protective antioxidant and anti-cancer compound.

Herbs & Spices – These contain many natural compounds or “bioactives” which communicate to our cells. For example, turmeric contains Curcumin; garlic contains Allicin, ginger contains Gingerols, onions contain Quercetin, black pepper contains Piperidine, chilli’s contain Capsaicin. Many of these have been shown to have anti-tumor activity by stimulating tumor-suppressor genes.

Stress

Did you know that your response to stress is part-influenced by your genes? It certainly explains why some lucky individuals just seem to perform better under stress, whilst for others, high stress situations just makes them anxious and underperform under pressure.

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Chronic stress has been shown to shorten telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps on the end of our chromosomes. An analogy would be like the protective plastic wrapping around the end of your shoe laces, preventing them from fraying. Each time a cell divides it loses a little bit of its telomere. This is repaired by an aptly-called enzyme, called telomerase. But long-term production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline decreases available telomerase, so the chromosome’s lifespan is reduced. The cell dies prematurely and we age, just a little bit faster.

Part of our body’s stress response is controlled by the COMT gene, which regulates the body’s metabolism and detoxification of our chemical neurotransmitters, like dopamine.  Some of us have COMT genes that clear the brain of dopamine rapidly, allowing them to cope with stress and perform well under pressure.  These types have been nicknamed the “warrior-types”. While others have a slower and more steady response – the “worrier-type”. For these people, dopamine can build up in the brain’s frontal lobe.  This excess may cause the classic stress symptoms of anxiety, worry, panic attacks and insomnia. In severe cases it is thought to be associated with mental health problems including obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

This can seem depressing if genetic testing shows that you have a slow COMT gene variation. But the good news is that you can alter the impact that a slow COMT gene variation has on your body. Recent research suggests that those with slow COMT gene SNPs, although prone to worry, performed significantly better than those with fast gene SNPs in cognitive and memory tests, provided they were relaxed.  So, by learning to handle stress better, exercise regularly, and learn to reflect positively on your past successes, you can train yourself to see potential stressful situations as positive challenges and over-ride your natural predispositions.

In my last post, I will give you details of the DNAfit test. You can see exactly what you get for your money and decide if this genetic test is for you.

Part 4 – Weight management genes

Genetic variations (SNPs) are one reason why we have different appetites; are satiated by different amounts of food and have different food preferences. Our genes also regulate how insulin works in our body; how many fat cells we make and how full they can get. Our genes determine how well we can breakdown those stored fats and use them for energy. Our individual genetic profile influences what we can and can’t digest, our tendency to gain weight, absorb important nutrients and cope with toxins.

Let’s take a deeper look into the world of nutrigenomics and weight management.

The first thing to say is that nutrigenomics is a tool in the ‘diet toolbox’ that can help you manage your weight. It’s not the whole answer, of course not, but there are some valuable insights. Let’s start with how best to balance your carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Macronutrient Balance

You can’t have failed to hear about how different macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) proportions influence our weight. Back in the 80’s we were told to eat a “low fat” diet, more recently, “high protein” was all the rage for fat loss, then “low carb” and “ketogenic”. Why is that? Why does one weight loss study conclude that low fat diets are the best for weight loss, while another study concludes that high protein diet are better? One reason is our genetic differences. Our SNPs make us respond differently to different macronutrients, particularly carbohydrates and saturated fats, and your genetic report will tell you which is best for you.

Low carbohydrate diets

Some of us are genetically predisposed to release more insulin when we eat carbohydrates. The carbohydrates make us hungrier and more likely to store excess calories as body fat. So, eating a diet with about 40% of our daily calories from carbohydrates, will lower insulin and reduce fat storage and weight gain. Balanced with more protein and fat, this diet is will be naturally more satisfying, so that the overall calories consumed are naturally reduced.

Low fat diets

People who have a high sensitivity to saturated fats lose weight on a low-saturated-fat diet. Minimising animal fats such as red meat, poultry skin, full fat dairy, eggs, cream, butter and lard will help them lose weight. Much better to eat good fats like avocado’s, olives, nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil. It goes without saying that avoiding hydrogenated fats found in margarine, baked goods, pastries, chips, crisps, as well as heating oils to very high temperatures are strictly off the menu for weight loss and health.

The Mediterranean diet

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This diet has stood the test of time and is still one of the healthiest diets you can follow. It has been shown help people weigh less and also have lower risks for heart disease, depression, and dementia. A study was started in 1967 which recruited 120,000 nurses. The results were published in the BMJ in 2014. Those nurses who followed the traditional Mediterranean diet (lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts & seeds, pulses, fish, lean meat, olives & olive oil) most closely, had the longest telomeres.  What’s a telomere, I hear you ask? A telomere is a structure that covers the end of your chromosomes and protects your DNA from wear and tear. Telomeres naturally shorten with age, by measurable amounts. So, this study (among many of others) supports the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for longevity.

The Thrifty Gene

The ADRB2 gene has been called ‘the thrifty gene’. It’s one of a group of genes (PPARG TCF7L2, FABP2 and others) that conferred an advantage back in early human existence. It predisposes a reduced ability to release fat from storage, enabling the person to endure a typical feast-or-famine existence. This group of SNPs makes us sensitive to both saturated fats and carbohydrates. This means that as soon as your body senses fewer calories are being eaten (for example, on a diet) these genes then turn up your hunger sensations and turn on your cravings for higher calorie foods. In today’s hyper-caloric society, where there is always “feast” and no “famine”, those people with these SNPs are more likely to store body fat and become overweight. Reduction of total fat and refined carbohydrates (those that are quickly absorbed) is recommended for better weight management if you have these gene variations.

The FTO gene

One of the most studied genes is the FTO gene. It appears to regulate the amount of food we want to eat, and it impacts how well we tolerate fats, especially saturated fats. Particular SNPs on the FTO gene are also associated with obesity. But we can modify the expression of this gene. The Amish population have a high incidence of the obesity-predisposing FTO gene SNPs. However, they are not an overweight population because they work manually and are very active, keeping the genes switched off. Likewise, the same was found with elite athletes, none of whom were overweight, despite some of them having the FTO SNPs. So again, it seems that high exercise levels mitigate the risk of obesity. These are nice examples of how we can influence our gene expression, using exercise, in a positive way.

If you knew you had these SNPs that predisposed obesity, would you want to work harder to mitigate them? Would you exercise more and reduce saturated fat and refined carbohydrates in your diet? I think you would. Here’s one reason why. It has been shown in studies that eating a plant-based diet (I’m not saying vegetarian), eliminating processed fats and reducing saturated fats, combined with reasonable daily exercise down-regulates the FTO gene by 30%. Research seems to show that those people who follow diets that are genetically matched to their predispositions lose more weight and keep it off.

Please note that I have singled out some individual gene variations to discuss them. But it’s really important to realise that they don’t work in isolation. Our predispositions are controlled by clusters of genes working together, not just one gene working alone. That’s why your genetic report (the results you get if you take a test) list groups of genes, their variations, and the sum total effect of how they might all work together for you.

Fasting

Fasting is a way to modify your gene function or expression. Fasting turns on so-called ‘repair’ genes through a genetic process known as autophagy. This is a clever genetic process of ‘auto-self-destruct’ that cells go through when they have reached the end of their working life or become damaged. The cell breaks itself down and recycles the cell component parts. When you fast, human growth hormone goes up and insulin goes down. This helps you gain muscle and burn-off stored fat. Perhaps you may like to look into intermittent fasting for weight loss or weight management – there’s a wealth of positive findings supporting it.

Exercise

If I had to make one point about exercise, for weight loss, it’s this, “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet”. So, first things first: follow your genetically matched diet, then, exercise according to your power versus endurance profile (and be mindful of your injury risk and recovery needs).

Better still, take your test results to a personal trainer and let them work out the best way for you to achieve your weight-loss goals. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T (Specific. Measurable/Motivational. Actionable. Realistic. Time-based). Take small steps every day in the right direction and you will get there.

To summarise, our genes can increase or reduce our risk of developing diabetes and obesity but they don’t directly cause it. Rather, the diet we choose to eat and the activity levels we engage in each day, play the most crucial role.

In the next post, we will look at three crucial factors around genetics and ageing, DNA health, inflammation and stress.

Part 3 – My Story

Studying nutrigenomics, having my genes tested and having some blood tests done has given me two tangeable benefits. Firstly, I make food and exercise choices based on my genetic predispositions and nutrient levels.  And secondly, I relax about this being different to other people’s food and exercise choices. One-size-does-not-fit-all.

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Vitamin D

You may know that I lived in the Middle East for three years. During that time, I studied Nutritional Therapy. As part of that learning, I took a vitamin D test and was shocked to discover that my vitamin D level was only 19 nmol/L. A good level is 50-60 nmol/L. How could that be when I was exposed to so much sunshine? Well, I only found out when I returned to the UK and later took a DNA test. I have the genetic variation (SNP) that reduces the production of an enzyme in the liver & kidneys that normally converts inactive vitamin D in the skin into the active form of vitamin D needed to make steroid hormones. I had a vitamin D deficiency because of my SNP. I now take a vitamin D supplement and measure my vitamin D levels each year to make sure they are in the healthy range. Now I feel more reassured that I’ve reduced my risk of developing osteoporosis; helped my immune system fight infections; reduced by chances of being depressed and having high blood pressure and I hope, my rate of cell ageing.

Caffeine

In the past, I had a condition called atrial fibrillation (AF). This is a condition when your heart beat goes very fast and irregular (in my case due to chronic stress, no down-time and years of lack of sleep). Occasionally, I can still feel my heart beat becoming irregular. Post treatment, I now manage it with lifestyle choices. I work hard to get eight hours sleep a night; I don’t do high intensity exercise every day and I meditate when I feel I need to (I should do it daily!). But I have also stopped drinking caffeine. I have learnt through genetic testing that I am a “slow metaboliser” of caffeine. I have a variation of the CYP1A2 gene that controls how quickly I break down caffeine. This means that, for me, too much caffeine can increase my risk of a raised heart rate, high blood pressure and heart attacks. So now I avoid it, or only have one cup, very occasionally. It also means that I don’t benefit from the physical/athletic performance enhancing effect of caffeine. By contrast, other people may have the “fast metaboliser” SNP. For them, this means they break down caffeine more rapidly, while preserving the healthy antioxidants in the coffee, which in turn may give them heart protection and give them athletic enhancing benefits too.

Salt

I reduce my intake of salt to less than one teaspoon per day because I have the ACE gene variation that predisposes me to high blood pressure if I eat too much salt. I measure my blood pressure at home and it’s mostly around 110/70. I eat a high plant-based diet, exercise regularly and try to manage my stress with meditation and yoga.

Wheat

On the whole, I avoid wheat and other gluten-containing foods because I have a SNP which increases my risk of developing coeliac disease. I have the HLA DQ2/8 genes, which increases my risk to 1 in 35, while the average is 1 in 100. Avoiding gluten is my choice, I don’t have to. But I know that anybody with this genetic predisposition can develop coeliac disease at any point in their life, so I just feel better knowing that I have lowered my risk. Let me be clear, this genetic test is not a test for coeliac. Only your doctor can diagnose coeliac disease with a blood test and a small bowel biopsy. Genes aside, if you want to know more about the effects of gluten on your health, your could Google Dr Alessio Fasano who is a paediatric gastroenterologist and medical researcher.

Exercise

MyDNAFit logoI’ve always been the “muscly-type”, one of those people who naturally puts on muscle easily, probably a mesomorph. I always thought it was because of my competitive swimming during secondary school. But perhaps this intense exercise wasn’t the whole story. I’ve now learnt that I have a high power to endurance profile. I’m 60% power versus 40% endurance. This may explain why I always swam the 100m freestyle and competed in short-course triathlons, not the not the 800m freestyle or endurance ironman! I get better fitness results from weight training and high intensity interval training compared to long endurance training. That isn’t to say the endurance training isn’t for me, just that I should keep endurance activities to about 40% of my training time, if I want to optimise my fitness.

Coupled with this, I have a fast recovery rate, meaning that I can do similar training on consecutive days without being too fatigued or getting DOMS. For other people who have a slower recovery rate, they would need to take more care to cross train different muscle groups, to optimise their training and recovery time. I have genes that predispose me to a high risk of ligament injury. Knowing this, I am mindful to make sure that I do my yoga and get massages if my joints ache. Cold water immersion is another anti-injury prevention technique you can use.

Using myself as an example in this post, you can see that I have learned some really useful things about my own genetic make-up since. Of course, I have always been into healthy living, so I was already doing many of the right things – I don’t smoke or drink, I eat a very healthy diet and I regularly exercise. But beyond these fairly well-established, common-sense ideals, I have learned to tailor how I eat and train to maximise my benefits. I’m over 50 now, so anything I can do to help my metabolism stay on top form and resist the natural propensity to gain weight, lose muscle mass, bone mass and injure myself, is a big help.

In the next blog we will look at how understanding your genetic variations can help you achieve your ideal weight.

Part 2 – Nutrients and genes

There’s a buzz-phrase used when learning about genes and nutrition,

“Genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger”.

What this means is that we may be predisposed to health challenges because of our gene variations (SNPs), but it’s what we do to ourselves that actually triggers a problem, or not. This is an important to remember. If we want to, we can always positively influence our health outcomes.

Environmental factors like exercise, stress, sleep, diet and pollution affect how our genes function. Cigarette smoke damages cellular DNA and causes mutations. Exercise has a positive effect on our health by optimising insulin and glucose levels. Some of the latest research into high intensity interval training is finding that this type of exercise triggers a release of anti-inflammatory chemicals from protein-encoding genes.

So, what about diet and gene interactions? There are two sides to this.

  • Our genes affect how we respond to food (nutrigenetics)
  • Food affects how our genes function (nutrigenomics)

nutrigenomics

 

Let’s work through a few examples of each.

Nutrigenetics (how genetic differences affect nutrients)

I am sure you know what micronutrient RDA’s are. They are the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins and minerals found in foods. You see them represented as percentages on food labels. It might say, “contains 30% of your RDA for iron”. These nutrient levels were calculated on what the acceptable level should be for an “average person” in “average health”. They give us general guidance. But these calculations are in no way matched to your genetic variations or to the levels of nutrients you currently have.

For example, 1 in 200 people in the UK and Ireland have a gene variation (a SNP) that predisposes them to absorb too much iron from their food. This means that over many years excess iron builds up in their body (it can’t be excreted). Men with this SNP who eat foods high in iron such as meat, liver, pate, shellfish, beans, lentils and spinach, risk liver, heart and pancreatic damage from the damaging effects of iron overload (Hemochromatosis). Women are less at risk because they lose iron through menstruation.

Here is another example. If you know what gene variation (SNP) you have on the BCO1 gene (Beta-Carotene Oxygenase gene 1), it will help you work out how much vitamin A you need to consume in your diet to keep your vision good, your immune system working well and your skin and mucus membranes healthy. Some people have a SNP on the BCO1 gene that reduces the production of the Beta-Carotene Oxygenase enzyme. This enzyme converts inactive beta-carotene (found in dark green leafy vegetables and orange coloured fruits and vegetables) into active Vitamin A for use in the body. If you know that you have that particular SNP on your BCO1 gene, then you might sensibly choose more animal foods over plant foods because they already contain active Vitamin A, while plant foods only contain inactive beta-carotene.

 

Nutrigenomics (how nutrients affect your genes)

Food metaphorically ‘speaks’ to our genes. Here’s a great health tip from the Institute of Functional Medicine, “brighter coloured whole foods, have the best language skills”. What it means is that if you eat a plate of rainbow-coloured fruits and vegetables every day, you are sending your genes all the right health messages.

You may be wondering how nutrients and food compounds influence this small but important proportion of protein-encoding genes? Well, they don’t actually change the order of the base nucleotides [Please read previous post], rather, they change the gene’s activity. They can activate it to make a protein, or they can de-activate it to stop making a protein. This is called gene “expression”. You may have heard such talk, of when a gene is “expressed” or not. It might be helpful to think of it this way. When a gene is in an active state, it is ‘expressed’, and then when a gene is ‘sleeping’, or inactive, it is ‘not expressing’.

A beneficial example is a compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Pak Choi) called sulphoraphane. Sulphoraphane can activate a gene which helps the body to detoxify harmful chemicals. Burnt or chargrilled meat, for example, contain harmful compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which can predispose us to colon cancer. So, it’s a smart move to eat your broccoli sprouts, cauliflower rice and coleslaw with your summer BBQ’s!

Plants make compounds, called phytochemicals, that protect them from attack. When we consume these phytochemicals, they help to protect us too. They help prevent DNA damage and they regulate inflammation. Some well researched phytochemicals are carotenoids, curcuminoids and flavonoids. You’ll find phytochemicals in brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. For example, lycopene in tomatoes; lutein in leafy greens; beta-carotene in orange fruits and vegetables. Curcuminoids are found in turmeric root and flavonoids in green tea. So please, make your plate as colourful as you can and don’t underestimate the importance of these compounds for your genetic health.

The B group of vitamins are important for cell growth, energy production and DNA repair. Folate, or B9, is an important B vitamin which influences gene expression. The Latin name for Folate is “folium”, which means “leaf” and dark green leafy vegetables are high in folate. You may also know it as folic acid. Now, the MTHFR gene produces an enzyme responsible for converting inactive folate into active folate (I’ll spare you the technical names!). Once converted, the active folate is critical for making and repairing DNA and also for a multistep process that converts the amino acid homocysteine into methionine. Some people have SNPs on the MTHFR gene which slows folate enzyme activity, which when combined with low folate levels, can cause high levels of homocysteine. (MTHFR SNPs + low folate = high homocysteine). You don’t want too much homocysteine in your body because it has been associated with cardiovascular disease. People with the MTHFR SNPs would be well advised to test for their levels of folate and homocysteine. If needed, they can increase their intake of active methyl-folate from a supplement (not the commonly available synthetic folic acid).

When we know our nutrition-related SNPs and when we test our nutrient levels as well, we are in a good position to optimise our gene function and our long-term health. Thankfully testing our nutrient levels is now much easier and affordable. Although we can’t yet test for the level of every nutrient using a finger-prick blood sample, (compared to a full blood sample taken from a vein in your arm), we can take the following at-home test which we then send off in the post, for the following nutrients:

  • B12
  • Folate (B9)
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Omega 3 & 6 fats
  • Iron

Please get in contact if you want to have any of these tests done.

In the next blog we will look at some of my own personal SNPs. I will share with you what I’ve learnt using some interesting examples of how I have used this knowledge in practical ways to optimise my health.

Part 1 – Introduction to genes

Up until recently, I thought that the genes I inherited from my parents told my body how to develop into the person I am. You know, brown eyes, 5′ 6’’, reasonable IQ! But I’ve never stopped to think that the way I have chosen to live my life, are actual instructions to my genes, telling them what to do, or what not to do. I never thought that I had some control over my gene function.

But our lifestyle and environment do play a significant role in shaping the way our genes work.  In this 5-part blog I want to explore how food and genes interact together and how can we design a lifestyle strategy to help us become more resilient to the effects of ageing.

You will have heard of the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003. It was the mapping of the entire code of 20,000 human genes, of which approximately 1.5% control the making of proteins (these are known as protein-coding or protein-encoding genes). We are going to look at a tiny fraction of those protein-encoding genes and how they interact with our diet to make us each individually unique.

A gene is just a segment of DNA that contains instructions for how and when your cell needs to make proteins. Enzymes are a good example of proteins. Enzymes control many of the body’s processes, particularly digestion. For example “lactase” is an enzyme responsible for breaking down the milk sugar, lactose. The LCT gene part-controls the production of the lactase enzyme from the lining cells of our intestine. For many humans, our ability to make the lactase enzyme naturally decreases with age.  As a result, people gradually lose their ability to digest lactose in later life, resulting in “lactose intolerance”. However, some people, particularly those from dairying populations, have developed “lactase persistence”. This means that their lactase-producing genes continue to make lactase and they can enjoy dairy products without digestive upset into adulthood.

Let’s now look at this diagram to help us understand some basic terminology.

Chromosome

The nucleus in the cell contains the X-shaped chromosomes, that you are probably familiar with. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. When you unravel a chromosome, you can see that it is made of smaller and smaller parts that make up the double-helix of DNA. The smallest parts are the coloured blocks that make up the “rungs of the ladder” or in technical terms, the base nucleotide pairs. We only have four base nucleotides, Cytosine, Guanine, Adenine and Thymine. They are represented by the letters C, G, A and T.

The order of these nucleotides is very important. The order is the “recipe”, or set of instructions, for making a specific amino acid which are the individual building blocks of proteins. Different combinations of amino acids will make different proteins. And different proteins have different functions.

Now, the part of the story which explains how we are all different from each other. Humans are 99.5% identical to each other. The tiny 0.5% genetic variation is what makes us different from each other. Part of this variation is due to single changes in the order of the nucleotides. These very common changes are called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). We each have as many as 5-10 million SNPs. Please don’t be confused with a genetic mutation. Although SNPs and mutations are both changes in the base nucleotides, they are different. SNPs are much more common than mutations. Also, mutations can (but don’t always) impair the function of the genes, like in cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anaemia.

Coming back to SNPs. Many SNPs have no effect on health, while others are potentially very important. They may confer an advantage, like in the lactase example. A person with “lactase persistence” will have a different combination of base nucleotides, which tell the lactase-producing gene to keep making lactase. SNPs can also affect our risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease; how we respond (positively or negatively) to pharmaceutical and recreational drugs; how effectively we break-down certain chemicals in our environment, that might include alcohol or caffeine; how we respond to the food we eat, including how easily we seem to put on body fat, or not, when we eat certain foods; and how we are affected, or not, by bacteria and viruses. Our individual SNPs can play a role in all these functions and more.

In the next post, we’ll focus on some SNPs that affect how our body responds to our food and also how the food we eat affects our protein-encoding genes.

Part 10 – Fermented Food Recipes

Today is my last post on the microbiome. Here are three recipes that I regularly make. Go on, give them a try! As your confidence grows, you can expand your repertoire using the many recipes and variations of these, online. A little a day, keeps trouble at bay!

Homemade Sauerkraut

Equipment needed

A large fermentation or mason jar; a large bowl; a rolling pin; a fermentation weight

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head of Cabbage (white or red)
  • 1-3 Tablespoon sea salt or Himalayan rock salt (more for a bigger cabbage)

Instructions:

  1. Finely chop or shred the cabbage. Put it into a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt.
  2. Pound with a rolling pin for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage has leaked enough cabbage juice to cover itself. If it doesn’t, you can add a little filtered water.
  3. Transfer the cabbage into a big sterilised fermentation jar, pressing and coimagesmpacting the cabbage down hard underneath the liquid. If necessary, add a bit of water to completely cover cabbage.
  4. Place a fermentation weight on top of the cabbage to make sure it is all completely submerged (every last little bit!) This ensures proper fermentation and prevents mould growing.
  5. Cover the jar with a tight lid. You will need to lift the lid every couple of days to allow the excess gasses to escape (or you can buy specialised lids online).
  6. Allow to ferment at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) for at least 2 weeks until desired flavour and texture are achieved.
  7. Once the sauerkraut is ready, pop it in the fridge in smaller jars with an airtight lid and keep the sauerkraut submerged in its own brine. Enjoy a tablespoon with your meals. The sauerkraut’s flavour will continue to develop as it ages.

Homemade Kombucha Tea

Equipment needed

Large glass jar; muslin cloth; elastic band; glass storage bottle(s)

Ingredients

  • Organic Green (or Black) tea bagsdxu76dmas+khhfjgyng%xw
  • Organic cane sugar or just white granulated sugar
  • Kombucha Scooby (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Buy online

Instructions:

  1. Boil a full kettle of water.
  2. Put 4 tea bags into your clean glass container, then add 130g sugar.
  3. Pour your boiled water into the glass jar with the tea bags & sugar. Stir and leave to steep for 30 minutes. Then remove the tea bags with a clean spoon.
  4. When the glass jar is cool to touch (feels the same temperature as your hands), gently add the Kombucha Scooby to the sweet tea. (Put all the contents of the packet, liquid included, into your prepared sweet tea). Your Scooby may float or sink, it doesn’t matter. A new, second Scooby will grow on the surface of the liquid in about 2-4 weeks, depending on how warm your room is, or the season you are making it in.

5. Cover your jar with the muslin and secure in place with the elastic band. Place the jar out of direct sunlight at room temperature. Your Kombucha will take about 2 weeks to mature.

6. You will need to periodically taste your Kombucha tea to see when it is ready. The more acidic or sharp it tastes the more fermented it is. If it still tastes sweet, then the bacteria haven’t had long enough to convert those sugars into lactic acid. Note the colour will darken and become cloudier the more mature it is.

7. When you feel it is ready to drink, pour off the Kombucha tea into a clean glass bottle and put it in the fridge. The longer you leave it in the fridge, the fizzier it will get. It won’t “go-off”. Drink a small glass each day, 5-10 mins before main meals. Build up the quantity you drink slowly, to allow yourself to get used to it.

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Please remember to leave the Scooby(s) sitting or covered by about an inch of its brewing liquid. Do not let it dry out. It will last like this for up to 4 weeks. Don’t ever put the actual Scooby in the fridge.

You can now make a new batch of pre-made tea (sugar, tea bags and cooled boiled water) to the jar and Scooby. Or, if you don’t want to make any more, just cover the brewing jar, leaving the Scooby in its own juice.

Over time, the Scooby colony will grow upwards, in successive layers. The oldest layer lies at the bottom and is the darkest layer. You can carefully remove the lowest colony layer (clean your hands very, very thoroughly) and give it to a friend or put it in the compost. Eventually, you may want to buy a completely new Scooby.

Homemade Kefir

 

Equipment needed

Sieve or strainer; glass container or jar; spoon

Ingredients

  • Kefir grains as supplied with some kefir from the bag. I bought mine online.
  • 250ml milk – best is full fat organic from grass-fed cows, or also goat’s, almond or coconut

Instructions

  1. Put the whole contents of the kefir bag into the clean glass container.
  2. Add your choice of 250ml milk.
  3. Cover the glass container with a muslin cloth and leave it at room temperature for anywhere between 1-3 days (depending on how warm your room is).
  4. It will be ready when it looks thick and clumpy. The longer you leave it out, the more tangy and cultured it will become. If it separates into a clear liquid and clumps, it’s definitely ready.
  5. When it’s ready, pour the liquid kefir through a sieve/strainer set on top of a Pyrex measuring jug or other suitable container. The kefir “grains” should be left behind in the sieve.
  6. Now put your grains back into your next batch of 250ml milk and start all over again
  7. Enjoy your Kefir drink – flavour it, or not, as you wish.

If you want to stop making you kefir for a while you still need to keep it alive by feeding it new milk. You do this by just sieving off the old, unwanted, fermented milk and topping up with lots of new milk (4 cups). Keep it in the fridge to slow growth.

I am here to help, if I can. Please do get in touch. Throughout January 2019 I am offering a free, no-obligations 20 minute chat to discuss any of the issues we have looked at. I have really enjoyed putting this series together for you and I hope you have enjoyed it as much too.

To your very good health, Dawn.

Part 9 – Optimising your microbiome

Caring for our microbiome is like tending to the soil in our vegetable garden. We need to weed it, seed it and feed it.

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  1. We can weed-out, kill-off, or out-compete any unbeneficial species
  2. Then we can seed it with fermented foods and probiotics
  3. We need to make sure to feed it with the right diet including prebiotic foods
  4. We need to tend it with a nurturing healthy lifestyle

The dietary changes that you make will have a rapid effect on your microbes. Within days of improving your diet, your microbes will respond. You will need to be consistent to maintain the changes though. Here are some top tips.

Feed your microbiome lots of fibre from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and wholegrains (if you eat grains). Fibre rich vegetables are apples, artichokes, avocados, beans, berries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, celery, greens, figs and kale, to name a few.

Eat a raw green-leaved salad every day – rocket, watercress, herby salad leaves, Pac Choi, chicory, spinach, chard, Chinese cabbage and any type of cabbage. Spice it up with a handful of fresh herbs like coriander, basil, flat leaved parsley or mint. Drizzle with col-pressed extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, if you like.

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Eat 3-4 servings of colourful vegetables at lunch and dinner and a couple at breakfast if you can. Aim for over 10 portions of vegetables per day.

Enjoy a rainbow of colour on your plate. Making a mixture of blended and juiced vegetables is an easy way to pack in the veggies.

If eating such an amount and variety of vegetables is difficult, consider supplementing your diet with additional fibre from psyllium husk, oat bran or inulin. Build up gradually to avoid bloating.

Eat a little fermented food at each meal. Fermented foods have been part of traditional foods in every culture of the world but have sadly been lost in the typical Western diet. First, let’s clarify the difference between picking and fermenting.

Pickling and fermenting are two ways of preserving food. Today, pickled foods are foods that have been preserved by an acid, like vinegar, to achieve a sour flavour. By contrast, fermented foods are preserved using salt, not vinegar. When we ferment vegetables in salty water (with no air in the jar) the normal bacteria found on the food eat the natural sugars from the vegetable and produce lactic acid as a waste product. The lactic acid then preserves the food.

Most people think that the jars of vinegar-pickled vegetables in the supermarket are fermented. They are not. They have been cooked at high temperatures or pressures and therefore don’t contain live probiotic organisms. Fermented foods that have been preserved or “pickled” using only salt and water (no vinegar or high heat) do contain live probiotic microorganisms. This is what you want to eat. You can buy these from health food shops (very expensive) or make them yourself. Here are some to look out for.

  • Naturally fermented sauerkraut
  • Salt pickled vegetables
  • Kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables)
  • Kefir (fermented milk, unsweetened)
  • Live Greek, cow’s, goats or coconut yoghurt
  • Miso – fermented soy (really yummy in soups, bone broth and casseroles – I buy mine from Green Ginger in Corsham)
  • Tamari – gluten-free fermented soy sauce (I use this all the time)
  • Tempeh – fermented tofu cake (might be tricky to find)
  • Tofu – try to find a fermented one
  • Unpasteurised apple cider vinegar (bottle should say “with the Mother” on it)
  • Kombucha tea (you can buy this online or make it)

Stew a batch of cooking apples (leave the skins on). Cooking the apples releases pectin, a naturally-occurring jelly-like starch found in some plants. When eaten, pectin releases a compound that does many helpful things – it neutralises unbeneficial microbes; it stimulates our genes to repair any damage to the intestinal barrier; it stimulates beneficial bacteria to multiply and take up residence in the protective mucus lining of the gut. Enjoy a spoon or two daily, perhaps with live yoghurt, a little raw honey and cinnamon.

Foods high in polyphenols are great to eat because the gut bacteria love them! Polyphenols are just special chemicals found in plants that are really good for our health. Good sources are dark chocolate (yay!), cocoa, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries, nuts, black tea and broccoli.

If you know you have difficulty with your digestion, consider extra digestive support, such as apple cider vinegar or supplemental digestive enzymes.

Stop eating sugar (in all its hidden forms), refined carbohydrates (food made from white flour, white rice, white pasta etc), artificial sugars, refined vegetables oils (sunflower, canola, corn, rapeseed, peanut, soybean oil) and margarines, because they promote the growth of the unbeneficial microbes and yeasts. Avoid food additives like emulsifiers, preservatives and high-intensity sweeteners for the same reason.

Stop eating wheat because the proteins in the wheat damage the intestinal lining cells in susceptible people. (Exploring this is a whole topic in itself).

Eat less commercially-raised red meat (top quality, grass-fed or wild-caught game is ok). Opt more for a Mediterranean diet, high in fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, nuts & seeds.

Evaluate your need for prescription medications. They are usually designed to suppress symptoms, yet symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that there is a problem. Try to search for the cause of your symptoms (you can ask me for help if you like, just message me here) and avoid commonly used stomach acid blockers, anti-inflammatories, osmotic laxatives, steroids, antibiotics and hormones, as these alter our microbiome.

Stress negatively alters gut microbes. Choose a stress management practice that works for you and practice it daily.

Take daily exercise because it increases the butyrate-producing bacteria. Avoid excessive strenuous exercise because it stresses the microbiome.

Studies of sleep deprivation showed an increase in microbes associated with weight gain, altered fat metabolism, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Get 7-8 hours a night.

Eating outside of a normal circadian rhythm (think shift workers) can also be harmful to gut bacteria. Likewise, don’t eat late at night.

On average, though your microbiome will start to change very quickly from better food choices, more sleep, less medications, less sugar and alcohol and regular exercise, in general it will take around 60 days to feel meaningful benefits and reduction of symptoms from consistent changes.

Good luck, be patient and consistent and get in touch if I can be of some assistance to you. Throughout January 2019 I am offering a free, no-obligations 20 minute chat to discuss any of the issues we have looked at.

Coming up tomorrow, in Part 10, the last post in this series, I will give you a selection of recipes you can use at home to add more probiotic foods to your daily diet. I hope you will try and enjoy some of the recipes.

Part 8 – Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics

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Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that we can eat to improve our health. As far as we know, they don’t necessarily take up residence in our gut but can give us benefits as they pass through.

There are two ways to consume probiotics, either from fermented foods or from probiotic supplements. We don’t yet know if probiotics in food (albeit much cheaper) are better than probiotic supplements, or vice versa.

Current objective opinion is that for healthy people, probiotic supplements don’t significantly change the microbiome, but in ill health or disease they can help restore a healthier microbiome.

Summary analyses of hundreds of trials has showed substantial evidence for the benefit of probiotics for treating diarrhoea; constipation; acute upper respiratory tract infections; eczema and dermatitis in children, improving metabolism; lowering cholesterol; reducing infection rates; and lowering markers of inflammation, like C-reactive protein. Promising research is underway regarding benefit for neurological, mood and brain disorders.

The business of probiotic supplements is currently exploding.  Companies are now making targeted probiotics with specific species and strains of bacteria for a specific problem (like a urinary tract infection), or a specific symptom (like diarrhoea) or specific groups of people (women, children, or elderly). We are beginning to understand which combinations of species of microorganisms are most helpful for specific conditions, but much more independent research is still needed (that is, research not funded by the companies selling the supplements).

Here are some of the species you may see and some of the symptoms or conditions they have already been found to be beneficial for. Don’t be put off by the long names, they are quite phonetically pronounced!

  • Lactobacillus Rhamnosus for eczema, diarrhoea and stress
  • Lactobacillus Plantarum for immunity, lowering gut inflammation and IBS
  • Lactobacillus Casei for diarrhoea, constipation, anxiety and depression
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus for reducing gut inflammation
  • Bifidobacteria Lactis – for abdominal symptoms, supporting immunity, weight control and constipation
  • Bifidobacteria Longum – for constipation, lowering stress and improving memory
  • Bifidobacteria Bifidum – is anti-bacterial and helps the symptoms of IBS and ulcerative colitis
  • Bifidobacteria Breve – for constipation in children, improving skin youthfulness
  • Streptococcus Thermophilus – is anti-bacterial and improves skin youthfulness
  • Saccharyomyces boulardii – This is a beneficial yeast. It out-competes unbeneficial yeasts. It can be taken alongside antibiotics to protect against loss of beneficial microbes. It supports good overall immune function

Supplements should list the quantity of colony forming units (CFU’s) on the packet. Start with 5 billion CFU’s (or lower if you need to) and build up to 50 billion or more, monitoring progress as you go. Stop at the level that works for you. If you experience gas, bloating, constipation or loose stool, reduce your intake and then build up more slowly. Generally speaking, the more severe your gut symptoms the higher the dose you will need to take. For example, VSL#3 is the brand containing the most CFU’s with 450 billion in a single dose! It is available online, but you should seek professional opinion if you think you may need this one! Probiotics are safe but seek advice if you are immuno-compromised.

Be prepared to change brands regularly to maximise the number of different species you are taking. Take probiotics with small meals, for better survival rates. You may need them at every meal. Morning is best to improve your digestion for the day, evening would be better for improving relaxation for sleep. Check expiration dates and storage instructions, some need refrigeration, others don’t. Check for other ingredients like lactose, binders and fillers, like corn starch. Check that the product hasn’t been cooked or heated above 40 degrees because this would kill the bacteria.

Not all probiotics bought online, or in supermarkets are rigorously tested to ensure that they survive transit through the gut. Many brands haven’t undergone strict quality control measures. Look carefully at your packaging and any company research available. You get what you pay for, don’t be tempted to buy low cost.

If you are taking antibiotics and want to take probiotics, take the probiotics as far apart in time from the antibiotics as you can, for example take the antibiotics in the morning and the probiotics in the evening. Continue to take the probiotics after you have stopped the antibiotics. Do not take both at the same time, as both will likely negate the benefits of each other! Probiotics are not a magic bullet that simply wipe out the collateral damage caused by antibiotics. Microbiome rebuilding takes time, there is no quick fix. Bringing the right species to the right area of the body is key to improvement.

If you are unsure, seek professional advice when choosing probiotics, as nutritional professionals have a far wider availability of professional brands available to them, than can be bought over the counter. Similarly, as new research becomes available, professionals are able to match probiotic strains more accurately with a person’s problem. Naturally, as a trained and qualified, practising Nutritional Therapist, I can help you with this, so give me a shout if you have any questions or need any advice.

Prebiotics

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Prebiotics are carbohydrates from plant fibres. We can’t digest these fibre, but our gut microbes can, so in essence prebiotics are “food for the microbes”.

Prebiotic fibre helps the beneficial microbes to grow; provides food for our intestinal cells; helps digestion; reduces inflammation; reduces insulin; reduces cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer.

Foods high in prebiotics are beans, lentils, legumes, dandelion greens, oats, green bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions, nuts, barley, apples, cocoa, flaxseeds, Burdock root (looks like long brown carrots), Yacon root (looks like a long sweet potato), Jicama root (looks like a potato), and seaweeds.

You can also buy prebiotics fibre supplements such as inulin, Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) chicory root, psyllium husk and fructans. Remember to “start low and go slow” – build up gradually.

Have you heard of resistant starch? This is another type of prebiotic food. It is found in potatoes, rice and pasta when you eat it after it has been cooked and then cooled. So enjoy a little of your cold left-over potato, rice or gluten-free pasta.

Coming tomorrow, Part 9 of this series, looking at optimising your own personal microbiome. Keep an eye on your inbox, and see you tomorrow!

Part 7 – New tests & treatments

The microbiome is like a barometer – it reflects if all will be calm or if a storm is brewing. Today’s post looks at some of the tests and treatments currently available.

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The most common way to assess your microbiome is via a comprehensive digestive stool test. It can be done privately, and your GP can order one for you (with good clinical justification). This will give you a thorough overview of the health of your gastrointestinal tract. It evaluates how well you digest and absorb your food; it identifies some of the yeasts, bacteria and parasites and what short chain fatty acids they are producing. It also reports on levels of gut inflammation, pH, food fibres and if there is blood in the stool. I use this private test regularly in my Nutritional Therapy work. Clients find it very helpful to see for themselves the microbes they have and how well their gut is functioning. They are also very reassured to see how those markers of gut health improve with nutritional interventions.

The very latest private stool testing identifies microbial RNA (ribonucleic acids) produced from anything and everything living in the gut. It uses new technology called metatranscriptome sequencing. Compared to older technology, this can identify all the bacteria (not just some) plus the yeasts, bacteriophages, parasites, fungi, and viruses, (and names them for you), which older stool testing doesn’t. In addition, the test identifies all the metabolites being produced and the ones missing. The app-based report gives dietary recommendations and foods for improving your unique gut health based on the results. I am about to do this test on myself, so I will keep you posted!

As you now know, the vast majority of microbes should be in your large intestine, or colon. However, in some people with upper abdominal bloating, feelings of fullness, pain and fluctuating stool (all very common symptoms) there is a test to see if large amounts of colonic microbes have moved upwards into the small intestine. The test is called a Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) test and you can do it yourself at home. It’s a breath test to capture the gases (hydrogen and methane) given off by the bacteria after a test drink. This is not a test commonly done on the NHS.

Have you heard of faecal transplants?  Hospitals are now transplanting filtered faecal microbes from healthy individuals into those with diabetes, obesity, Crohns and ulcerative colitis (UC) to rapidly improve their microbiomes. The results to date are very promising and this is likely to be a fast-expanding field of gastroenterology. I know, you think it sounds rather yukky, but anyone with debilitating Crohns or UC will tell you, if it offers relief from a lifetime of pain, steroids and drug side effects, it’s more than worth it.

I appreciate the sometimes awkward, personal side of bowel and digestive issues, and I know it can be difficult to talk to people about such problems. If you have any concerns, you can talk to me, I am a trained and qualified Nutritional Therapist, as well as being a practising osteopath for 24 years.  We can talk in total confidence, and trust me, I have heard it all before and I just might be able to offer an understanding ear and some helpful advice. If you are at all interested and want testing, please contact me and I’ll arrange to have tests sent out to you at home, and I’ll explain to you how testing is quick and easy.

Look out for Part 8 tomorrow, when I’ll explain the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, and how and why you need both in your diet. See you then.

Part 6 – Microbiome and disease

The differences between peoples’ microbiomes is one reason why we each have different susceptibility to different diseases.

Microbial imbalances are thought to contribute to disease through the cross-talk between the microbes, the chemical waste products they produce and our immune cells. When toxic, this drives an inflammatory response.

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Dysbiosis is the name given to an imbalance between beneficial and unbeneficial microbes; typically too many “bad” ones and too few “good” ones. Research is currently unravelling which microbes are beneficial, which ones are neutral and which ones are harmful.

Dysbiosis causes bloating, cramps and abdominal pain as the microbes produce gas and other chemicals, which can distend and irritate the gut. Mild, sub-clinical gut disorders are increasingly common these days. Many people are living with tolerable, but uncomfortable, levels of bloating, gas, digestive disorders and irregular bowel movements. They are called functional disorders, like IBS, because the functionis affected but there is no pathology. While not life threatening, such disorders can be frustrating to live with and may be a sign that your microbiome needs some attention. It’s best not to ignore these symptoms for the long term; dealing with them sooner, rather than later, may help prevent more serious conditions developing years down the line.

There is considerable mounting evidence that dysbiosis in the gut is also associated diseases, both inside or outside the gut. Gut conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease, colorectal cancer and non-gut conditions like allergy, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, autoimmune conditions and some neurological diseases. As yet, it is currently debated as to whether or not dysbiosis is a cause, or consequence, of a given disease.

Let’s look at some of these.

Weight gain and obesity

Refined carbohydrates and sugar are foods which feed the unfavourable microbes and yeasts, which then grow and multiply in our gut. A fungal overgrowth, like candida, can trigger more sugary food cravings and weight gain.

The unfavourable microbes make toxic compounds, some are called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). The LPS cause irritation and inflammation when they escape the gut and get into the bloodstream. The inflammation leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetics commonly lack the beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria. Among other things, these bacteria help to control blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal. Foods that help the butyrate-producing bacteria to multiply are typically high in resistant starch. Resistant starch is high in cooked and cooled rice, potato and pasta, also fibre from vegetables, oats and legumes. So enjoy your cooled “left-overs” straight from the fridge! Supplements high in resistant starch are inulin (please note spelling, that is inulin, not insulin!) and potato starch.

Obese people have been typically found to have a high number of Firmicutes species compared to low numbers of Bacteroidetes species. It is thought that the Firmicutes could be extracting more calories from the food and promoting more fat storage.

Cancer

Researchers are finding more and more specific species of bacteria associated with certain cancers, for example helicobacter pylori with stomach cancer; Fusobacterium nucleatum and Escherichia coli with colon cancer; Chlamydia with cervical cancer; Clostridium with liver cancer, and other mouth bacteria associated with pancreatic cancer.This doesn’t mean to say that those bacteria are causing the cancer, they may just be taking advantage of the compromised cells. Research is ongoing.

This may mean that we might be able to detect a pro-cancerous environment years before cancer is detectable, by understanding what bacteria belong where and monitoring how they change over time.

As cancer rates are rising, microbial diversity is decreasing. Is there a connection to explore? Researchers have discovered that both people and mice with cancer who had been given antibiotics, tended to have poorer cancer outcomes to immunotherapy.

Autoimmune disorders

Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, Hashimoto’s (low thyroid), coeliac disease and rheumatoid arthritis develop because the immune system is overactive and making autoantibodies against particular groups of body cells.

The reason why the body makes autoantibodies is through the mechanism of mistaken identity. This means that the immune cells attack and kill our own cells that have certain markers on them (a bit like a birthmark or tattoo) that may look like a pathogen.

For example, Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder whereby the body makes autoantibodies against the thyroid gland in the neck. This progressively damages the gland and its ability to function to regulate our energy. Symptoms of low thyroid are chronic tiredness, hair loss, IBS, panic attacks, weight gain and constipation. It’s now easy to get a full set of thyroid tests with an at-home finger-prick blood test that you submit through the post. If you would like a test, it’s quick, cheap and easy, just ask me and I’ll have a test sent out to you,

Neurological disorders

People with psychological disorders (anxiety, depression, autism, bi-polar, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) have been shown to host specific species of gut bacteria, which are different to the microbial species of people with no neurological condition.

Researchers have proposed that the “bad” microbes indirectly alter brain function via inflammatory signalling molecules through the nerves that link the gut and the brain (gut-brain axis) and by directly crossing the blood brain barrier.

Specific probiotic strains have produced mixed, but promising results for improving symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, depression and memory. They have been called psychobiotics.

Heart disease

 There is a strong connection between gum disease and heart disease. Bacteria in the mouth enter the blood stream via the inflamed gums. Immune cells in the blood then mount an inflammatory response in the arteries. If this goes on for decades, it is believed this inflammation contributes to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Trimethylamine N-oxidase (TMAO) is a compound made by the gut bacteria when we specifically eat animal foods – fish, red meat, eggs & dairy. TMAO seems to make our platelets stickier, which increases our risk of clots, leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Lactobacillus may help to reduce cholesterol when taken as a probiotic.

I hope you are enjoying this short series, learning about your microbiome and gut health. If you have any questions, or if you would like to have a private chat about your own health, head over to this page and send me a message and we’ll arrange a time to talk.

Coming up tomorrow, Part 7, all about the latest tests and treatments available. Keep an eye on your inbox!

Part 5 – Gut-brain communications

Imagine a web of communication (some of it wireless) between all our cells. Microbes are the key link in this communication.

vortex-blue-2A significant proportion of the calories we eat don’t get absorbed into the bloodstream for use by our bodies. Instead, the food is eaten by the microbes further down in our colon. As the microbes eat the food they produce waste products. The waste products are important communication molecules.

Initially, the waste products give signals to our gut lining cells and gut immune cells, starting the conversation, if you like. Thereafter, some of them may get absorbed into our bloodstream and continue the ‘conversation’ anywhere in our body. This can be good or bad, depending on the microbes and what messages they are sending.

The beneficial microbes make helpful communication molecules like short chain fatty acids and vitamins which keep us healthy. Unhelpful and pathogenic microbes produce toxins called Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and others, and inflammatory signalling molecules that can contribute to disease processes like high blood pressure, diabetes and other inflammatory conditions.

Butyrate is another communication molecule made by our beneficial gut bacteria. It is essential for gut health, immune health and brain health. Butyrate helps to prevent cancer, speed our metabolism and reduce inflammation – which is key to good health. We can measure our levels of butyrate in a stool sample. Please contact me if you would like me to arrange a stool test for you – it’s easier than you think and can be done alone at home and sent in the post. If low, you will know to focus on feeding the butyrate-producing bacteria to reduce inflammation and improve health.

There are other messenger molecules too. The gut microbes, together with our gut cells, make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical molecules which allow nerves to pass their messages from one nerve to another throughout the body.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter made in large quantities in the gut. Serotonin helps to make us happy and helps us to sleep well. We need to keep our gut healthy so that we can make enough of this happy hormone.

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid(GABA) is another neurotransmitter produced by our gut microbes. GABA helps to keep us calm. It balances stress neurotransmitters like cortisol. Acetylcholine, histamine, melatonin are other important chemicals produced in the gut to enable the body’s cells to communicate with each other.

imagesIn addition to these chemical messenger molecules, we also have physical lines of communication. We have millions of nerves that connect our gut and brain, and its been called the “gut-brain axis”. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves that connects our gut to our brain. It sends signals both ways. For example, if you are stressed, not only does the brain send distress signals to the gut reducing the digestive process, but the gut bacteria then communicate back to the brain, via the vagus nerve, telling it what’s happening down in the gut and what to do about it.

And finally, a very important gut-brain connection is through our immune system. This is a huge and complex system of communication. One important thing to know is that together our gut immune cells and our microbes control the levels of inflammation in our body and this is believed to be key in helping to prevent degenerative diseases like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and dementia.

We’re half way, that was Part 5, and we have another 5 still to come.

I hope you are enjoying this series and learning something useful from all of this. Look out for Part 6 tomorrow when we will take a look at your microbiome and links to different diseases – important stuff!

See you tomorrow.