Last year, I interviewed pro mountain biker Chris Kelly in the podcast “7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.“. While that podcast went into lots of detail about how you can measure for adrenal fatigue, the fact is that you can delve into far more detail about what is going on inside your body, especially when it comes to your cellular metabolism.
This little known test that tells you everything you need to know about your cellular metabolism is called the “Genova Organix Comprehensive Metabolic Profile”, and in today's audio podcast, Chris and I cover everything you need to know about it.
During our discussion, we discuss this .pdf print-out – so download it if you'd like to follow along as you listen in. I've also included helpful shownotes below, along with the questions that I ask Chris in this episode.
Q. What is the organic acids test and how did you discover it?
A. About three years ago I wasn’t doing so well in terms of life outside of training:
- Loss of sex drive.
- Brain fog.
- Mild depression.
I ran a saliva hormone panel which showed low cortisol, low DHEA and low testosterone. Adrenal fatigue if you like. That was a red flag but it didn’t really say anything about the underlying cause. This was shortly after I met Dr. Dan Kalish and he persuaded me to take the organic acids test.
Organic acids are metabolic byproducts of cellular metabolism and they can be measured from a urine sample. There’s no need to go to a lab for a draw blood, you just collect urine at home. It’s a bit like when you put your car onto the rolling road and the mechanic analyses the exhaust gases. You can learn a lot about how well an engine is running like that.
I got really excited the first time I saw the test. At the time I was working at quantitative hedge fund as a computer programmer but my real passion was bike racing. The result looks very complicated to most people but to me it was like a programming problem.
Q. What biomarkers does an organic acids profile actually test?
- Everyone wants to be a fat burning beast, right? This test will reveal show how well beta-oxidation is working, this turned out to be very important for me.
Blood sugar stabilization
- This test was originally developed to help chronically ill patients, many of whom were pre-diabetic. The strange thing is those people have a lot in common with some athletes because (I suspect) of all the sugary sports supplements. This test can show you how well you’re burning carbs.
- Some of you listening will remember learning about the Citric Acid or Krebs cycle in biology. Basically it’s the process by which you convert food and air into energy. Each step of the process requires certain enzymes and nutrients to be in place, and when they’re lacking it shows up on this test. Once you know, it’s not hard to fix with supplements like CoQ10 for example.
- This gets complicated fast, and you’ve talked about it in length on the show. Methylation is the way in which our body turns off the genes that are the blueprint which defines us. It’s also critically important for detox. If you’ve done a 23andme saliva test and worried about the MTHFR mutation, do this test as it will help you understand how well your methylation is actually working. One of the most sensitive markers for vitamin B12 deficiency is methylmalonic acid. That’s an organic acid that’s on this test.
Toxins and detoxification
- Everybody is exposed to toxins, it’s in the food we eat, the air we breathe. That’s why we have a liver, but sadly it’s becoming increasingly overburdened. 2-methylhippurate is an organic acid is on this test, it’s a breakdown product of xylene from paints, varnishes, carpet. New car smell. The scary thing is that it’s not on this test to detect accidental exposure, it’s on because everyone is exposed to xylene and therefore it’s a reliable marker of liver function. Once you know you’re liver’s struggling you can support the liver with extra nutrients.
- This is a very difficult area. When the brain is starved of oxygen during a stroke the neurons are killed by factors relate to oxidative stress. In animals and tissue culture a great deal of careful work has been done. Some would argue that oxidative stress plays a role in Alzheimer's disease and aging.
- In healthy people the role of oxidative stress is far from clear but there is no doubt that many doctors believe a vegetable based diet rich in antioxidants is useful.
- Athletes create more oxidative stress through increased energy production, but I suspect there comes a point where enough is enough. Some level of oxidative stress is required for cell signaling and to elicit a training response.
- The first thing I should make clear is that this is not a direct test for neurotransmitters. I learned from Dr. Kalish that neurotransmitters measured in the urine are made locally in the kidneys have no relationship with the levels in the brain. The blood brain barrier keeps everything separate. It’s confusing.
- This test measures the metabolic ashes of dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. Usually the solution to problems found is stress reduction and lifestyle modification but in many cases amino acid therapy can be extremely helpful for insomnia, anxiety, depression and addiction.
Intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Certain bad bacteria in our gut, specially in the small intestine produce chemicals that can be measured on this test. It’s a crude test for SIBO. If you have an overgrowth of these bacteria then it’ll show up as bloating and on this test.
- Sometimes you can crowd out these bacteria with probiotics but sometimes a short killing phase works better.
Q. Who should take it, and why would someone take this test?
A. In short, anyone looking to produce more energy. My original goal was to upgrade from the age group categories to pro, but now with hindsight I see it’s everything outside of racing and training that matters. So if you’re like me and you spend lots of time trying to concentrate hard, the neurotransmitter turnover section is going to be really interesting to you. The serotonin, melatonin pathway is very interesting to anyone suffering from problems with sleep.
Or if you’re an athlete looking to ensure that your metabolism is running as efficiently as possible you’re going to love this test. It’s funny, people spend all kinds of money on equipment. You think of that like the chassis of a race car. But what use is that if the engine is not running right? My advice is to spend less time waxing the bodywork and take a peek under the hood.
Q. Is it a standalone test, or is it used in conjunction with other tests?
A. You can think of this test as a whole bunch of pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle. It’s important, but it’s not a standalone solution. I analyze these results for a living now and in a way my work hasn’t changed. I’m still debugging. I’m still asking why.
The hormonal component is the foundation, that’s still the best place to start. And sometimes stool testing to detect smoldering gut infections can be really important too. I routinely ask people to track their blood glucose, basal morning temperature and heart rate variability which can also give tremendous insight. That which gets measured gets managed.
Q. What are the optimal ranges for each of the biomarkers, and why?
A. There’s two ways you can interpret this test. The first is to look at each individual marker and notice that’s it’s high or low. The second way is to look at the big picture. Take orotate for example. That could be elevated due to excessive protein intake, or it could be the result of bacterial overgrowth.
Q. How can I implement what I learn from this test ‘in real life’?
A. Sometimes there’s a very specific reason why something is going wrong, like an infection or too much stress. Or it could also be because you’re doing too much training. Finally, you might have some genetic abnormality. Either way, it allows you supplement with confidence. Sometimes the test pays for itself in this way, supplements get expensive really fast.
Q. What are a few common markers that are ‘way off’ for a lot of people (i.e. athletes, health-conscious, workaholics)? Why?
- Kyurinate tryptophan pathway.
- Carnitine and fat burning.
- Neurotransmitters and stress.
(Chris explains each of this in more detail in the podcast.)
As he mentions in the audio, you can book a half-price phone or Skype consult with Chris by using the code GREENFIELD at the NourishBalanceThrive website. If you have questions, comments or feedback about the organic acids test, then leave your thoughts below!