Healthy gut… healthy you!

Hello,

Today, I want to give you some helpful, researched information to help you look after your gut and immune system. 

Your gut, from your mouth to your anus, is a closed tube with a very specialised lining. This lining creates a barrier that separates the inside of your body from anything potentially damaging you’ve ingested, like toxins or plasticisers, chemicals on food, and pathogenic microbes that cause infections. At the same time these gut lining cells digest and absorb the goodness from your food. These cells have the ability to selectively manage what comes into the body and what must be kept out and it does so, in collaboration with your beneficial gut bacteria.

In functional medicine, a gut lining which is damaged and isn’t keeping unwanted molecules out of the body is called a “leaky gut”. In medical terms, it’s called “increased intestinal permeability”. More and more studies have found that a leaky gut can damage the functioning of both your gut and your immune system. Somebody with a leaky gut might experience food sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, mood changes, fatigue, joint and skin complaints. When a leaky gut persists for many years, the immune system can become over-run and develop more serious problems like autoimmune disease.

Causes of leaky gut vary, but one of the most important is “dysbiosis”.  Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut – too many harmful bacteria, yeasts or parasites and not enough good bacteria. Dysbiosis is commonly caused by a poor diet, a course of antibiotics, frequent use of antacids, stress, certain medications and toxins.

The good news is that you can simultaneously improve your gut health and your immune health. Here’s some you could consider.

Change your food

  1. Eat more fruits and veggies, especially those rich in polyphenols and bioflavonoids (the deeply coloured ones) and fibre. These feed the good bacteria.
  2. Remove foods from your diet that feed the bad bacteria like sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed flour products (bread, cakes, biscuits, bagels, pancakes, croissants, muffins etc., alcohol, and too many animal products (more than 30% of your daily diet).
  3. Test yourself for food sensitivities and remove aggravating foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and the nightshade vegetables. Ask me for help.

Change your dysbiosis

Start with cleansing herbs like berberine, grape seed extract, black walnut, and oregano that can reduce the numbers of bad bacteria and yeast. I use a tried and tested Functional Medicine, 30-day gut cleanse programme.
 
Take a probiotic

Once you have reduced the troublesome bacteria and yeasts, you want to rebuild colonies of beneficial bacteria to keep you healthy. Taking a probiotic supplement and eating fermented foods daily are the best ways.
 
To your best health,
 
Dawn 🙂

References:
König, J., Wells, J., Cani, P.D., García-Ródenas, C.L., MacDonald, T., Mercenier, A., Whyte, J., Troost, F. and Brummer, R.J., 2016. Human intestinal barrier function in health and disease. Clinical and translational gastroenterology7(10), p.e196.

Grenham, S., Clarke, G., Cryan, J.F. and Dinan, T.G., 2011. Brain–gut–microbe communication in health and disease. Frontiers in physiology2, p.94.

Unwanted excess body fat?

Hello,

Let’s be honest, most people know if they need to lose weight. But if you want to know by how much, have a look at these health-focussed measurement tools.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

If you want to know your BMI, here is a link to click on. It will take you the National Institute of Health BMI calculator. 
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

“Overweight” is any score between 25 and 29.9. “Obese” is a score of 30 and above.

A study from Glasgow University found that as a patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI) increases, so did their risk of having a severe case of Covid-19.

Why is this? Because obesity is a chronic inflammatory disease and it starts with inflammation in body fat cells. Researchers have proposed there may be a link between this inflammation and an exaggerated immune response.

Waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR)

More helpful, is to know your waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR). Why? Because it specifically assesses your abdominal fat. Abdominal fat has been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and now complications from Covid-19. This is how you calculate it. 

  1. Stand up straight and breathe out. Use a tape measure to check the distance around the smallest part of your waist, just above your belly button. This is your waist circumference.
  2. Then measure the distance around the largest part of your hips — the widest part of your buttocks. This is your hip circumference.
  3. Calculate your WHR by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference. W/H. 

According to the World Health Organisation, a healthy WHR is:

0.9 or less in men or 0.85 or less for women.

Waist Circumference

Or if that is all too complicated, just measure your waist. You should try to lose weight if your waist is 94cm (37in) or above if you are male or 80cm (31.5in) or above if you are female.

So, let’s all focus on getting our waists back!

To your best health,

Dawn

Reference:
Sattar, N., McInnes, I.B. and McMurray, J.J., 2020. Obesity a risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection: multiple potential mechanisms. Circulation.

Accessed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32320270/

Why do you need to understand chronic inflammation?

The simple answer is that it determines the quality of your long-term health. 

Inflammation is part of the body’s defence mechanism. It is the way the immune system recognises and removes harmful substances or infections and begins the healing process. Inflammation can be either acute or chronic. You’ve probably experienced acute inflammation. It’s the redness, warmth, swelling, and pain you get when you’ve injured yourself. It comes on quickly and goes within hours, days or weeks.

In contrast, chronic inflammation is when the immune system continues to send white blood cells and chemical messengers over a prolonged period. When this happens, white blood cells may end up attacking nearby healthy tissues and organs. For example, if you are overweight around your middle and have more deep fat that surrounds your organs (visceral fat) – the immune system may see those fat cells as a threat and attack them. The longer you are overweight, the longer your body can remain in a state of inflammation. 

As I said at the start, this is so important because research is showing, over and over that chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, dementia, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, bowel diseases, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and others. It’s all in the reference paper from Nature 2019, at the bottom of this post.

If you want to learn more about your immune system and how it works, I’m very happy to share Week 1 of my Resilient Health and Immune Programme with you. Start at slide 6, where I use a simple analogy to explain how your immune system works.  As well as infection control and repair, you’ll learn that your immune system also influences your metabolism, ageing process and cancer surveillance. Importantly, you’ll see what factors make your immune system shift into a state of chronic inflammation and what you can do about it. 

Please click on the link to watch the presentation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzKjYyCJRAY

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think. And of course, if you want to take the full programme with me, please get in touch.

Reference:

Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D.W., Fasano, A., Miller, G.W. and Miller, A.H., 2019. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature medicine25(12), pp.1822-1832.: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-019-0675-0

“No brainer”, immune-supporting supplements

There are four areas of our lives that are fundamental to overall good health…

1. Diet

2. Exercise

3. Sleep

4. Handling stress

So, I’m sure it’s not a surprise to you that the food you eat every day, the exercise you take, the quality of your sleep and how well you handle your stress are the best ways to support a robust immune response. 

In this short blog, I’ll start the ball rolling to help you. Here are four key nutrients you must get sufficient quantities of, if you want to support a healthy immune response.

Vitamin C

There isn’t a cold remedy on the supermarket shelves that doesn’t have vitamin C in it – we all know it’s important for immune health. And when we are ill, our bodies need considerably more. Studies have shown that people taking 2g (2,000mg) of vitamin C during a cold, shortened the duration of the cold by 21%. Vitamin C also supports better anti-viral responses and helps if you have allergies and asthma. I take 1,000mg each day and increase it if I feel like I’m coming down with something.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in the UK. The lower your level the greater your risk of catching all types of infections. Vitamin D supplementation is safe and protects against upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D also helps with allergies and asthma too. Taking 1,000-2,000 IU per day will help you achieve a goal of 70nmol/l. Under the tongue drops are well absorbed. (You’ll need to do an at-home, finger-prick blood test to know your levels).

Zinc

Zinc is a crucial trace mineral for immune health. Just small deficiencies can increase the risk of infections and pneumonia. Zinc is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial. A meta-analysis (the best type of study there is) showed that sucking zinc lozenges helped people with the common cold recover 3 times faster than those with none. 10-25mg is a suggested daily dose if you are low.

Selenium

Selenium is one of our master antioxidants. Low selenium has been shown to increase susceptibility to viral infections. Supplements of 100-200mcg per day are safe and inexpensive.

Probiotics

Our gut microbiome plays a critical role in regulating our immune system. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter species are key probiotics you want. Look for 50 billion CFU’s. Don’t forget that the more antibiotics you have had and the older you are, the lower will be your numbers of these beneficial microorganisms and the more you’ll need to support your microbiome.

For very well researched, effective immune support, combine the synergistic vitamins C and D, zinc, selenium and probiotics each day.

If I can help you find the right ones for you, or you have any questions, please me know below.

To your best health,

Dawn 🙂

References:

Maggini S, et al. Immune function and micronutrient requirements change over the life course. Nutrients. 2018 Oct 17;10(10):1531.

The microbiome and innate immunity. Nature. 2016 Jul 7;535(7610):65-74.

Gombart AF, et al. A review of micronutrients and the immune system-working in harmony to reduce the risk of infection. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 16;12(1):236.

Ran L, et al. Extra dose of vitamin C based on a daily supplementation shortens the common cold: a meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Jul 5;2018:1837634.

Bergman P, et al. Vitamin D and respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 19;8(6):e65835.

Hemilä H, et al. Zinc acetate lozenges may improve the recovery rate of common cold patients: an individual patient data meta-analysis. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017 Apr 3;4(2):ofx059.

Steinbrenner H, et al. Dietary selenium in adjuvant therapy of viral and bacterial infections. Adv Nutr. 2015 Jan 15;6(1):73-82.

Hao, Q., Dong, B.R. and Wu, T., 2015. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).

Percival SS. Nutrition and immunity: balancing diet and immune function. Nutrition Today. 2011 Jan 1;46(1):12-7.

Be more resilient in uncertain times

It’s thought that 1 in 5 older adults aged 50 and over in the UK are metabolically unhealthy. That means they have high blood sugars, too many unhealthy blood fats, high blood pressure and excess abdominal weight. 

Unless we regularly get them tested, most of us won’t know if our metabolic health markers are rising. That’s why the diseases which result from them are called “silent killers”. Think hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

I suspect that a lot of us already know this. But I want to share something important with you, that you may not know. 

These metabolic health markers are now thought to be associated with chronic low-grade inflammation – driven by the immune system. A lot of recent research now agrees that metabolism and immunity are intertwined. It’s called immunometabolism, meaning the way our metabolism works affects the way our immune system works and vice versa.

The more efficiently your body produces energy from the food you eat, the better your metabolic health and the better your immune system will work. And on the contrary, the more metabolically challenged you are (rising blood sugars, rising blood pressure, rising LDL-cholesterol, rising weight), the more your immune system is challenged. 

And that’s exactly what we’ve heard in the news. Sadly, people who are not metabolically healthy have more serious complications if they contract SARS-CoV-2 (that’s the virus that causes Covid-19).

2 out of 3 Britons are overweight.

A review of almost 90 studies in the journal Vaccine in 2015 showed that those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, don’t produce antibody cells in response to vaccination against infectious diseases such as flu, tetanus and hepatitis because their immune systems are not working properly.

In 2017, The Lancet published a study showing that people whose diets were low in plants, fruits, nuts and seeds were three times more likely to die prematurely than those whose diets were high in those food groups.

Another article out on the 20th May 2020 in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health explains that an adequate supply of a wide range of nutrients is essential to support the immune system to function optimally. 

So, what I hope you’re now thinking is, “I want to improve my metabolic health to help my immune system?”. So how do you do that? Well, it’s by improving your diet and lifestyle.

The answer is quit smoking, minimise drinking, sugary carbohydrates and processed food, eat a nutrient-rich diet high in fruits, vegetables, colourful polyphenols, anti-oxidants, olive oil, nuts, seeds, lean meat and oily fish, take daily exercise, de-stress daily, find time to relax and sleep deeply. 

If you need any help, please let me know. 

Keep safe, keep resilient.

Dawn

References:

Afshin A, Sur PJ, Fay A, Cornaby L, Ferrara G, Salama JS, Mullany EC, Abate KH, Abbafati C, Abebe Z and Afarideh M (2019). Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 393(10184), pp.1958-1972.

Calder PC, (2020). Review: Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and health. 

Jung J, Zeng H and Horng T (2019). Metabolism as a guiding force for immunity. Nature Cell Biology, 21(1), pp.85-93. 

Are you getting your vitamin D?

Hello,

I hope you are well.

Public Health England is recommending that we take Vitamin D supplements during lockdown. Here is the link to the BBC article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52371688

The National Institute of Health has written this full vitamin D factsheet
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Vitamin%20D-HealthProfessional/

But how much should we take? Of course, the answer depends on your current level, which should fall within the acceptable range. The only reliable way to know is to have a blood test for 25-hydroxyVitaminD or 25(OH)D.

Your options are:
1. Ask your GP/Doctor for a test
2. Have the test done privately

If your GP provides a test – keep the results or a copy of them in a place you can find them again to check any changes against.

If you want to have the test done privately you can buy direct from here: www.vitamindtest.org.uk or phone +44 (0)121 507 4278. £29.

Or, contact me and I can order one for you. Cost £25.

Please be aware that you will need to read the test instructions carefully and be prepared to use a safety lancet to prick the end of your finger and gently squeeze some drops of blood out.
I’m happy to help, just let me know.

Keep healthy, keep safe, keep happy,

Dawn

A perfect meal for your immune system

F8748667-33C0-4803-BB58-EDEA7C052FED_1_201_aThis super-easy meal is a must for anybody wanting good immune health. I will give you the recipe first and then the science-bit afterwards.

Firstly, I must give complete credit to Mr Michael Ash, who is one of our guru’s in nutritional gut immune research. He’s one of the experts behind the scenes of the BBC Series “Doctor in the House” presented by GP, Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Michael is an osteopath, Nutritionalist and a faculty member of the Institute of Functional Medicine. This is his recipe and his research, I’m just sharing it with you now, because it’s a perfect time to be eating a bowl of this every day, to support your immune system.

If you’ve read my last blog on phytochemicals, you’ll now know that apples belong to the flavonoid group of phytochemicals. The meal is basically stewed apples with special immune supporting ingredients added. I’ve made a 2-minute video for you on my New Dawn Health Facebook page here.

Ingredients to cook:

  • 6 Bramley cooking apples
  • ½ (120ml) cup of water
  • ½ cup raisins or sultanas
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon

Method

Peel and core the apples and chop into thin slices. Pop them in a saucepan, along with all the other ingredients above and gently cook until the apple pieces are soft. The cinnamon will make it look brown, don’t worry. Once cooked, add these special ingredients to turn it into a perfect immune-supporting meal:

  • A teaspoon of prebiotic larch arabinogalactans (more on this later)
  • A opened capsule of saccharomyces boulardii
  • A capsule or sprinkle of your favourite probiotic supplement
  • A good dollop of live yoghurt (dairy, soy or coconut)
  • Some blueberries and some almonds (skin on)
  • A little Manuka honey, if desired

So what makes the combination of these ingredients into a perfect meal for your immune system?

Apples…

  • have been shown to reduce rhinitis and asthma and act like an anti-histamine to decrease the likelihood of allergic and intolerance reactions
  • are high in polyphenols and antioxidants
  • reduce DNA damage and help your immune cells to mature properly
  • protect your intestine from too much inflammation
  • contain soluble fibre, which we can’t digest, but our beneficial gut bacteria love the fibre. They ferment it in the colon to make butyrate, which in turn strengthens our intestinal barrier and limits the movement of unwanted bacteria into our blood stream
  • support your “good” bacteria, particularly the species Bacteroidetes, which help to keep you at an optimum weight
  • contain pectin which helps to keep your stool soft, yay!

Cinnamon…

  • helps to mature dendritic white blood cells and calm them down a little, so they are less likely to raise the inflammatory alarm
  • reduces your insulin response to the natural sugars in the apples, so this makes this meal good for diabetics and anybody else looking to keep their blood sugar levels steady (that should be all of us!)
  • us anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, cholesterol-lowering, cardiovascular and immune-system supporting – wow!

Live yoghurt…

  • can lower inflammatory cytokine messages and of course contains the beneficial bacteria for our immune system

Blueberries…

  • when combined with yoghurt, have been shown to reduce colitis (inflammation of the colon), in 10 days, impressive!

Larch arabinogalactans…

  • These are “prebiotics”, or food for your beneficial bacteria
  • you can buy it here

Saccharomyces Boulardii…

  • can help with diarrhoea, IBS and inflammation of the colon
  • reduces inflammatory signals, reduces the toxic effects from clostridium difficile infections, reduces helicobacter pylori infections, yeasts and other gut infections
  • improves your immune responses in many ways
  • you can buy it and another good probiotic here

Manuka honey…

  • has been used to help the treatment of antibiotic resistant organisms in the gut, so if you know this may relate to you, please include

Almonds

  • provide protein and beneficial fats to support balanced immune cell behaviour

 

Please enjoy, because now you know why an apple a day really does keep the doctor away!

Phytochemicals are Information

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’ve no doubt heard the quotation from Hippocrates, “food is medicine”.

Yes, food is medicine, but it’s also information. The concept of “food is information” comes from the famous professor of biochemistry, Dr Jeffrey Bland, who is considered by many to be the father of Functional Medicine. It’s this information and the positive influences it can have on your immune system that I want to explore and share with you today.

Put very simply, food sends information signals to your genes. Your cells are continually interacting with the food molecules that come into your body. Certain foods cause a beneficial effect, some are neutral, while others are negative.

So why do you care? I assume, because you want a healthy immune system right now. You want to know what you can do to create more resilience in your immune system.

To that end, I want to introduce you to the information passed onto your genes from phytochemicals. “Phyto” means “plant”, so “phytochemicals” means, “plant chemicals”. Some people call them phytonutrients, just to emphasise their importance. Plants make these chemicals to protect themselves from infection and damage. You could liken them to natural pesticides.

By consuming phytochemicals in our diet, science has shown they have beneficial effects on our health. They act as antioxidants, influence our immune cells and are anti-inflammatory. For example, the phytochemical in black pepper, Peperine, increases white blood cell count and antibody production. Curcumin in turmeric is anti-inflammatory. Allicin is the phytochemical in garlic that gives it its characteristic odour, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Lycopene is the phytochemical in tomatoes (which by the way, is enhanced by cooking the tomatoes) that gives them their red colour, are particularly important for immune health. Research suggests that the phytochemicals in green vegetables ensure that white blood cells in the gut’s intestinal lining work properly. So please enjoy your rocket, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, Pak Choi, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and watercress.

Just be aware that there are many different phytochemical groups and many different chemical compounds within those groups, which can make this whole topic quite confusing. Here are some phytochemical groups that are known to benefit the immune system specifically:

  • Curcumin – Turmeric root and powder
  • Catechins – Green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, berries, cocoa
  • Carotenoids – Sweet potato, bell pepper, carrots, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables
  • Quercetin – Onions, apples, berries, broccoli, citrus,
  • Resveratrol – Grapes, berries, nuts, peanuts

Phytochemicals give plants their deep colours, so as a general rule of thumb, choose the ones with the deepest colour, like blueberries, cranberries, beetroot, sweet potato and ripe tomatoes. Choose every colour of the rainbow, purple, red, orange, yellow, green, tan and white and put two, three or more foods of each colour in your shopping trolley. When you consume these foods you’ll be feeding your beneficial gut bacteria with lots of natural fibre and in turn those bacteria help you extract the phytochemicals from the foods. Nature is so clever!

You’ll be pleased to hear that phytochemicals are anti-ageing too. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found a link between high polyphenol (a phytochemical group) consumption and a 30 percent decrease in mortality in elderly adults.

You’re no doubt thinking, that’s great, but how do I make this work for me? Well firstly you choose the rainbow of coloured fruits and vegetables when you go shopping; secondly you can have my immune-supporting recipe book here and thirdly, if you want personalised menu plans and recipes please contact me at dawn@newdawnhealth.co.uk

To your best health,

Dawn 🙂

References

Brindha, P., 2016. Role of phytochemicals as immunomodulatory agents: A review. International Journal of Green Pharmacy (IJGP)10(1).

Ding, S., Jiang, H. and Fang, J., 2018. Regulation of immune function by polyphenols. Journal of immunology research2018.https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2018/1264074/

Li, Y., Innocentin, S., Withers, D.R., Roberts, N.A., Gallagher, A.R., Grigorieva, E.F., Wilhelm, C. and Veldhoen, M., 2011. Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Cell147(3), pp.629-640.

Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F.

Zamora-Ros, R., Rabassa, M., Cherubini, A., Urpí-Sardà, M., Bandinelli, S., Ferrucci, L. and Andres-Lacueva, C., 2013. High concentrations of a urinary biomarker of polyphenol intake are associated with decreased mortality in older adults. The Journal of nutrition143(9), pp.1445-1450.

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

Screenshot 2019-03-19 at 11.19.43

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.