If someone told you that you own a unique type of metabolism that is designed to thrive on particular foods and macronutrient ratios, how would you react?
Would you be shocked?
Have you ever wondered why no one diet works for everyone?
How do some people get healthy and lose weight on a low-carb/ketogenic diet, while others thrive on a high-carb/vegetarian diet, or everything in between?
Is there a possibility that every body is genetically designed to process specific macronutrients, micronutrients and their ratios in slightly different ways?
The answer is yes, and the proof of it may be witnessed in the diverse array of diets humans have used to thrive throughout millennia.
The Complexity of Nutrition
If you’ve been following the natural health movement for some time now, you have probably witnessed the dramatic changes happening in the world of nutrition.
Different kinds of ‘innovative’ diets promising to help people lose weight, gain muscle, reverse disease, and improve longevity, come and go, baffling the public and creating massive amounts of confusion.
Such examples include: Ketogenic, Vegan, Raw Vegan, Paleo, Carnivore, Raw Carnivore, Primal, Raw Primal, Fruitarian, Vegetarian, Pescetarian, Flexitarian, Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), The Anabolic Diet, FODMAP, Vertical Diet, etc.
The field of nutrition appears to be not unlike the fashion industry, where everything is continuously in flux, and trends come and go from one day to the next.
Most often, the public’s initial enthusiasm for the latest diet or superfood plummets a few months or years later, after it is proven that it doesn’t work.
The biggest reason, however, that most people get disappointed over this diet or the next is that their fundamental perception of nutrition is erroneous in the first place.
Every nutrient found naturally in food exerts particular physiologic effects on the human body.
Every individual comes into this world with specific metabolic tendencies and characteristics, and requires specific nutrients and nutrient ratios to balance its genetic weaknesses and imbalances.
That means that a particular nutrient can balance or destabilize a person depending on its metabolic and genetic profile.
Most people interested in nutrition neglect this fundamental truth and believe that a specific nutrient, food or diet carries the same effect to everyone- no matter the biochemical environment of the person’s body.
If they find that a particular nutrient or food helps with eczema, they believe that this nutrient or food is beneficial for every person suffering from eczema.
But when they witness individual cases of people not getting positive therapeutic benefits from that nutrient or food or diet, they believe that something else is to blame.
Aside from the fact that most health-oriented individuals and even practitioners overlook that health is a multifactorial ‘entity,’ they also discard a dietary approach as useless, if its positive effects are not consistent from person to person.
Due to their lack of knowledge and understanding on the basics of human physiology and metabolism, they experience frustration and desperation when a food or a diet doesn’t showcase a predictable, positive pattern or clinical performance.
The scenario is usually the same every time: A new, unconventional diet or remedy suddenly appears and looks extremely promising for a period of time, but ultimately fails to deliver for a big portion of the population, starting to slowly lose its popularity.
As a consequence, more and more people lose their interest and faith in that diet, and many times in nutritional science in general.
The effects of specific foods and nutrients on each human system vary because the metabolic type and genetic characteristics of each person are unique.
That biochemical deviation from person to person determines what diet is ideal for that person and is referred to as “biochemical individuality.”
Most Health Experts Support a Standardized Approach to Nutrition
Most integrative healthcare professionals, authoritative figures and best-selling authors dismiss the reality of metabolic individuality.
Most of them hold the belief that everyone should be on the same “perfect” diet, which might be anywhere from Vegan to Keto or Paleo- usually the diet that they have found to work the best for them.
Most nutrition books also list “cookie-cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” solutions for various kinds of chronic health disorders.
They typically also suggest the use of particular vitamins, minerals, and trace elements with some books also including lists of certain foods and herbs.
Yet, the information found in them is always “nutrient specific” and not “patient-specific”.
In other words, there’s never any consideration of the concept that the behavior of a given nutrient may vary significantly from person to person, depending on its metabolic type and characteristics.
They reject the notion that otherwise “healthy” diets or nutrients can actually make some people’s health much worse.
In this way, people don’t realize that the benefits of any diet or nutrient do not apply to everyone.
In the world of nutrition, every nutrient or food can be good or bad depending on the context, a.k.a. the metabolic type of the person who consumes it.
That’s why it’s critical for anyone serious about his/her health and well-being, to be evaluated and advised on the basis of their metabolic individuality.
And also why it can be so unproductive, and even harmful, when people receive generic, “one-size-fits-all” dietary and supplement recommendations.
On top of that, most clinicians in practice today have no substantive ability to develop patient-specific nutritional protocols.
They’re most often limited to offering “cookie-cutter” or generic solutions, which explain the mixed results they get with their treatment programs.
They don’t realize that people who experience great benefits from a particular nutrient or food have unknowingly chosen a nutrient or food compatible with their individual metabolic type.
Otherwise, that nutrient or food would have no effect on their health status, or would actually make it worse.
Another important consideration is that the uncertainty involved in the use of generic nutritional protocols is so great that even when clinicians get lucky and get good results with someone, they don’t know why they are getting those results.
They may assume it’s due to the collective value of the nutrients in the protocol, but this can’t explain why they so often get neutral or bad results in other patients, applying the exact same protocol.
If you’ve had any real, open conversation with your doctor(s), then you know this undeniable truth- There is not a single health practitioner – anywhere – using clinical nutrition who would not have to admit that what works on one person who comes through his door doesn’t work on another.
How Individual Nutrients Affect Metabolism
Human metabolism is regulated by a set of highly precise homeostatic control systems that detect and respond to changes in the internal environment.
The composition of the body’s internal environment is tightly controlled by these regulatory systems and this fairly constant state of “check and balance” is called homeostasis.
Almost all nutrients do influence the homeostatic control systems of the body in one of the following ways:
• They stimulate or inhibit one side/branch of a control mechanism. That means that a given nutrient may, for example, stimulate the sympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), while inhibiting the parasympathetic side.
• They produce either an alkaline or acidic effect on the body’s pH.
• They increase or decrease cellular oxidation rates, by affecting specific organs and glands responsible for intracellular energy production.
Every single nutrient has a very particular and precise effect on the body’s homeostatic control mechanisms.
For example, calcium and magnesium have contrasting effects on the two sides of the autonomic nervous system (ANS)- the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest).
Calcium stimulates the sympathetic branch of the ANS, while magnesium stimulates the parasympathetic branch.
These minerals may exert completely different biochemical influences on different people (depending on their metabolic type), even on individuals who exhibit identical symptoms or diseases.
Another example is choline, a chemical compound belonging to the B-complex family.
Choline is the main precursor to the parasympathetic neurotransmitter acetylcholine and has been found to increase brain performance, improve memory, support the nervous system and enhance liver function [1, 2, 3].
However, choline is also a nutrient that slows down the rate of cellular oxidation.
If someone with an already slowed metabolism takes choline, it will not only worsen that person’s metabolic function, but it may also lead to issues, such as constipation, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and slowed cognitive function.
All chronic diseases have one thing in common. They involve an imbalance in one or more of the fundamental homeostatic control mechanisms. These mechanisms regulate all the biochemistry of the human body.
In the same manner as calcium, magnesium, and choline, most nutrients can’t be taken at face value or judged in absolute terms.
They have to be evaluated in terms of the broad physiological context in which they operate.
They shouldn’t be expected to produce neither positive nor negative clinical benefits, unless they’re tailored to someone’s unique biochemical profile or metabolic type.
What does this mean?
That there are all kinds of opportunities for any given nutrient to worsen a person’s health by creating new biochemical imbalances or exacerbating pre-existing ones.
It’s never a good idea to toss a fistful of “beneficial” nutrients at a clinical problem, similarly to throwing a handful of dirt at a wall based on the notion that some of it wil stick.
Unfortunately, as hard as it may be to believe, this is the exact clinical strategy upon which modern nutritional science is currently based.
Clinicians who take into consideration the metabolic individuality factor in their practice, observe the variability of the effects of nutrients over and over again, with virtually every nutrient, in virtually every chronic disease category.
Applying a metabolic-type-specific approach to nutrition for any period of time exposes the biggest gap in contemporary medicine and nutritional science, which is that a “one-size-fits-all” nutritional or even pharmacological approach to disease is most often useless, and many times even harmful to the patient.
Calcium Homeostasis: A Big Difference Between Metabolic Types
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
It plays a key role in bone and teeth formation and regeneration, vascular contractions and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, connective tissue integrity (cartilage, tendons, etc.), intracellular signaling, and endocrine function.
It’s also frequently used as a supplement for conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, Crohn’s disease and IBD (IBD patients can’t absorb nutrients properly), as well as given to people undertaking corticosteroid therapy for prolonged periods.
Calcium stimulates sympathetic firing in the body.
If it’s given to someone with osteoporosis who also happens to be a sympathetic dominant or slow oxidizer type (carb-efficient metabolism), calcium will not only degrade that person’s bone health and increase the chance of potential fractures, but will also induce hyperactivity, anxiety, nervousness, mild to moderate constipation and insomnia.
Contrary to popular belief, osteoporosis is not necessarily the result of a calcium deficiency.
Osteoporosis many times develops as a result of a dysfunction or inefficiency of the body’s ability to metabolize calcium, along with specific endocrine malfunctions.
For some people, such as fast oxidizers or parasympathetic dominants (protein-efficient metabolism), their dysfunctional calcium metabolism is the result of an actual lack of calcium in the body.
These people, as an example, would benefit greatly by including lots of high-quality raw dairy into their diet, such as raw cheeses, yogurt, kefir, raw milk and buttermilk (ideally from anti-inflammatory sources like goat, sheep or buffalo and not from cow’s milk).
For other metabolic types, such as slow oxidizers or sympathetic dominants (carb efficient metabolism) dysfunctional calcium metabolism is shockingly the result of abnormally high concentrations of calcium in the body.
How is this possible?
This calcium excess occurs in relation to synergistic nutrients, meaning that other nutrients that calcium requires for proper utilization are missing from that person’s body.
For individuals with this particular metabolic type, taking more calcium only worsens osteoporosis, by accelerating deficiencies in synergistic nutrients, like magnesium.
This in turn accelerates the rate of calcium loss from bone tissue, where it should be held.
Of course, calcium is not the only nutrient that exerts that effect.
Magnesium does the exact same thing but a bit differently.
Magnesium is also a common component of an anti-osteoporosis nutritional protocol, but it exerts the exact opposite effects to calcium in the human body.
If you suffer from osteoporosis and you happen to be a sympathetic dominant (carb efficient metabolism), you’d get better and improve your condition by taking magnesium.
That would mean that incorporating lots of leafy greens, bananas, avocados, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains into your diet would significantly help you, since all of these foods constitute excellent sources of mangesium.
But if you happen to be a parasympathetic dominant or fast oxidizer (protein efficient metabolism), magnesium could make your osteoporosis worse.
That’s because in fast oxidizers or parasympathetic dominants, magnesium further amplifies their already fast metabolism and stimulates their already strong parasympathetic nervous system, exacerbating their metabolic imbalances.
On the contrary, in slow oxidizers or sympathetic dominants, magnesium works to increase their slow oxidative rates and stimulates their genetically weak parasympathetic systems, helping them get better.
Put simply, any nutrient that works to correct one type of imbalance or help one person with a specific metabolic type, is not necessarily going to correct some other type of imbalance or help another individual with a different metabolic type.
This is why all generic nutritional protocols may be considered hit-or-miss solutions.
And why “cookie-cutter”, “one-size-fits-all” diets, like the carnivore diet or the vegan diet, can actually be a “toss of the dice” from a biochemical perspective.
From these facts and many others alone, one may conclude that it makes little or no sense for a health professional to recommend a batch of nutrients to someone, just because these nutrients happen to have demonstrated some degree of clinical efficacy for a given health problem.
The Role of Metabolic Type-Specific Nutrition
All patients who suffer from chronic disease are in some way or another toxic and nutrient deficient.
That toxicity and nutritive undernourishment have weakened their body, making it more susceptible to all kinds of diseases and infections, and setting in motion a physiological catch-22 problem.
Since their body’s cellular efficiency has become compromised and inadequate, their digestion and nutrient absorption capabilities have also diminished.
Their weakened digestion further exacerbates their cellular insufficiency and in turn, the insufficient cells continue to create more problems and impairing digestive capacity even more.
In order for humans to be healthy, they need to obtain specific kinds of nutrients and nutrient combinations that enable their cells to function at peak efficiency.
They also need to be hitting a specific range of macronutrients each day (which refers to the balance of protein, carbs, and fat) that supports their unique “style” of metabolic functioning.
Many people, especially younger generations, despite following what many health professionals would consider a “properly designed, healthy and balanced diet”, still can’t make any substantive progress with their health.
That means that they could follow a so-called “healthy” diet, for example, consisted of healthy foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains, and organic meats, but still fail to flourish, simply due to the fact that they are unknowingly consuming foods not compatible with their body’s unique biochemistry and genetics.
This sad scenario we oftentimes get across is why optimal health oftentimes remains “out of reach” for so many people today, even for those who struggle daily to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Fortunately, metabolic type identification is a highly evolved scientific discipline that enables clinicians to predict accurately how specific nutrients will affect a person’s unique metabolic engine.
It recognizes that the only truly effective way in stopping the degenerative process and restoring robust health is by starting consuming a metabolically appropriate diet.
That means a diet that supports your specific inherent weaknesses and imbalances.
The first step to identify that type of diet can only be done by looking beyond a patient’s symptoms and exploring 3 crucial questions:
1) How is his/her body genetically designed to utilize specific foods and nutrients
2) What imbalances exist within his/her fundamental homeostatic control systems (i.e., autonomic imbalance, oxidative imbalance, endocrine imbalance, etc)
3) What is his/her metabolic type?
The answers to these questions would tell us what kinds of foods and nutrients someone would need to build his/her health from the cellular level up.
By getting these questions answered, we would be able to do much more than recommending standardized nutritional approaches designed to alleviate symptoms and not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Through metabolic type identification, we are able to know how to provide someone with a strong nutritional foundation that his/her body could use to regulate, rebalance and rebuild itself.
Only in this way can someone really be able to move beyond incomplete solutions and find meaningful, comprehensive nutritional support for his/her weak and debilitated body.
With a metabolically appropriate diet, the person is finally able to turn the process of degeneration into a process of regeneration.
In Metabolic Body, we use a specially-targeted metabolic type questionnaire to collect all kinds of data pertaining to a patient’s physical, structural, emotional, psychological and behavioral characteristics- his/her unique metabolic and physiologic traits.
This data constitutes a form of “biochemical roadmap” to us that has nothing to do with symptoms, but instead reveals a great deal about a person’s metabolic individuality.
After the metabolic type evaluation phase is complete, we proceed to the prescription of specified individualized protocols regarding diet, supplements, and lifestyle.
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About George Kelly
George Kelly M.Sc. is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that specializes in chronic and autoimmune conditions. He is the CEO and lead author of Metabolic Body.