Simple blood test could help millions of Australians lose weight

“Personal nutrition” follows a promising international study that showed vastly different reactions to the same diet.

The general premise? Standard fitness and nutrition advice doesn’t work for everyone because it’s based on averages. People’s genes, microbiomes, environments and lifestyles differ widely — and so should their diets and exercise habits.

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Research from King’s College, London and Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States supports the idea people’s bodies react differently to different foods, and those reactions can inform dietary choices in a way that minimises disease risk and promotes weight loss.

“Our results surprisingly show that we are all different in our response to such a basic input as food,” said lead researcher on the study and professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College, Professor Tim Spector.

Presented at the American Society of Nutrition and the American Diabetes Association conferences, the study demonstrates how one-size-fits-all dietary guidelines are too simplistic, and a personalised approach to nutrition is likely to provide better long-term health benefits.

A personalised approach to nutrition can be determined by a blood test and provide long-term health benefits and weight loss.Source:News Limited

Involving more than 1000 participants from the US and UK (mostly twins), the study measured how blood levels of markers such as sugar, insulin and fat changed in response to specific meals, along with data on meal timing, sleep, gut bacteria and exercise.

The results reveal a wide variation in blood responses to the same meals, whether they contained carbohydrates or fat. Even identical twins, who share the same genes, had different responses to identical foods.

Brisbane clinical nutritionist Katie King is among those pioneering “personal nutrition” by analysing clients’ blood markers, family history and medical records.

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“The whole concept of personalised nutrition really marries science to diet,” she said.

“At the end of the day, the food that is right for you may be very different than the food that is right for somebody else.”

However, some experts have warned against “overpromising” what personal nutrition can deliver until the science is more developed.

“The consensus is that much research is needed before personalised nutrition can deliver the expected benefits,” the authors — from the US, UK, Spain, Singapore and New Zealand — wrote in the British Medical Journal.

They were especially cautious about suggestions generic information could be used to recommend a specific diet.

“Randomised controlled diets are essential to providing proof of concept and to giving scientific credibility to the concept of personalised nutrition,” the authors said.

The latest trend in nutrition isn’t a fad diet or newly discovered supplement; it’s your DNA.

Unlocking the secrets of one’s genetic code used to be confined to the laboratory, but increasingly, the big business of DNA is now going after your eating habits.

Scientists already know that variations in our genes determine how well our bodies metabolize certain compounds — for example, people with a variation of the CYP1A2 gene metabolize caffeine more slowly, and are at an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension if they drink more than a couple of cups of coffee a day.

Companies now want to take the buzz over DNA testing one step further and market the tests as a way to determine how people’s bodies handle nutrients. And tech firms are stepping up to fill that demand. More and more genetics startups are getting into nutrition, with tests that claim to help people choose the best food to eat to feel good and even lose weight.

Could personalized nutrition help you win the battle of the bulge?

Aug. 25, 201705:40

Genetic testing service 23andMe has genotyped more than 2 million customers to determine ancestry and genetic health risks, and Nutrigenomix offers tests designed to help medical professionals make recommendations for a person’s intake of sodium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, and — yes, caffeine.

Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and the founder of Nutrigenomix, points to research that shows the “one-size-fits-all model of nutritional guidance” is not the most effective way for people to eat healthily or lose weight.

“There’s research now showing that people who get DNA-based dietary advice are more likely to follow recommendations. So not only are people getting more accurate dietary advice, but they are more likely to follow it,” said El-Sohemy.

Disrupting the Diet

Now, there’s a new kid on the block: Oakland-based personalized nutrition company Habit.

“We think we’re going to disrupt the diet industry,” Habit founder and CEO Neil Grimmer told NBC News. “When you think about moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to food to something that’s highly personalized, it changes everything. It changes the way you shop. It changes the way you eat. And quite frankly, it even changes the way you think about your own health and well-being.”

Habit’s home testing kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a special shake. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake.Chiara Sottile

At Habit, it’s not just DNA data they’re using to make diet recommendations. For $299, Habit sends customers an at-home test kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a “metabolic challenge shake” loaded with 950 calories. Users take one blood test prior to drinking the shake, and two more timed blood pricks afterwards. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake.

“You layer in your blood work, your fasting blood work, and you layer in your metabolism, and all of a sudden you have a really clear picture of what’s going on inside yourself,” said Grimmer.

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The Habit test kit also asks you to measure your waist circumference and provide information about your weight and activity level. Users send in the DNA swabs and blood sample testing cards sealed in a pre-paid envelope, and then get their results back a couple weeks later.

Surprising Results

Health-conscious San Francisco resident Michelle Hillier was introduced to Habit through a friend. When she received her test results, she was surprised to learn she is a diet type Habit calls a “Range Seeker” — meaning she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein.

“You hear so much about how you need so much protein, and I’m a pretty active person so I had been really upping my protein. And to find out that I’m supposed to have more carbs than anything else was really surprising to me,” said Hillier, who is not affiliated with the company.

She also learned that she has genes that are impactful for lactose and caffeine sensitivity, something she had suspected. Like all Habit users get for the $299, after she received her test results, Hillier had a 25-minute phone consultation with a registered dietitian from the Habit team.

Michelle Hillier, pictured, learned she is a “Range Seeker,” which means she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein.Chiara Sottile

The Habit test kit is now available nationally (except in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, because of regulatory restrictions). In the San Francisco Bay Area, Habit users get an added perk: the company will cook you fresh meals in their Oakland kitchen based on your diet recommendations and deliver them to your door weekly.

Hillier receives about three dinners a week — costing between $10 and $15 a meal — and she can choose her meals with Habit’s online dashboard.

For Hillier, the Habit meals have been a positive addition to her already healthy lifestyle, though she admits: “The shake was awful,” referring to the metabolic challenge shake. “It was like drinking seven coffees, four avocados, and a scoop of ice cream,” said Hillier with a laugh.

Blood pricks and a “Challenge Shake” that lives up to its name could be barriers for some people but, Hillier says, it was well worth it for her.

“I’ve noticed that my clothes are looser on my body, I feel better. I noticed that I have more energy, honestly, since I started doing the meal plans,” said Hillier in an interview, noting she’s lost about seven pounds since she started receiving the Habit meal plans in May.

Controversial Customization?

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, where they offer DNA testing kits from Nutrigenomix.

“Many of my patients have mentioned to me that it has truly changed the way that they eat. But I don’t think it’s the first step. I think seeing a professional and going over what those important goals and barriers are is definitely what you want to do first,” said Kirkpatrick in an interview with NBC’s Jo Ling Kent.

As some urge potential consumers to do their homework and speak with their own healthcare professional before they take the plunge into their genetics, the market for DNA-based products is racing ahead. Just last month, Helix, a personal genomics company, launched the first online “marketplace.”

Customers who have their genome sequenced with Helix get access to a slew of services from other emerging genomics companies — ranging from Vinome,which aims to pick wine for you based on your genes, to EverlyWell, which offers food sensitivity and metabolism tests.

“People are very interested to go beyond the generalities that they’ve seen and get more specific to what’s actually impacting their genes,” said Kirkpatrick, though she warns this kind of testing “may not be ready for primetime.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees, writing in a 2014 opinion paper that, “…the use of nutrigenetic testing to provide dietary advice is not ready for routine dietetics practice.” In the same paper, the Academy did also characterize nutritional genomics as insightful into how diet and genes impact our phenotypes.

“I don’t think it’s going to answer every single question that you may have about your health and it’s definitely not going to answer things that are very specific to health ailments that you may have,” Kirkpatrick told NBC News.

“Will it put you in the right direction towards knowing what foods you need to increase? What foods perhaps you should have less of and what’s the best source of protein or fat related to weight loss? Absolutely,” Kirkpatrick continued.

An Expanding Market

By 2020, the genomics market is expected to generate a staggering $50 billion globally, and diagnostic tools, health tech, and wireless wearables are expected to boom from $2 billion to $150 billion globally, according to one analysis.

“I think this is the start of a highly personalized future,” said Habit CEO Neil Grimmer. “What we really hope to do is actually dispel a lot of the myths, get rid of the fad diets and actually get something that’s personal to you.”

Michelle Hillier says her Habit “nutrition coach,” a registered dietitian, also advised her that she should consider factors beyond just her test results.

“She said take the results with a grain of salt, because you have to first see how you feel when you eat this way. It’s not meant to be the ‘end all be all,’ but it is a guide like anything else,” said Hillier.

Can a DNA Test Really Pinpoint Your Perfect Diet and Workout? Here’s What Science Says

She says the recommendations through Helix aren’t meant to be a specific plan for execution, but rather a guide: “As we get more insight into the little things that impact us, I think the hope is we’ll be able to see what we can tweak to be happier and healthier.”

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Joann Bodurtha, MD, a professor of pediatrics and oncology at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, adds that diet recommendations based on genetic testing are probably not individualized enough yet to be helpful. For example, she says, “most people will benefit from eating a Mediterranean diet,” and it’s tough to tell if the eating plan benefits those with a certain genetic marker more than than those without the marker.

Yet another caveat to the science behind lifestyle DNA tests: Some of the research used to formulate recommendations was done on very specific populations. Research in Olympic athletes, for instance, suggests that there are genetic characteristics of the muscles that might predispose someone to be a better sprinter than a long-distance runner—but we don’t yet know how those findings apply to those of us with less ambitious fitness goals, Dr. Bodurtha says.

She recommends considering lifestyle DNA tests with “a healthy dose of skepticism,” especially any that offer to tell you exactly what to eat or how to exercise. She’s also concerned that they might serve as a distraction, and lead people to ignore more established markers of poor health. “You don’t want somebody saying, ‘I’m out of breath and my fingers are turning blue, but my DNA test told me I wasn’t likely to have a heart attack.'”

That said, Dr. Bodurtha recognizes that DNA tests are exciting (who isn’t at least a little curious?!­) and that the field is progressing fast. “If they help you exercise more, or be a little more attentive to your diet, they fall into the ‘Do No Harm’ category,” she says.

Bottom line? As long as you know what a company is doing with your genetic information (that means reading the privacy regulations, even though it won’t be fun); you have an easy-to-understand explanation from the company about what your results can and can’t tell you; and you’re ready to face the sometimes surprising results (“You have a half-brother!”), it probably won’t hurt for curious folks to give lifestyle DNA tests a try.

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Have you heard of the blood type diet? I thought it had been debunked long ago but patients keep asking about it, so I figured I should learn more.

What’s the Blood Type Diet?

In 1996 Peter D’Adamo, a naturopathic physician, published a book in which he described how people could be healthier, live longer, and achieve their ideal weight by eating according to their blood type. One’s choice of condiments, spices, and even exercise should depend on one’s blood type. Soon, the book was a best seller and people everywhere were finding out their blood type, revising their grocery lists, and changing how they ate, exercised, and thought about their health.

Here are some of the recommendations according to the “Eat Right for Your Type” diet:

  • Those with type O blood should choose high-protein foods and eat lots of meat, vegetables, fish, and fruit but limit grains, beans, and legumes. To lose weight, seafood, kelp, red meat, broccoli, spinach, and olive oil are best; wheat, corn, and dairy are to be avoided.
  • Those with type A blood should choose fruit, vegetables, tofu, seafood, turkey, and whole grains but avoid meat. For weight loss, seafood, vegetables, pineapple, olive oil, and soy are best; dairy, wheat, corn, and kidney beans should be avoided.
  • Those with type B blood should pick a diverse diet including meat, fruit, dairy, seafood, and grains. To lose weight, type B individuals should choose green vegetables, eggs, liver, and licorice tea but avoid chicken, corn, peanuts, and wheat.
  • Those with type AB blood should eat dairy, tofu, lamb, fish, grains, fruit, and vegetables. For weight loss, tofu, seafood, green vegetables, and kelp are best but chicken, corn, buckwheat, and kidney beans should be avoided.

As mentioned, the recommendations for the blood type diets extend well beyond food choices. For example, people with type O blood are advised to choose high-intensity aerobic exercise and take supplements for their sensitive stomachs, while those with type A blood should choose low-intensity activities and include meditation as part of their routine.

But does eating for your blood type work?

High-quality studies about the blood type diet had not been published in peer-reviewed medical literature. Even now, a search in the medical literature for the author’s name reveals no research pertaining to this diet. Studies published in 2013 and 2014 about the blood type diets are worth noting. The 2013 study analyzed the world’s medical literature and found no studies demonstrating benefit from a blood type diet. The 2014 study found that while people following any of the blood type diets had some improvement in certain cardiometabolic risk factors (such as cholesterol or blood pressure), those improvements were unrelated to blood type.

Does it make any sense?

The theory behind this diet is that blood type is closely tied to our ability to digest certain types of foods, so that the proper diet will improve digestion, help maintain ideal body weight, increase energy levels, and prevent disease, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Type O was said to be the original “ancestral” blood type of the earliest humans who were hunter-gatherers, with diets that were high in animal protein. Group A was said to evolve when humans began to farm and had more vegetarian diets. Group B blood types were said to arise among nomadic tribes who consumed a lot of dairy products. And since Group AB blood was supposed to have evolved from the intermingling of people with types A and B blood, type AB recommendations were intermediate between those for people with types A and B blood.

Each of these theories has been challenged. For example, there is evidence that type A was actually the first blood group to evolve in humans, not type O. In addition, there is no proven connection between blood type and digestion. So, in addition to a lack of evidence that the diet works, serious questions remain about why it should work in the first place.

So, what’s the downside?

It’s a fair question, especially since some improvements were seen in people who adopted certain blood type diets (see link above). Eating based on your blood type requires you to know your blood type and then follow a restrictive diet. Personal preferences might be a problem: a vegetarian with type O blood may struggle to stay on the assigned diet, and people who love red meat may be disappointed to learn they have type A blood. Recommended supplements are not cheap; neither are the recommended organic foods. And if you have certain health conditions, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, a nutritionist can make better evidence-based recommendations for you than those determined by your blood type.

Now what?

Advocates of blood type diets may say that while the ideal study has not yet been performed, the absence of evidence doesn’t prove they’re ineffective. And there’s also no proof that these diets are harmful. So, my guess is that interest in the blood type diets will not disappear any time soon. But there’s a reason that bookstores have rows and rows of books on diet, each claiming to be highly effective if not the best. We simply don’t know which diet is best for each individual person. And even if we did, sticking to any single diet is often challenging.

Stand by — it’s likely you’ll soon be hearing about yet another best diet. And my guess is that it won’t have anything to do with your blood type.

Try This Trend? Blood Testing to Achieve Optimal Health

It’s dinnertime and all you want is a huge bowl of peppermint ice cream. But why? Is it due to PMS, blood sugar swings, food cravings, illness, or perhaps just a susceptibility to crafty advertising? That’s the tricky thing about our bodies-figuring out what is actually going on inside them takes a weird mash-up of science, voodoo, and cosmic luck. One of my greatest fantasies (ready to find out how truly geeky I am?) is to have a computer screen attached to my brain that would tell me exactly what’s going on inside my organs at any given time. While so far that’s not a scientific reality, I did get one step closer to living my dream when I got to try out a new service called Inside Tracker that analyzes your bloodwork and then recommends an optimal nutrition and exercise plan tailored to you.

Professional athletes have been using these types of tests (generally based on blood tests and questionnaires) for a long time, but they’ve recently gained popularity among regular health-conscious people. Some gyms, like Lifetime Fitness, even offer their own in-house version. But what do they offer that your regular doctor can’t? The difference is that your doctor is mostly interested in diagnosing dysfunction in your body, and being “not sick” is not the same as being “healthy.”

Inside Tracker and other types of voluntary testing aren’t for diagnosing disease but rather for helping people achieve optimal health and maximize their athletic potential by showing them how to get critical measurements within “an optimized zone for your special cohort: age, gender, race, performance needs.”

All you have to do is go get your blood drawn at a local lab and within a couple of days, you’ll get your results, along with recommendations about how to improve your numbers. The basic test examines your folic acid, glucose, calcium, magnesium, creatine kinase, vitamin B12, vitamin D, ferritin, total cholesterol, hemoglobin, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. You are then given recommendations on which foods and supplements to include in your diet and which to avoid. The end goal is to help you tweak your diet and exercise routine to get the most out of your performance.

Do these tests work? At the very least they provide you with more information to talk to your doctor about specific health concerns you may have. My results were very interesting, and while my numbers revealed I am very healthy, there were a couple of red flags that popped up. I’m glad I know about them now before they started to cause any illness. Did it make me a better athlete? The jury’s still out on that one!

Interested in trying it yourself? Learn more and sign up on the Inside Tracker website.

  • By Charlotte Andersen

DNA testing won’t guide dieters to the weight-loss regimen most likely to work for them, scientists reported on Tuesday. Despite some earlier studies claiming that genetic variants predict whether someone has a better chance of shedding pounds on a low-carbohydrate or a low-fat diet, and despite a growing industry premised on that notion, the most rigorous study so far found no difference in weight loss between overweight people on diets that “matched” their genotype and those on diets that didn’t.

The findings make it less likely that genetics might explain why only some people manage to lose weight on a low-carb diet like Atkins and why others succeed with a low-fat one (even though the vast majority of dieters don’t keep off whatever pounds they lose). Unlike cancer treatments, diets can’t be matched to genotype, the new study shows.

The results underline “how, for most people, knowing genetic risk information doesn’t have a big impact,” said Timothy Caulfield, of the University of Alberta, a critic of quackery. “We know weight loss is tough and sustained weight loss is even tougher. Genetics are relevant … it seems highly unlikely that providing genetic risk information is going to be the magical formula that is going to fix this complex problem.”

The study, called DIETFITS and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers at Stanford University Medical School, randomly assigned 609 overweight adults, aged 18 to 50, to either a healthy low-fat or healthy low-carb diet. The volunteers got 22 hourlong classes with dietitians on healthy low-fat diets (eat less oils, fatty meats, full-fat dairy, and nuts) or low-carb ones (reduce cereals, grains, rice, starchy vegetables, and legumes), as well as on the dangers of eating mindlessly. Both groups were instructed to eat lots of vegetables and very few foods with added sugars, trans fats, or refined flour.

People were remarkably compliant about following their assigned low-fat or low-carb diet. Halfway through the study, fat consumption was 50 and 87 grams per day, respectively, while carb consumption was 211 and 113 grams per day, a pattern that held for the full 12 months. There was virtually no difference in weight loss between the two groups after 12 months: 11.7 pounds in the low-fat group and 13.2 in the low-carb one, a difference that was not statistically significant or meaningful in real life.

The researchers then analyzed weight loss among people whose DNA “matched” or clashed with their assigned diet. That was based on which variants of three genes—called PPARG, ADRB2, and FABP2, which are involved in processes such as fat and carbohydrate metabolism—they had. Earlier research suggested that these variants could predict who would successfully lose weight on which kind of diet.

Of the 244 people with the low-fat genotype, 130 happened to land in the low-fat diet group, meaning they were on the “right” diet for their DNA. That was the case for 97 of the 180 people with the low-carb genotype. The others were mismatched.

“There was no significant difference in weight change among participants matched vs mismatched to their diet assignment,” the researchers wrote. There was also no DNA/diet interaction for waist circumference, body mass index, or body fat percentage.

“I had this whole rationale for why these three would have an effect,” said Stanford’s Christopher Gardner, co-author of the $8 million study. He previously led a smaller study, in 2010, finding that overweight women whose genotype matched their diet lost 13 pounds in a year while those who were mismatched lost just over 4 pounds. “But let’s cut to the chase: We didn’t replicate that study, we didn’t even come close. This didn’t work.”

One of the companies that sells DNA tests that promise to guide customers to the most-likely-to-succeed diet, Pathway Genomics, did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for another leading DNA/diet company, Habit, said it agrees that DNA alone “isn’t enough to develop personalized dietary recommendations” and that the company therefore factors in blood biomarkers and other information “when making personalized dietary recommendations.” Craig Pickering of DNAFit said that genes besides the three in the Stanford study can contribute to weight loss as well as fat loss and gain, as a small 2007 study found, and that it is “putting the finishing touches” on a study showing that “subjects on a genetically matched diet lost more weight” than did those on a one-size-fits-all low-carb diet.

Gardner’s own 2010 study, of 140 overweight women divided into various DNA and diet types, reached the same conclusion. Those on genetically matched diets seemed to do better. But that apparently reflected extreme outliers. For instance, a few women whose DNA matched their diet and were fanatic about calorie-counts and exercise shed pounds, making the matched group look great. Similarly, a few women whose DNA did not “match” went through a divorce or other upheaval, ate for emotional comfort, gained weight, and made the mismatched group look terrible—a reminder that so many emotional, economic, metabolic, social, and other forces affect someone’s chance of losing weight that the effect of genes gets lost in the noise.

“It just looked so cool back then,” said Gardner. “We were so excited and thought this would work. It’s humbling, and just underlines the importance of replication” of tantalizing preliminary findings with larger, more rigorous studies.

Republished with permission from STAT. This article originally appeared on February 20, 2017

I Tried DNA Testing to Lose Weight And the Results Blew My Mind

To some extent, everyone knows what you need to do to lose weight: diet and exercise. But when it comes to which diet to choose, and what precisely to eat, opinions are much more divided. Should you go vegan or paleo? Should you count calories or macros? Are carbs your friends or are they the enemy? Should you eat fish because it helps you sleep or avoid it because of the mercury? Does drinking a glass of red wine actually help you drop a few pounds? What, exactly, is “good fat”?

As someone who wants to have a perfect BMI but tends to gain weight very easily, I’ve always kept abreast of diet trends. I did Weight-Watchers in high school, back when you actually had to lug a heavy book around to figure out how many points a slice of watermelon was (kids today, with their apps, don’t know how good they have it). I went vegetarian in my hippy university years, as a result of which I didn’t have my period for 6 months. I’ve tried Atkins and keto and clean eating and pretty much everything in the book, and found that diets that others swore by just made me feel hungry or sick.

Furthermore, I found that my weight gain moved in mysterious ways. I could go to Russia (where I’m from originally) and wolf down everything in my grandmother’s country house and slim down without even trying. At the same time, I could go to the Deep South in America and only eat salads and still gain 10 pounds. What gives?

I decided that I no longer believed in the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” diet. After all, we have different genes that play a major role in our health, surely that means they also affect how we metabolize food? Was this why my mother, who is anemic, claims she gets dizzy spells without red meat? Is it why Italians seem to be able to eat all the pasta they want while maintaining a fabulous physique? Does it all just come down to genes?

If so, then getting a genetic test to figure out precisely what I did and didn’t metabolize would be the key to attaining my wellness goals. So read on to discover what I learned—and how DNA testing for weight loss changed my life and physique. And if you’re looking to drop weight yourself, know these 10 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds Fast.

1 What Is a DNA Test for Weight Loss and Nutrition?

I first heard about doing a genetic test for nutrition from a friend of mine. There are a lot of companies in this emerging field, the most popular ones being DNAFit and Nutrigenomix. For $300 and up, these companies will send you a DNA kit with a q-tip, which you use to swap the inside of your cheek for saliva, and send that back to the lab for testing. The company then analyzes these results, and reports back with a comprehensive analysis on how your body breaks down certain foods, so that you can craft a personalized eating plan. And to learn more about how your genes dictate your life, here are The Personality Traits That Will Extend Your Life.

2 The Benefit of a Nutritionist

One of the problems with our approach to diet is that we think of it only through the prism of weight loss, as opposed to overall health. What you eat affects everything: your skin, hair, energy levels, sleep quality, and so forth. If there’s one thing that any healthy eating documentary teaches you, it’s that changing your diet in a minor way can get rid of seemingly incurable illnesses, mysterious aches and pains, and can even abate anxiety and depression (not to mention help you live longer).

Testing your DNA to create a diet tailored specifically to you has become more popular in recent years, but, like anything new, the science on it is still shaky. From what I could tell by reading personal testimonies of the at-home kits, their results weren’t very specific either. As such, I decided to skip the straight-to-consumer kit and go with the more expensive version: getting a nutritionist recommended by a friend, who suggested the test not because she wanted to lose weight, but because figuring out what she needed to cut out of her diet absolved her of the yeast infections with which she’d been plagued for years.

So I visited Marina Rozenshtein, a NYC-based nutritionist at ImmuPrint Medical, who came very highly recommended, and had an impressive roster of high-profile clients. She gave me her own explanation of the benefit of getting a nutritionist.

“The test is for IgG concentration of specific antibodies and it requires specific and in depth knowledge for proper/useful interpretation.Which in turn, allows for an appropriate programmer to be generated for each individual client.” she said. “Raw laboratory data that is possible to obtain through and nutritionist or a doctor, is not useful without interpretation. It is particularly difficult to find a lab which provides consistent/reproducible data. Without accurate results, the interpretation is skewed and therefore useless.”

All I had to do was prick my finger and press it down on a few circles drawn on a small piece of paper to let them absorb the blood. She took care of the rest. I paid her $800, which included the consultation, the lab fee for the data, and the personalized eating plan she would give me once she analyzed the results.

In addition, I could text and call her for advice any time for the next year, for no additional fee. This really came in handy in the coming weeks as I had to recalibrate what I considered healthy. For example, I sent her a photo of the ingredients in a bunch of vegan sausages I was convinced were healthy, and she opened my eyes to the fact that they were not because they were packed with sugar and other ingredients that made them addictive (“Eat real food,” she wrote back). She even asked me to send her photos of my, erm, waste, to see if I managed to change my gut flora. I settled for an evocative description. And for more great tips, check out these 50 Genius Weight-Loss Motivation Tricks.

3 The Personalized Eating Plan

Apparently, my body didn’t really like caffeine or chocolate, which immediately explained why I feel nauseated after more than one cup of coffee and have a disconcerting lack of feelings about chocolate cake. I wasn’t great with dairy either, which made sense because I didn’t like it that much anyway.

The big “reveal” was that I was basically intolerant to yeast. Now, initially, I found that result a bit anti-climactic. When I think of “yeast” I think of bread, and I’ve long known that baked goods or baguettes make my stomach feel like a bag of jagged rocks, and have as such avoided them.

But it turns out (and this is where it helps to have a professional), yeast is present in a lot of things. Most notably, anything fermented contains yeast, including vinegar and soy sauce, and, yep, alcohol. Furthermore, sugar feeds yeast, which totally explains why drinking a sweet cocktail or eating a cupcake with a glass of wine never fails to make me feel sick.

To purge my body of the yeast it had accumulated over the years, she set me on a strict anti-yeast cleanse, or what’s officially called an “anti-candida diet.”

4 The Russian Peasant Diet

Doing a yeast-cleanse didn’t just involve avoiding yeast, like alcohol and grains. It also meant cutting out food that feeds yeast, like sugar, which meant no fruit (a revelation to me, who had grown up with the conviction that fruit is always healthy). It also meant no dairy or starchy food, like potatoes, tomatoes, beets and carrots (again, carrots?! My mind was blown).

Then she gave me a list of things that I should eat. I was happy to find that my body was my friend in that a lot of it was food I already really liked: kale, chickpeas, turmeric, curry powder, garlic, red pepper chili, ginger, seafood, red meat, zucchini, tahini, and non-starchy vegetables.

In what I thought was an interesting turn, a lot of the stuff that she told me to eat–sauerkraut, dill pickles, goat milk, buckwheat, and, “forest berries” (redcurrant, wild sea buckthorn)–were things that I ate in the Russian countryside, aka the things that my ancestors had eaten for centuries. As a result, I jokingly began to refer to it as the “Russian Peasant Diet.”

Guess that whole genetics theory panned out.

In order to reduce my excess stomach acid, which can cause a variety of health problems, I also had to cut out caffeine. Now, I would be lying if I said I managed to 100% adhere to this extremely limited diet, but the good news is that, I didn’t have to. And if you’re looking for tips to boost your willpower, don’t miss the 40 Best Ways to Keep New Habits.

5 The Results

By exercising regularly, and overhauling my diet in a big way to eat food that was uniquely beneficial to me, I saw major results just a few weeks in. I not only lost 10 pounds, but I lost it in the right places. I realized that a lot of what I thought was “belly fat” was just intense bloating from eating food that inflamed my tummy. My skin looked great and I had way more energy. Everyone who saw me told me I “glowed.” And a lot of minor bodily issues that had always plagued me–irregular periods, itchy skin, intermittent nausea–disappeared.

I also got really into cooking, in part because the vinegar ban meant I had to make all of my own salad dressing. Some of my current specialties are: kale and chickpeas in a homemade tahini dressing, vegetable Thai curry, and zoodles with homemade, vegan kale pesto. I also found out it’s pretty easy to make your own sauerkraut, and going at the shredded cabbage with a mallet to get it to ferment in its own juices is a great way to release your rage.

Even though I fall off of the wagon sometimes (especially when I go to Italy), trying DNA testing for weight loss taught me exactly what food to avoid and what to embrace to help me achieve my best body and feel great. And that’s a real game-changer.

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University Johns Hopkins University

Analyzing metabolites in a blood sample can reveal if you’re following your prescribed diet or cheating, researchers report.

Clinical trials are often plagued by participants’ poor adherence to assigned diets, which can make it difficult to detect the diets’ true effectiveness. The new approach, described in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, could provide an objective and relatively easy-to-obtain measure of dietary adherence, greatly reducing uncertainty in dietary intake estimates.

“One day, clinicians might use these markers to monitor what their patients eat…”

Scientists demonstrated the approach by showing that the blood levels of dozens of metabolites differed significantly between treatment and control groups in a clinical trial of the DASH diet, a treatment for high blood pressure. The diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables and restricts red meat, sodium, and sweets.

“One day, clinicians might use these markers to monitor what their patients eat,” says study lead author Casey M. Rebholz, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. The strategy used with DASH can determine patient adherence to other diets, she says.

“This approach certainly could be adapted for other dietary patterns, and I hope it will be,” she says.

Scientists and doctors traditionally assess dietary adherence in clinical trials and ordinary clinical practice by asking participants to keep track of what they eat. Human nature being what it is, however, self-reports are not always accurate.

Some researchers have sought an objective measure of dietary adherence by testing urine, but collecting samples is burdensome, and urine analysis covers a very limited set of nutrients.

Rebholz and colleagues decided to evaluate a potentially more informative and patient-friendly method based on blood samples. They demonstrated their approach using frozen stored blood samples drawn from participants during the landmark 1997 study of the DASH diet. That study found that DASH, compared with a control diet reflective of what the average American eats, significantly reduced blood pressure.

The trial design, in which participants were provided with all study meals, ensured that dietary adherence was measured accurately—meaning that the trial data could be used later to test new measures such as blood metabolites.

The scientists analyzed blood from 329 DASH trial participants for levels of metabolites—lipids, amino acids, and other small-molecule byproducts of the body’s biochemical activity. Using an advanced “untargeted metabolomics” approach, in which they looked at all known metabolites, the researchers found 97 whose levels differed significantly between the DASH diet participants and the control group.

“There was a clear differentiation in metabolite profiles between the DASH diet and the control diet,” Rebholz says.

The researchers also identified 67 metabolites whose average levels differed significantly between the DASH group and a third study arm, the “fruits and vegetables” group. The latter was assigned to eat a diet richer than average in fruit and vegetables but not as rich in low-fat dairy as the DASH diet.

Blood test screens for 8 common kinds of cancer

Rebholz and colleagues found evidence that for each dietary comparison a set of 10 metabolites with the sharpest diet-related differences was sufficient to distinguish the two groups.

“We don’t think a single metabolite will be enough to detect a dietary pattern,” Rebholz says. “It really needs to be a combination of metabolites.”

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences paid for the study.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

When you look in the mirror, do you see a body that suggests you’re healthy or unhealthy? Do you look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I’m at least in better shape than…” Do you look in the mirror and convince yourself you’re healthier than ever? Do you totally avoid the mirror, hoping that if you don’t look into it, you won’t have to admit you need to take better care of yourself?

We often identify the “healthiness” of our bodies by how we look in the mirror. But whether your body looks the way you want or not, the mirror is a poor way to measure your health.

As a fitness professional, I couldn’t imagine working with someone who didn’t start with a comprehensive blood test panel. There are just too many things that can go awry with one’s metabolism to not check it out at the beginning of a fitness program.

To prove the point, we randomly grabbed the lab data from 430 people who completed our Longevity & Vitality Premium lab test.

Of the 430 people, 163 (38%) were male and 267 (62%) were female.

While I expected to see a convincing percentage of the people with some concerns, I was really surprised at how many had issues you might not expect in an exercising, proactive group of fitness club members.

I look at the results of the testing and am even more convinced of the importance of comprehensive lab testing as a part of any health and fitness program.

Whether you get such testing done through your doctor or order it directly through your fitness professional, as we offer at Life Time, the key thing is just to get the lab testing done.

Lab Testing Results Summary

The following table displays some of the markers tested in the Longevity & Vitality Premium lab test panels. For each marker, you’ll see the percentage of the total group (T), percentage of males (M) and percentage of females (F) who fell into each risk category. The reference ranges used are included in the references section.

Below the table, I’ve shared some interesting insights from the results. These insights highlight some of the reasons basic lab testing may not be sufficient to identify health issues people face. It also reinforces the need for even “health-conscious” people to get their lab work done periodically.

Low Risk (%) Moderate Risk (%) High Risk (%)
T M F T M F T M F
LDL-C 75 67 79 19 23 17 6 10 3
LDL-P 18 7 25 46 43 48 36 50 27
Triglycerides 31 21 38 51 58 46 18 21 16
Glucose 78 71 83 12 15 9 10 14 8
HbA1c 6 4 8 64 64 64 30 32 28
Insulin 49 44 51 43 48 50 8 8 9
C-Reactive Protein 46 49 44 29 33 27 25 18 29
Homocysteine 30 16 39 66 78 58 4 6 3
Vitamin D 3 2 3 48 46 48 49 52 49
DHEA 3 4 3 95 94 95 2 2 2
TSH 37 38 36 41 39 42 22 23 22
Free T3 50 71 38 45 27 56 5 2 6
Free T4 85 87 84 13 12 13 2 1 3
Normal Range (%) Out of Range (%)
LH 58 82 43 42 18 57
Estrone 60 66 57 40 34 43
Free Testosterone 63 37
Ferritin 68 37 87 32 63 13

LDL particle numbers can be more valuable than LDL cholesterol measures

You are probably familiar with standard cholesterol testing – total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, etc. While the testing is inexpensive and easy to administer, it doesn’t tell the whole story of one’s lipid-related cardiovascular risk.LDL Particle Numbers Can Be More Valuable Than LDL Cholesterol Measures

The difference comes in measuring LDL cholesterol, and actual LDL particles. Low-density lipoproteins carry cholesterol around in the blood. We can measure the amount of cholesterol that’s being carried, or we can measure the number of particles carrying the cholesterol.

To understand the difference, consider this example using cars on a freeway:

Our goal is to control congestion on the freeway. The more congestion there is, the more likely it is that there will be accidents (in the cardiovascular system, the more particles there are, the more likely it is there will be plaque development).

If there are 1000 cars on the road (LDL particles), and each car has four people in it (cholesterol), there will be 4000 people on the road. The count of people on the road is similar to the measure of LDL cholesterol. We know there are a lot of people, but if they’re all carpooling, it may not be much of a problem. But if we only count people on the road, we may overlook the more important risk of congestion on the freeway. If we assume that there are always four people to a car, we’ll make bad decisions about the risk of traffic congestion. So we need to count the cars on the road.

If we find there are 4000 cars on the road, we know there will be a greater risk of traffic congestion. If we count the number of LDL particles, we get a sense for the risk of some of those particles finding their way into the walls of vessels and causing plaque development.

The more particles there are, the greater the chance of plaque development.

NMR testing is a specific form of blood lipid testing that counts the number of LDL particles. We began offering this test a few years ago, as part of the Longevity & Vitality testing as well as our Cardio Metabolic Risk test.

In many cases, cholesterol levels and particle number go up or down together. In these cases, standard cholesterol testing works well.

Some people have elevated cholesterol, but low LDL particle counts. In these cases, people may be told they have an elevated cardiovascular disease risk when they really don’t.

And in still other cases, people may have low cholesterol levels, but elevated LDL particle numbers. For these individuals, standard cholesterol testing suggest they are at a low risk of cardiovascular disease, when they actually have an increased risk.

To be clear, this is still just one risk factor. Good healthcare practitioners always look at particle numbers, triglycerides, blood sugar measures, inflammation, iron and other risk factors before making a quick decision. One elevated risk factor by itself doesn’t suggest someone is at serious risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the population we reviewed from the Life Time membership base, we saw that half of men and more than one in four women were in the “high risk” category for LDL particle counts. Only 25% of women and 7% of men were in the low risk category.

In general, measuring LDL-C made the population appear to be at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than then LDL-P was measured. As you can see, triglycerides were also a greater concern than LDL-C as well.

Good fasting glucose levels can be misleading

Fasting glucose is measured almost anytime you have blood drawn. Proper blood sugar management is really important, but fasting blood glucose levels aren’t a great indictor of one’s ability to manage blood sugar. It’s a decent first step, but other related testing provides more accurate indication of blood sugar management.

Fasting blood sugar levels can change dramatically, within hours. Most people, even those with insulin resistance, show relatively normal blood sugar levels after an overnight fast.

Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and insulin tell a more powerful story of blood sugar regulation.

From the group of 430 people, we saw that almost 80% of people tested had optimal fasting glucose levels, but more than 93% had elevated HbA1c and over half had elevated insulin levels.

Fasting blood sugar measures sugar concentration in the blood after an overnight fast. It is highly variable, and can be lowered easily by refraining from carbohydrates for several hours, such as during sleep.

Glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1c, identifies average blood sugar levels over the previous 2-3 months. The more sugar you eat, the more of it that sticks to the hemoglobin. This is called glycation. A higher percentage of glycated hemoglobin suggests that carbohydrate or blood sugar levels have been consistently elevated. You can’t fool this test as easily as you can the fasting blood sugar test.

Insulin levels rise when the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin. When blood sugar levels are consistently high, the body releases insulin to help remove the excess sugar from the blood. Over time, if blood sugar levels are consistently high, the cells respond less effectively to insulin. This is a warning sign of developing insulin resistance, which precedes type II diabetes.

Again, when you look at the numbers, the majority of people would have thought they were fine by looking at fasting glucose alone.

The majority of people were not fine when looking at HbA1c and half of them had elevated insulin.

This is pretty serious, as blood sugar problems are not only tied to obesity and diabetes, but are also associated with cognitive problems, certain cancers and other health problems.

Is it possible these people were just beginning their health and fitness journey, and these numbers are based on poor dietary choices in the past? Possibly.

Is it also possible that these individuals exercise regularly, but eat an excessively high-carbohydrate diet? Yes.

Chronic inflammation is more common than we thought

Chronic inflammation is considered to be one of the driving factors in development of cardiovascular disease. It may also play a role in negatively impacting immune function, recovery from exercise and could lead to other degenerative diseases.

C-reactive protein and homocysteine are the two most common markers for testing inflammation in the body.

Again, when we look at a group of health club members, we’d expect to see more moderate levels of inflammation. Once again, it was a surprise to see that less than half of the population had optimal C-reactive protein levels and less than one-third had optimal homocysteine levels.

One marker alone shouldn’t be viewed as a major threat to one’s health, but high inflammatory markers plus high cholesterol or LDL-particles could become warning signs. There was not a significant difference between men and women, either.

Although it is not necessarily an inflammatory marker, a high level of ferritin is also a major cardiovascular risk factor. Pre-menopausal women are far less likely to have elevated ferritin, as blood loss during their period helps keep ferritin levels in check.

As you can see, almost two out of three males had high ferritin levels. Donating blood every 2-3 months is the easiest way to help maintain healthy ferritin levels.

Suboptimal vitamin D in 97% of people

The results from the vitamin D testing were not surprising to me. What is surprising is the number of people I talk to who don’t get their vitamin D levels tested and who don’t supplement with vitamin D.

Only 3% of the group had optimal vitamin D levels!

Vitamin D really isn’t a vitamin at all. It is a hormone, or pre-hormone.

Vitamin D is critical in hundreds of different pathways in the body. Low vitamin D levels are associated with metabolic syndrome, elevated cholesterol, sarcopenia, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and many other conditions.

Vitamin D is also critical for bone health and seems to play a role in muscle size and function. Because it may influence muscle function, it also seems to play a role in improving insulin sensitivity.

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone precursor to the body’s sex hormones. It was fascinating to see that most people were outside the ideal range for DHEA.

Elevated DHEA can occur from supplementing with DHEA itself. It can also be elevated in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Because DHEA affects androgenic hormones, the high DHEA could lead to undesirably high levels of testosterone in women.

Low DHEA occurs as a response of chronically high levels of stress and adrenal dysfunction. In this case, those who seem to do everything right with exercise and nutrition, but are constantly exhausted from stress find it difficult to recover. If DHEA is low, it will make it impossible to manufacture testosterone, which is necessary for recovery.

Measuring DHEA alone is not as valuable as assessing it in combination with sex hormones and cortisol, which are included in Longevity & Vitality tests as well as the sex hormone tests we offer.

TSH in Men and Women

Thyroid dysfunction occurs in women at a rate of about three times that of men. But that doesn’t mean men should overlook the significance of thyroid function. In the group we reviewed, the rate of abnormal TSH levels was similar in both men and women. There was a greater difference in abnormal Free T3 levels.

Subclinical hypothyroidism may lead to elevated cholesterol levels, LDL particle numbers and increased cardiovascular disease risk.

Low thyroid levels have a significant effect on metabolic rate as well.

Low thyroid levels limit a process called mitochondrial biogenesis. Basically, when thyroid levels are low, the body can’t develop mitochondria in the muscle cells. This makes fat burning more difficult, and limits one’s endurance performance.

Those with low thyroid will find it difficult to improve their running, cycling or other endurance performance levels.

In addition, low thyroid levels make it difficult to buffer acid levels in muscle tissue and produce ATP. As a result, strength improvements are limited as well.

Those with low thyroid may try as hard as anyone else while exercising, but see a fraction of the progress, which can be mentally difficult.

Summary

One could argue that 430 people is a relatively small population. I agree. But if you were one of the 430, wouldn’t you want to know if you had some stuff to work on?

These were just some of the markers measured in our lab testing. There were a number of others that were out of range in a large portion of the population as well.

The key point is that no one should assume he or she is healthy by how they look or feel. Comprehensive blood testing tells the truth of what’s going on inside.

Don’t make assumptions about your health when you have the opportunity to know for sure. Talk to your doctor about a complete lab assessment or order the testing through your Life Time Fitness Professional. You can even use your Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account.

Read more about what’s included in the lab test options.

Thanks for reading. If you learned something new, please share the post on your favorite social media network.

Are you confused about what you should to to maximize your health and fitness program? Learn about what makes Life Time Training’s approach so effective.

Park S, Ham JO, Lee BK. A positive association of vitamin D deficiency and sarcopenia in 50 year old women, but not men

Weyland PG, Grant WB, Howie-Esqivel J. Does Sufficient Evidence Exist to Support a Causal Association between Vitamin D Status and Cardiovascular Disease Risk? An Assessment Using Hill’s Criteria for Causality. Nutrients. 2014;6:3403-3430

University of Exeter. Link between vitamin D, dementia risk confirmed. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 August 2014 www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140806161659.htm

Kottler ML. Is Vitamin D a Key Factor in Muscle Health? Endocrinology. 2013;154(11):3963-3964

Wang J, Ma X, Qu S, et al. High prevalence of subclinical thyroid dysfunction and the relationship between thyrotropin levels and cardiovascular risk factors in residents of the coastal area of China. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2013;18(1):e16-e20

A:

First, let’s look at what metabolic testing is. When you get a metabolic test, you’ll often be tested for two different things: your VO2 max and resting metabolic rate.

A VO2 max test finds the body’s maximum ability to consume oxygen, an indication of physical fitness. Alone, that number may not mean much to anybody other than athletes looking for bragging rights amongst their buddies. (In 2005, Lance Armstrong reportedly had a VO2 max of 85, one of the highest ever recorded.) But from that number, testing centers can estimate your lactate threshold—the point at which muscle fatigue sets in, forcing you to slow down—determine personalized heart rate training zones, and tell you how many and what type of calories, carbs or fat, you’re burning within those zones.

The resting metabolic rate test determines how many calories your body burns at rest, which will help you decide how many calories you need to eat every day to lose, maintain, or gain weight.

Each of these tests can run anywhere between $100 and $250, depending on where they’re done. The catch is that neither of these tests is typically a one-time deal. As you train, your VO2 max and resting metabolic rate can change, altering your training zones and caloric needs, respectively.

So do you need to shell out $100 or more per month for up-to-date metabolic data? Matt Dixon, owner of Purplepatch Fitness and coach to several of today’s top triathletes, doesn’t think so.

“The problem with lab testing is you get a single snapshot on one particular day, then extrapolate that information out for many weeks of training,” says Dixon. While an initial VO2 max test can provide a good baseline, he says, subsequent testing to determine appropriate heart rate zones can be done for free in a field test.

Cyclists, for example, can record their heart rate during a one-hour time trial, while runners can gather heart rate data from a 5 or 10K. Your average heart rate throughout those intense workouts corresponds approximately to your lactate threshold, from which you can determine appropriate heart rate training zones, no expensive retests necessary.

As for your resting metabolic rate, a retest is really only needed if you find yourself struggling to maintain your ideal weight.

Need help mapping your heart rate zones once you’ve found your lactate threshold? Try entering your lactate threshold into this calculator.

Blood test for diet type

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