Are you suffering from fatigue, weight gain, brain problems (like poor attention, memory, anxiety or depression), digestive issues, or recurrent infections?
Today I want to talk to you about one of the amazing metabolic assessments that we offer here at the Duncan Centre, and how science-based personalized nutrition can help with these common complaints.
How do we assess metabolism?
As we are going about our day, breathing, eating, socialising and carrying out our work, our metabolism is the silent hero, guiding thousands of chemical processes in our body, that keep us alive and functioning optimally.
These metabolic processes produce organic acids as by-products, which our body then gets rid of through urine.
And, as it turns out, measuring various organic acid levels in the urine is a really easy and reliable way to check which parts of our metabolism are working, and which parts are broken.
More than that, organic acids can pick up issues which often don’t show up on routine blood testing.
We can find out:
- If our body is getting enough nutrients
- If it’s actually using these nutrients efficiently.
- If we have hidden genetic issues affecting our metabolism and contributing to chronic health problems.
- And we can also see how stress, toxin exposures, diet and exercise choices are affecting our bodies.
Basically organic acids are an essential assessment for most chronic health conditions, and they are also very useful as a yearly wellness check, in preventing illness, because they can pick up on subtle metabolic issues and nutrient deficiencies even before they manifest as disease.
So lets take a quick walk through the test
- On the first page we have fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and energy production
- Then B vitamins and folate
- Levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
- Antioxidant levels and detox pathways
- And finally gastrointestinal markers
I’m going to go through each of these sections very briefly to explain why they are so important for your health.
Fat and carb metabolism & energy production
All the functions in our body need energy and these markers measure how efficient our body is at:
- First breaking down fats and carbs into fatty acids and glucose
- And then using the fatty acids and glucose to make energy inside our mitochondria. This process of energy production involves a series of chemical reactions called the Kreb cycle (which some of you might remember from high school biology).
If our mitochondria are damaged, then the Kreb cycle won’t work properly, and you’re going to have trouble with:
- Fatigue, because 90% of the energy in our body, comes from fats and carbs, via the Kreb cycle (1)
- Insulin resistance, weight gain and cardiovascular disease, because issues with turning fat into energy or with regulating blood glucose, means that the fat stays stored in the body rather than being used for fuel, and obesity is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease (2)(3)(4)(5).
- Cognitive issues (like poor attention and memory); because energy, produced by the mitochondria, is required for synaptic activity (6).
- Anxiety or depression; because carbohydrate metabolism affects the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain (7).
- gastrointestinal issues, because high blood sugar can cause leaky gut (8).
- and immune deficiencies, because high blood sugar also supresses the immune system (9)
Simple supplement fixes for these issues might include carnitine or lipoic acid.
Next we have B vitamins & folate
B vitamins act as co-factors in many of the body’s metabolic processes. They’re an essential part of:
- healthy liver and cardiovascular function
- they are used at many stages in the Kreb cycle, to make energy from fats and carbs.
- And they are also important co-factors in protein metabolism; which supplies the amino acids that are used as building blocks for all the cells in our body.
That explains why B vitamin deficiencies have been linked to such a wide a range of health issues, including:
- Fatigue, weight gain and cardiovascular issues, because of their impact on the Kreb cycle and blood sugar regulation
- Cognitive issues (like poor attention and memory); because B vitamins help drive the Kreb cycle to create energy for synaptic activity
- anxiety or depression; because B vitamins are needed during protein metabolism, breaking down dietary proteins into amino acids, such as Tryptophan which is needed to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, and Tyrosine to make dopamine.
- Gastrointestinal issues; because protein metabolism also supplies the amino acids to make enzymes, like those that help you digest your food properly.
- Immune deficiencies; because amino acids are required to make white blood cells and antibodies.
The simple supplement fix is obviously to give more B vitamins if you have a deficiency.
These are really amazing markers which are an accurate reflection of brain levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline, as well as dopamine and serotonin.
They can show us the effects of stress, diet, toxins and infections on our brain function and can also indicate levels of brain inflammation.
Difficulties with neurotransmitters can impact on:
- Fatigue; for example, the neurotransmitter serotonin controls the manufacture of new mitochondria in our brain, and helps these mitochondria make more energy (10)
- Weight gain; as imbalances in neurotransmitters may lead to certain food cravings (11)
- Anxiety, depression, poor attention or memory; low brain serotonin levels are associated with poor memory and depressed mood (12)
- Gastrointestinal issues; as most of the brain’s serotonin is produced in the gut, low brain levels may reflect low gut levels and low levels of serotonin in the gut are associated with constipation (13)
- Immune response; as dysfunctions in dopamine related systems are frequently associated with immune malfunctions (14)
The simple supplement fix is to give more amino acids, like 5-HTP, Tryptophan or tyrosine, which are the precursors to neurotransmitters.
Antioxidant & detoxification markers
All day long our bodies are under attack from the free radicals produced by the foods we eat, inflammation in our body, infections and toxins in the environment.
If left unchecked, these free radicals can damage our cells, including our brain and mitochondria (the energy factories in our cells).
Our body needs enough antioxidants to fight the free radicals, so that they don’t cause major health issues.
These markers show us:
- how much need there is for antioxidant support in your body
- how much DNA damage is already being caused by oxidative stress.
- And if your body is producing enough glutathione (the most important antioxidant) to protect you from free radicals.
Oxidative stress is a major factor in chronic health conditions, and again symptoms may include:
- Fatigue, weight gain or cardiovascular disease, as free radicals damage the mitochondria and affect the Kreb cycle and blood sugar control (15).
- Anxiety, depression, poor attention or memory, as free radicals damage neurons and affect brain function (16)(17).
- Immune deficiencies; as free radicals damage immune cells (18)
- and gastrointestinal issues; because bacterial imbalances in the gut may be both a cause or a consequence of increased levels of oxidative stress in the Central Nervous System (19)
A simple supplement fix is to give the body more antioxidants (like Vitamin C), and support the body to make more of its own master antioxidant (glutathione), to deal with oxidative stress.
and finally, bacterial markers
These markers show us if our gut bacteria and yeast are out of balance.
Gut imbalances and pathogens can cause a multitude of brain and body symptoms, including:
- Fatigue; the balance of bacteria in the gut may play a role in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome (20)
- Weight gain; gut bacteria influence how we store and burn fat (21)
- Cognitive issues (like poor attention and memory) (22)
- Anxiety and depression; because gut bacteria produce a significant amount of the body’s serotonin and dopamine (23)(24)(25)
- Gastrointestinal and immune issues; because the bacterial balance of the gut has a significant impact on the function of the gut lining, and imbalances may lead to intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Leaky gut in turn can trigger autoimmune responses in individuals with a genetic predisposition. Gut bacterial imbalances can also trigger allergies and food reactions (26)(27)(28)
One simple fix is to give the body more polyphenols, in the form of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as probiotics, to help re-balance bacteria.
You’ll be getting the idea by now that issues in any one of these systems
- Fat and Carb metabolism and energy production
- B vitamins and folate
- Antioxidant and detox pathways
- And Gastrointestinal function
could be responsible for any one of the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- anxiety or depression
- cognitive issues (like poor attention and memory).
- gastrointestinal issues
- and immune deficiencies
Because of the complexity of the human body, its impossible to guess which specific pathways are causing your specific issues, but if you have an unrelenting and unexplained chronic health condition, it’s going to show up somewhere in your organic acids, and targeted supplementation and lifestyle changes could make a world of difference for you.
- Stoker, H. S. (2016). Organic and biological chemistry (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29397391 /
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27749359 /