As long as we’ve cared to remember, nutritional recommendations have been ubiquitously applied to the population as a whole. A perfect example of this is the role the government takes in providing dietary guidance.
To a certain extent we need some sort of guidance, especially given the back seat that nutrition has taken in many of our lives, as our world becomes increasingly globalised. If it weren’t for basic government guidelines like 5 a day, Dietary Reference Values (DRV’s) and the Eatwell plate – many of us may know even less about nutrition than we do today.
However, regardless of public health authorities best efforts to provide blanket recommendations for our population, we still face increasing incidence of chronic disease at an alarming rate.
15 million people in the UK have a chronic health condition, and 117 million people in the US have one or more chronic health condition(s). Thats nearly half the population!
You could argue that part of this problem is due to the rate at which we as a population comply with said recommendations. But, you could also challenge the efficacy of a one size fits all approach for individuals who vary in size, ethnicity, stage of life, age, weight, ancestry, genetic blueprint and their surrounding environments.
Don’t you think the huge variance in factors that influence our health as individuals effect the recommendations we should be receiving?
I certainly do, and I’ll tell you why.
There’s No One Quite Like You
Ever heard of a concept called Biochemical Individuality?
Dr Roger Williams was a biochemist that coined this term in the 1950’s; as he came to understand that besides the 99% of genetic information we share, that remaining 1% accounts for vast differences in your health as an individual.
Its not so strange this idea, that we are biochemically unique. Despite the fact that we share the same physiology, and have the same pathways by which our bodies communicate and operate – the activity which they function under is be subject to great fluctuation.
Take for example the rate at which neurotransmitters like Serotonin are synthesised and degraded. This is under enzymatic control, and requires the presence and activity of various nutrients which act as cofactors driving the process.
The presence and activity of the substrates, enzymes and cofactors that govern this process all influence the rate at which it occurs. You make Serotonin from the amino acid Tryptophan, so already the foods you eat as well as how you absorb them already create some variance. You also need Iron and B1 as co-factors, which will be available to us in differing amounts.
There are many things which can influence the presence and activity of the above, and they vary for each and every one of us.
You may have heard of ‘Snips’ or SNP’s – these are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (variances/mutations) in a gene which code a specific function. SNP’s alter the way an expected genes function plays out, therefore influencing the way a process like the above occurs.
Thats just one pathway in over thousands (that we know about), and there are many snips, which differ amongst all of us.
This, my dear friends is a result of your genome and the dance it does with the world around you – your environment.
Your Environment Shapes Your Health
Your environment instructs very specific changes amongst your genome. This conductor of gene expression is known as your epigenome.
And folks, last time I checked we all live very different lifestyles, none of which are the same. We are all giving our genes very different instructions.
You could think of your genes as a set of instructions, and your environment directly influences how those instructions are read (epigenome). Therefore, based on how each of us are living, our physiology and biochemistry is going to vary between you, me and the next person. Your specific instructions and the way they are read dictate the structure and function of your proteins, cells and body.
Its for this reason that no 1 diet – no specific amount of Fat, Vitamin C, Sunlight or Magnesium is going to be adequate, much less optimal for all of us.
The way your body breaks down, absorbs, processes, stores and uses nutrients is subject to great variation based on the factors we initially outlined. These things go on to influence your current nutritional status, and will continue to shape it in a dynamic and unique way.
Someone who is stressed may require a greater amount of protein to maintain nitrogen balance. Another person managing an infection may need higher doses of dietary and supplemental zinc.
The next person may need more selenium and iodine to kick up their thyroid function.
Even if its not a clinical condition; someone with subclinical depression may need greater dietary and supplementary B Vitamins to Improve cognition and mood.
Its for this reason that one size fits all approaches to health and wellbeing are useless for the majority of us.
So what can you do about it?
There are several levels which you can address this from, each varying in cost, complexity and convenience.
An emerging approach is that of nutrigenomics – assessing the suitability of your nutritional plan based on your genetic and biochemical blueprints.
You can have a genetic report taken with 23 & Me, and then have your Raw data analysed through a 3rd party application, like Promethease or Dr Rhonda Patricks Gene Analysis tool. This will tell you what SNP’s you have and may help inform of your increased/decreased needs for given nutrients as a result. However, be wary about acting on this data alone, as its not an accurate diagnosis for the potential conditions, and how your genome may actually express.
You can have a crack at interpreting your outcomes. If thats a stretch, find a practitioner who will interpret this data for you, and can advise on any action you can take (if any) to offset any notable SNP’s.
Good Old Intuition
A more cost effective way of doing this is by the scientific method itself – trial and error. This is a personal favourite of mine because if necessitates the use of, and trains your awareness of intuition. The suitability of specific nutrition, certain foods and ways of eating based on how you feel.
The use of tracking is essential with this method, as you track markers of how you feel and operate on a periodic basis – daily if you like:
As a basic method, you can score these things on a scale of 1 -10. You might like to use more sophisticated methods of tracking for things like sleep, training, recovery, and memory.
Sleep cycle, HRV for training, Lumosity.
If you suffer from subclinical health issues like low mood, fatigue, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, poor memory, bad sleep, digestive issues, anxiety and soreness then you can do some tinkering with you diet. Not just by adopting one of the many suggested mainstream diets, but also by crafting your own.
Part of trial and error might be going vegetarian for you, Paleo, Ketogenic or macrobiotic. Then you can refine from there.
if you want to be more specific, you can start by using a modified elimination protocol, and strip your diet down to its bare bones, and test how certain foods affect how you feel in terms of the markers listed above. Based on these, and continual tracking and tuning into how your body feels in response to certain foods – you can put together your own diet. Your diet should be a reflection of where you are currently at in terms of your health and stage of life. Your needs may change over time – they are dynamic.
You can also use functional tests, and assessments of nutritional status to gauge your nutrient requirements and inform your dietary choices.
Find a practitioner who is trained to administer and interpret functional tests. A few great examples are an organic acids test, gut microbiome analysis and stress analysis. These are a few great tests which can help inform your nutrient intake based on how the systems in your body are currently working, and how you can support their optimal function.
I can help you interpret your nutritional status and requirements with tracking and refining your diet based on trial and error, and tuning into your intuition. The scientific literature still backs this as a gold standard approach to dealing with food intolerances and sensitivities, and their associated symptoms – fatigue, anxiety, bloating, brain fog, poor memory etc.
We are in a time where health need not just be adequate, but optimal – and we can achieve this by using a systems biology approach – one that integrates biomarkers with technological precision to help us fine tune intricate accepts of our health. Todays recommendations are based on the average, which ends up helping very few people.
By trying to help everyone, they help no-one.