Podcast episode #5
By Guy Lawrence
With Smart DNA testing you can discover your genetic road map that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
In this episode of The Health Sessions I chat with molecular geneticist Margie Smith of Smart DNA (smart being an understatement!). Sounds technical I know, but Margie simplifies it into an easy to understand way of how we can look at our gene expression for a more personalised approach to better health.
I’m getting my Smart DNA testing done through Naturopath Tania Flack.
You can view all podcast episodes here.
In this weeks episode:-
- Why cholesterol tests at the Dr’s only tells us half the story
- Why olive oil can be not so good for you in some cases
- Why one diet does not fit all
- How DNA testing can help with weight loss
- How DNA testing can improve athletic performance
- Our hereditary conditions & how we can intervene
- and much more…
Guy Lawrence: So, Maggie, thanks for dropping by. Really appreciate your time with us. Just to start it off, myself and Stewie have been, I guess, exposed to the Smart DNA over the last couple of weeks, and it’s been enough to make our head spin off.
So, you know, if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and what is Smart DNA, to our listeners, that would be great.
Maggie: Thanks very much, Guy. And I don’t want to cause you any injury with your head spinning off your neck. So, I think we’ll try and just talk about what the actual test is. If you want to know a little bit about me, I’m a molecular geneticist, which is sort of kind of a fancy way of saying that I’m interested in DNA and how DNA interacts with our environment, which includes our nutrition and even the types of lifestyles we have, which includes exercise, for example.
So, my background is in neurogenetics. So, brain function and also in cancer genetics. So, I spanned both of those areas in my training and certainly in the diagnostic field. And, more recently, in the last four years, have become more and more interested in neutrigenomics to the point that we set up our company. So, that’s a little bit about me.
In terms of what we actually do with the sorts of testing is to look at pathways, so we’re very pathway-driven in terms of the genes that we look at. And then we look at how our environment. . . So, it may be, like, toxins in our environment that affect how we process them, for example, in looking at cholesterol so we’re not all the same in terms of what our cholesterol transporter is capable of doing, and I’ll refer to some people in relation to cholesterol as our “nutritional canaries” because they are about 25 percent of the population but they are really barometers of what’s wrong with our nutritional environment. So, we often see them coming through with poor cholesterol profiles, for example.
Guy Lawrence: So, would it be fair to say that Smart DNA is about finding out more about an individual; more about the blueprint for each and every individual?
Maggie: Yeah, that’s right. So, it’s very personalized. No reports are identical. So, for each person we start off with heart health. That’s our philosophy. And if your heart isn’t beating then you’re really not going to last long on the planet, so what we want people to understand is that heart health is critical and that having a diet that’s appropriate for good heart health is basically where we come from. So, it’s nothing about fad really.
Guy Lawrence: So, that being the cornerstone of it all. Now, you mentioned cholesterol and it’s certainly a hot topic. You know, people generally will just go to the doctor’s to get cholesterol tested. But from my understanding, will the Smart DNA testing differ from just a regular doctor’s cholesterol test?
Maggie: Yeah. There are some really important points that we need to cover in that. First of all, with our regular cholesterol profiling that we can get, it doesn’t measure some very critical elements, especially for those individuals that fall into that higher cardiovascular risk group. So, it’s not what we’re measuring. It’s actually what we’re not measuring that is the thing that is likely to cause us problems in terms of our heart health.
So, we don’t measure small, dense LDLs. So, in our regular cholesterol profile we look at the large, fluffy LDLs; the parts one and two. They’re not atherogenic. They float around and they basically do their job. What we need to look at is the types of LDLs and the types three through to seven, which are much smaller and nastier particles that cause heart health problems. And the other is oxidized LDLs. Are we oxidizing those small, dense LDLs, which, once again, have atherogenic potential.
So, I just wanted to give you one little case study about a patient came through for testing by our health practitioner and he had had a regular cholesterol profile done and basically it was all fine. He had an inkling, based on his genetics, that maybe he should go and have a further test done, which is available here in Australia called a LipoScan.
And he went ahead and had the LipoScan. He actually, in fact, had so much fat circulating in his blood that they couldn’t perform that test. They were actually able to perform an oxidized LDL test and get that done for him, and he was basically off the scale.
So, eight weeks of following a diet that was more focused on his heart health for him, he was retested. His small, dense LDL formation was negligible. So, they were actually able to perform at test that time and his oxidized LDL they didn’t bother measuring. The pathologist said that, basically, because he was forming so few small, dense LDLs now that there was no point in doing that.
But here’s an example of a regular cholesterol profile not measuring what we needed.
Guy Lawrence: So, from doing the Smart DNA testing, he was able to change his lifestyle in the way he ate and now then went on to reduce the cholesterol. Is that correct?
Maggie: That’s right.
Guy Lawrence: That’s fantastic.
Maggie: So, the general guidelines are: Mediterranean diet is good for everybody. But in his instance, with his genotype, being a male, so there are sex-specific differences, he needed to be on a lower-fat diet. Good quality, low-GI, carbs, organic if possible, staying away from processed carbohydrates and certainly trans and saturated fat. And that was only after eight weeks. So, the thing is, his genogroup is the most dietary-responsible genogroup and it is the most ancient form of that lipid transporter.
So, you know, to me, that’s amazing. That was without having to have any other drug intervention.
Guy Lawrence: That’s phenomenal. I mean, like, if anyone is concerned about their cholesterol this should be a mandatory test, really.
Maggie: And the thing is that, you know, people will go on a particular diet to lose weight but you need to make sure that in losing weight that you are not actually driving up your atherogenic potential in terms of cardiovascular disease.
Guy Lawrence: Absolutely. And so with case studies like that, does that mean, because you mentioned a Mediterranean diet, does that mean, like, those oils that we know of as being perceived as healthy like olive oil and could that actually be affecting your cholesterol to some people?
Maggie: So; I mean, it is really important that we understand that we are uniquely individual in terms of that. There was a study done where they showed where this high cardiovascular risk genotype group, if they used olive oil, actually formed more small, dense LDLs. And I know that the Berkeley Heart Health Laboratory in the U.S., for example, they actually have; they cite that paper in their literature and they tend to ask those individuals to use olive oil sparingly and change it to maybe a flaxseed oil and another oil that’s probably higher in Omega-3s.
So, you know, it does get quite specific and also sex-specific in terms of those responses. And that’s important. I mean, if you’re a male in that high cardiovascular risk group, drinking alcohol will suppress your good HDL cholesterol and you don’t want that to happen.
So, once again, it’s those principles of what a Mediterranean diet is. Actually, you would run the risk of pushing your cholesterol parameters in the wrong direction by simply following the Mediterranean diet.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah. Yeah. We get so many eating philosophies out there. You’ve got vegan, paleo, vegetarian, Mediterranean and the list goes on. And I’ve never been a believer anyway that one size fits all. But does that mean we could go outside of oils as well, like some people should be eating less meat or more meat or it would depend on the blood type or. . .
Maggie: Yeah. I mean, I have to say I find that whole blood type diet information really interesting and I’d love to know how to link that with genetics because I think that has a lot of validity. But, you know, right now in terms of if you just look at percentage of fats, the most ancient form of our cholesterol transporter, generally a lower-fat diet is recommended but much higher in anti-oxidants because they have naturally a very low anti-oxidant capacity, whereas the other genogroups you can; they are sort of; they’re tweaked, really, in terms of percentages of fats. But if you fall into what I call Lipid Type A where you have about 30 to 35 percent good fat, these are the people who can really have more avocado, nuts, seeds in their diet. So, it’s really skewed more toward the good fats and reducing the saturated fats.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, right. I mean, just to simplify this a little bit more, because we get a lot of questions around weight loss, constantly. I’m assuming that a test like this could help benefit the weight loss but also at the same are they going to be benefiting their health at the same time, because with the information that you’d be able to give them?
Maggie: Yeah. So, if you use that, sort of, cholesterol fingerprint or genotyping diet as their main diet they have, and then you overlay looking at the weight lose genes that we look at. So, what that can help us to understand, for example, is that some people really have trouble mobilizing fats because they have thrifty genes or they’re incredibly ancient. Those thrifty genes served us very well because they helped us to store fat. Not only that, but it was harder to burn that fat off. So, your survival would have been, you know, so much better. And they tend to people in today’s modern environment who are incredibly carbohydrate-sensitive, especially processed carbohydrates. They do have trouble mobilizing fats and generally lose weight at about half the rate of other people. However, we do know that that sort of high-intensity exercise will assist them.
Now, you know, from a psychological perspective, that’s good news because generally they’re people who have done every diet and none of them work, and it does become soul-destroying. So, if you actually understand how your body works and what you need to do for yourself to lose weight, then that makes it a whole lot easier. You’re not worried about what other people are doing or achieving. You become far more focused on yourself. And, you know, there are other gene variants whereby we know that generally you might have a higher body mass index by a few kilos because you have that gene variant. Some of those gene variants control leptin. And we know leptin’s really important because that’s satiety. That’s, “Oh, I’ve had enough to eat.”
Guy Lawrence: Yep.
Maggie: But some of us with that variant, and I’ve got it, if I waited for a full signal, I wouldn’t stop eating. I mean, you have to realize that, oh, my mechanism for that is really sloppy. It’s not great. And so I look at what I’ve put on my plate and that is what I eat. Whereas it would be very possible to get into that mindless eating.
Guy Lawrence: So, when you don’t stop.
Maggie: Yeah, and not know when to stop. That’s right. And for people like me, I mean, one of the things we do know, because I do have a propensity to gain weight, is that exercise is even more important for people with my genotype. We really need to get out and move our bodies. And, you know, certainly chairs are not friends to people like me because becoming immobilized in a chair for eight hours on end, especially if you work in an office, is just not helpful at all.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, and it’s fascinating because myself and Stewie had this conversation yesterday because Stew can absolutely; he’ll eat, this is no exaggeration, three to four times the amount of food I do and still not put on a pound. And he’s trying hard to put on weight. And I’m the opposite. I tend to lose weight, I find, reasonably easy, but I tend to put it on reasonably easy, too, so it keeps me disciplined, you know. So. . . pardon?
Maggie: You’ve got to be more vigilant.
Guy Lawrence: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, does that mean Stew is basically destined the way he is or is there things he can do about that? Because I know he’s very interested to see the test results come back.
Maggie: There are genes that have just recently been discovered that Stew probably has in terms of he just cannot get fat. He cannot put on body mass, because these genes, basically, mean that you have a much higher resting metabolic rate. So your energy requirements are that much higher; probably higher than yours, Guy. So, you know, perhaps focusing a bit more on some protein, because, you know, you certainly don’t want to; he doesn’t want to be basically chewing through his own protein to keep his metabolic rate in a healthy place.
So, you know, it really is one of those things that if that what your genetic makeup is in terms of a higher metabolic rate, then, yes, of course, it’s reflected in the fact that he eats more; doesn’t gain weight. And also there’s a gene called PPAR-Gamma. He most likely has the variant of that whereby eating slightly higher percentage fats means that you don’t put on weight, and, in fact, probably tend to lose weight, whereas people like you and I, on a higher-fat diet, unfortunately put on weight.
So, yeah, you’re a perfect example, both of you, the different sides of the coin, I suppose.
Guy Lawrence: So, you touched on exercise just now as well, and another question that’s been spinning around in my head is basically athletes, high-end athletes, will they benefit from a test like this?
Maggie: The benefit from the text in terms of looking at what their recovery is going to be like, you know, will it take longer for them to recover. Because I think one of the things that when we think about athletes they always tell us what their next event is and what they’re competing in. And they can talk for hours on end about what their strategies are. But unfortunately often in that strategy plan it doesn’t include recovery. They compete, they want to finish their event, but they don’t think about what are they going to do in terms of supporting themselves to replenish their body, to take care of it once they’ve competed in an event.
Would you say that that is reasonably accurate, Guy? Do you think that they. . .
Guy Lawrence: Absolutely. Absolutely. From what I’ve seen over the years, when people train very intensively, your appetite goes through the roof as well and it’s so easy to start eating the wrong foods because you’re snacking all the time and you get caught up, as well, and your nutrition. . . I mean, I’ve seen some good athletes eat pretty poorly, you know?
Maggie: And I think that the other aspect is that we always think that athletes are incredibly healthy but in fact they may be a body that’s under enormous stress, so overtraining can also be an issue.
So, what the testing tends to do is focus on things like VO2max improvement, are you likely to be more of sprint person or more of an endurance person or do you have sort of a more mixed type profile. And it’s about managing; I mean, for example, I have more of an endurance profile but my VO2max isn’t very good. So, what that translates into is someone who’s a plodder for about 20 Ks: You know, “I don’t give up.” But I’m not going to be the world’s best performer at that, because there are other right limiting factors.
Guy Lawrence: But I would imagine as well, once you know what your genetic expression is then you can tailor your food to suit your genes, then your recovery would automatically be quicker anyway, wouldn’t it?
Maggie: Exactly. And especially if it’s heart health focused as well. I mean, you want that pump to be working to perfection.
And also detoxification as well, you want the liver detox pathways to be working really well because, remember that we all need stress. Human beings all need a small amount of stress in our lives. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get out of bed and go to work.
Guy Lawrence: We’d get soft.
Maggie: We’d get very soft. And it’s scary, a little. We also know that it’s good for ourselves to have a little bit of oxidative stress.
However, if you’re an athlete, actually your oxidative stress is so much higher at a cellular level, because you may be competing for quite a long period of time. So, it’s about how you actually support your body, and you look at those pathways in term of oxidative stress or in terms of how you detoxify through your liver to get that optimum performance.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, right. That’s fascinating stuff. And one other question that popped up, and I don’t know why we strayed right off the topic a little bit: hereditary genes. So, you know, you could say, “Oh, my dad had cancer, my granddad had cancer,” or whatever the situation may be; I’m prone to it. Does that mean we will fall prey to our disorders; our genetic disorders? Or can we take steps to avoid them?
Maggie: It’s a really interesting question, and the answer, I believe, is yes, that we can take steps to avoid them. I think there’s a mindset, though, that we have to die of something. OK? We have to die of heart disease or cancer or stroke. And we all know the statistics and we hear that all of the time.
How many people actually think about living until they die? Why can’t it be that we just simply expire? I think we look at cancer; I mean, one of the things that happens as we age is that our DNA repair, making; I call them like little proofreaders of a text, if you will. They get sloppy and they tend not to perform as well. So I think that’s where we need to understand how our pathways work and what we can do to improve the efficiency of those pathways.
For example, with the methylation pathway. It’s incredibly important. It’s a bit like a big bank that just donates these methyl groups or it’s a bit like cash to keep everything running, you know? You need to put that amount in to basically make all those other pathways work.
For some people, that pathway doesn’t work very well and people get high homocysteine levels. It’s associated with poor brain health and poor heart health outcomes. So, it’s about being aware of: What are my pathways like? What do I need to support them?
I mean, we know that elderly people who live well have naturally higher levels of glutathione. We know that people with hypertension, at a cellular level, have depleted glutathione levels.
So, it’s about being very targeted and specific for each individual. And if you know what your vulnerabilities are, then you can avoid some of those things.
Guy Lawrence: Take steps to avoid them, yeah, that’s fantastic. Fantastic.
Well, look, Maggie, I know we’ve only scratched the surface today because there’s so much depth and areas that we could tackle in this. But I’ll probably tie it up there for today because I’m sure we’re gonna come back and hopefully go over the results in a few weeks’ time as well and discuss that.
Maggie: I think that’ll be really exciting.
Guy Lawrence: It will be awesome. I can’t wait. I really can’t.
So, look, for everyone that’s listening to this, because I know we get listeners but we also get practitioners as well that might be interested in this, I think probably the best way forward would be for them to just drop me an email. Would that be the best? And then I can either refer them to the website or. . .
Maggie: I think that’s the best thing, Guy, that, you know, the Smart DNA, we basically support practitioners, so for members of the public who want to do the test, they will need to be referred to a practitioner and I think you’ve got. . .
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, I was working with Tania Flack at the moment here in Sydney.
Maggie: And we can certainly assist with that. As long as people are happy to be referred to a practitioner, then we can help them with the test if they’re interested.
Guy Lawrence: Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, thanks for your time, Maggie. That was absolutely fascinating and we’ll speak soon.
Maggie: Thanks very much, Guy.
Guy Lawrence: Cheers.