[00:00] Introduction/Chris Kelly
[02:35] What is Organic Acid Test and How Chris Discover It
[03:57] Ben and First Morning Void
[10:10] The Problem with Being Over-trained
[19:23] Effervescent Anti-oxidant Tablets and What Chris Think about Them
[21:08] Neurotransmitters Tested via Urine
[23:17] Bacteria and Yeast Overgrowth
[26:20] Customized Vitamin Formulations for Treatment
[43:00] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield and as you know I’m a huge fan of self-quantification but there’s obviously a ton of different tests that you can run on your body to find out everything from yeast and fungus and parasites to your vitamin levels, your hormone levels; just so many different tests out there and it can get confusing. Now about right around a year ago, I actually had a guest named Chris Kelly on a call, and Chris and I talked about specifically testing for your adrenal function, testing for things like cortisol and DHEA. And that was a really interesting episode because Chris, who is a pro mountain biker, really helped to elucidate how to recognize and test for adrenal stress.
Now I’m gonna put a link to that previous episode that we did with Chris; it’s called “7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken”. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode and the show notes for this episode are over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organics, but if you are interested in really looking more into a bigger inspection of your cellular metabolism that goes way above and beyond just adrenals, Chris and I are gonna talk today about how it is that you’d actually do that. So I’ve got Chris on the call, he’s gonna explain exactly what this test is and how to interpret it, and you’re gonna get all the nitty-gritties about this really relatively little-known test that tells you everything you need to know about your metabolism. So Chris, thanks for coming on the call, man.
Chris: Thanks for having me Ben, it’s a privilege.
Ben: Alright, well let’s jump right in. What is this test and how did you discover it?
Chris: I discovered it as a way of trying to figure out what was going on with my adrenals, right? So I knew I wasn’t feeling good, loss of sex drive, brain fog, fatigue, mild depression. I run the saliva test and I find very low levels of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, those types of hormones. And I didn’t think it’s really good enough to stop there; you could do that, you could say “okay let’s just take some supplements to see if we can fix this” but I think that there’s always a reason why the hormones are coming out as a problem, as a red flag if you will. And so the organics test is an awesome tool to lift the lids on what’s going on with the salivary hormones, so the easiest way to think about it is, you know what it’s like when you take your car into the shop and you roll it onto the rolling road and the mechanic, he puts some kind of probe up the exhaust pipe and he measures the exhaust gases and he tells you something about the way that the engine is working; you can really learn a lot about the way the engine’s running like that. And so this urine test that I’ve been doing is similar in that nature, you just collect a urine sample at home and then send in to the lab and then you get all this amazing information about what’s going on inside your body.
Ben: So is it literally urine that you collect in a tube and then you send off?
Chris: Yeah, it’s actually what they call a “first morning void test” so you just collect your first urine of the day and then it’s just kind of like the longest period you probably go without peeing so this has got the most information.
Ben: First morning void is a great term to know.
Ben: I’ll have to fill my wife in on that so she can give me a lot of grief about leaving my first morning void on the toilet seat.
Ben: Alright, so you don’t have to go to a lab to draw blood, you’re just basically collecting urine at home.
Ben: Okay, so the way that you explain this I guess, is when you’re looking at these markers of cellular metabolism in your urine, when your cells are metabolizing or producing energy, essentially what you’re saying is they’re producing byproducts and you’re measuring those byproducts of cellular metabolism.
Chris: Yeah that’s right, so when you look at all these different processes, nothing wants to stay still; it’s almost like water that’s continually flowing. And in order for one thing to convert into another, typically there are enzymes and other nutrient co-factors that are involved. And when there’s something wrong with one of those enzymes, maybe you’ve got some sort of genetic defect or maybe you’re lacking in some vital nutrient, you start to see levels of these organic acids actually start to pool or become very low on the organic acids test and that tells you something really interesting about your metabolism.
Ben: So what you sent over to me here Chris is an actual printout of what this test looks like, and I think it’d be really helpful for us. What we’ll do, is it cool if I put a download of this PDF for people who are listening in so they could go and kinda follow along if they wanted to?
Chris: Yeah, for sure. This is a good one to look at, actually.
Ben: Okay, cool. And you don’t actually have a patient’s name on here, right? So we’re not breaking any big rules? I don’t wanna get sued.
Chris: Nope. [laughs]
Ben: So we’ll go through this and the name of the test is an organic acid test, right?
Chris: Yes, so organics, there’s a couple of labs that offer them, actually. Genova Diagnostics is the lab that I normally use and the other is Great Plains; and I think they’re both good but the organics by far is the one I’m most familiar with.
Ben: Okay, got it. And people can actually order this particular test through your website, right?
Chris: Yeah, so that’s the easiest way to do this is because it’s such a complicated test. You can see the prints if you go and download it, it’s quite overwhelming and it can be a little bit tricky to interpret and I’ve seen quite a few of these now so I’m more than happy to help you with that.
Ben: Yeah, I actually got this test done. I actually didn’t realize until we had started talking about this test that I did have it done, my doctor ran it on me but it took us like, an hour, and we sat down in his office to go over all the results. I mean this tells you a ton of stuff.
Ben: So at the end, after we go through this, I think we can go over your web URL, we’ll also put a link to it over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organics if people wanna actually go through you to get this test. But let’s go ahead and just start from the top of this PDF that you sent over to me. The first that it looks into is your fatty acid metabolism, how’s this one work?
Chris: Yeah, so this was really important to this particular person and that’s something I always bear in mind. I couldn’t really interpret this lab result if I didn’t have some sort of relationship or if I haven’t spoken to the woman that owns it and both me and the medical doctor I’m partnered with we’re both pro mountain bikers and so many of the people that we work with are cyclists, and that was the case for this woman. And she was a really good cyclist but she found that she was still quite heavily dependent on glucose to fuel her endurance exercise which, as you know, kinda sucks because you only got so much glycogen and it’s not very nice trying to refuel that with those sticky gel things as you go along. So she ran this test and we found high levels of this organic acid which is called adipate. Now adipate starts to build up in your urine sample when you’re not oxidizing fat correctly.
Chris: So normally you get these fatty acids, these free fatty acids that come to the outer membrane of the cell, and then they need to be transported into the mitochondria, the little powerhouses where the energy production actually takes place, and in order for that to happen there needs to be almost like a little boat or a shuttle, you can think of it. And it’s that boat that actually transports the fatty acids into the mitochondria and if that doesn’t happen, then you start to see this organic acid adipate build up, and that tells you you’re not burning fat as well as you should.
Ben: So you don’t necessarily have to go in and do the indirect calorimetry test where you put the mask on your face, you measure the oxygen that you consume and the carbon dioxide that you produce as you run on a treadmill or ride a bike, for example; you can literally measure cellular metabolism byproduct of fatty acid breakdown and find out whether or not you’re breaking down much fat or not?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. So I think the test that you just described would be even more useful, that you could think of that maybe as the gold standard but yes, certainly if this was a problem as it is on this test then you’d expect to not do very well on the respective quotient test.
Ben: And then it also tells you carbohydrate metabolism.
Chris: Exactly, yes. So we can see here and I already said the adrenals, that’s probably the first place to start and when they start to go wrong, cortisol, a glucocorticoid, you start to see problems with glucose metabolism and then for this particular woman you can see that here on the test, these two organic acids pyruvate and lactate; people would have heard of these obviously coz they’re byproducts of anaerobic metabolism, right? So something weird is going on here, you shouldn’t be getting lactate building up in an overnight urine sample when all you’ve been doing is sleeping, right? You might see this if you were to do some really hard exercise but there’s something weird going on here so it’s kind of a clue that something’s not right.
Ben: Yeah. So she’s got a bunch of lactic acid in her bloodstream and she hasn’t been exercising, I assume, as this test is obviously a morning void, so she got up in a flaccid state and was basically peeing out a bunch of lactic acid?
Chris: Right, exactly.
Ben: Wow. Why would that be?
Chris: Sorry, coz I think that she’s over-trained, like she’s in a point where she’s just too much stressed. The thing I’m starting to understand is that the stress physiology changes everything so all of these cycles are going on inside your body, many of them can be altered when you’re under stress. And this all makes sense when you think about it; your body’s just gonna do whatever it needs to do in order for you to survive the day. So if you’re about to be eaten by a tiger, it doesn’t really make sense to make the hormones that make babies or to make carnitine that’s gonna shuttle fatty acids; you just wanna make whatever energy you can as quickly as possible and just get the heck out of there.
Ben: Interesting. Okay so I noticed that, for example, we just talked about fatty acid metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism and on this actual PDF that I’m looking at right now that you sent over and that, of course, we’ll have available for people to download if they wanna follow along, underneath fatty acid metabolism and underneath carbohydrate metabolism has all these nutrients in parentheses like lipoic acid, CoQ10, vitamin B1, vitamin B3; are those the things that someone would be deficient in if they were showing improper amounts of the byproducts of carb and fat metabolism? Is that why those are there?
Chris: Yeah, those are there. In this column it’s labeled “intervention options” and they’re quite useful but really what this is telling you is this one potential solution to the problem with the physiology that’s been found in the result.
Ben: Okay, so basically if you got a problem with carbohydrate metabolism, I noticed there’s a bunch of B vitamins that are set as intervention options that could potentially be because you just have a vitamin B deficiency?
Chris: Exactly, exactly.
Ben: In addition to being over-trained?
Chris: Exactly yes. That’s why it’s really important to talk to the person as well as look at the lab result; you don’t know, until you talk to that person, exactly what’s going on. Another really good example I see all the time is beta-Hydroxybutyrate, which would appear in this carbohydrate metabolism section, and the marker was originally put on there to detect severe insulin resistance in chronically ill patients, but that’s never the reason that I see it now, it’s always because somebody’s eating a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, so it’s not actually a problem in the way that the lab originally thought it would be.
Ben: Interesting. Okay, cool. So then it jumps into energy production markers. Now what are these?
Chris: These are Krebs cycle intermediaries. So again if you can remember this from biology, the way in which we convert food and the air that we breathe into energy is through this process that’s called the Krebs cycle or the citric acid cycle, as I think it’s called in this lab. And all of these organic acids, and in this case you can see nearly all of them, those are Krebs cycle intermediaries. So when you start to see these pool on this test or go very high as they are in this case, that’s telling you that the Krebs cycle is not working as well as it should. And this is obviously really interesting not just for athletes, who are just trying to produce more energy; it’s also really interesting to anyone that’s doing some kind of desk job where they’re really trying to concentrate hard. If you’re energy production’s not working well then you can expect to feel waxes and wanes and all kinds of weird brain fog and basically anything’s possible.
Ben: Interesting, okay. So when I’m looking at this one, as far as interventions it looks like there’s a lot of amino acids, for example that when you’re seeing a deficiency in the ability to produce some of these energy production markers are actually some related deficiency. In her case it’s all showing very high in energy production markers. Does that mean that she’s spending too fast or is that a good thing?
Chris: So I think in this case it means that there’s a block. So you can think about, like I said earlier, these processes like a river, like water flowing; in this case there’s a dam that’s been put into that river and the water is starting to pool and that’s the organic acid that’s actually measured on this test. And so you can see a really common one, and it’s up here in this particular test in three different places, I see this all the time. It would appear that the enzyme CoQ10 is one of the weakest links in this chain so it’s really common for me to see people that need more enzyme CoQ10 in order to produce energy efficiently. Especially, a really common reason your doctors put you on a statin, that could be a really good reason why you need more enzyme CoQ10.
Ben: Okay, got it. Interesting. Okay so then there are also vitamin markers, something here called methylation cofactor; which of these are most important for people to know about or which would be easy to understand going over this via audio?
Chris: So yeah, the B vitamins are so important that the most common vitamins required for all these conversions to take place, so it’s really likely if you have a problem that there’s a B vitamin that’s lacking and the cool thing about this test is you can really supplement with confidence. If this test shows that you have a vitamin B6 deficiency as it does in this instance, then you can take that and know that it’s gonna help you; really take the guess work out of it. But the methylation cofactor’s a particularly interesting to anyone that’s done the 23andMe test, the genetic test. One of the first things that everybody looks at is the MCHFR mutation, that particular snip affects the way that a particular enzyme converts folate, that might appear in our diet, into the active form that’s actually used in methylation. And so you can see in this particular example that there is this organic acid that’s called formanoglutamate and it’s starting to build up very high in the urine sample, and that tells me that this particular lady needs more folate in the most active form which is 5-methyltetrahydrofolate.
Ben: Okay, so basically if you look at this test, you get an organic acids test and it shows your methylation is low, then that could indicate your need to be on some type of a folic acid based supplement, like a methyltetrahydrofolate supplement?
Chris: Yeah so if you take any of the Thorne products they have this most active form of folate in and you know this woman has a tiny bit of B1, B2, B3, B5, she’s lacking all of these things plus the folate, and so she could take something like a Thorne Basic B Complex and hit many of the problems that are on this test with just one capsule which is pretty cool.
Ben: Interesting, okay. So then you get into oxidative damage and antioxidant markers. And so this thing can actually measure the amount of free radicals or is it measuring something else?
Chris: Yeah, again so it’s not looking at the amount of oxidative stress directly; it’s looking at this surrogate marker. So these are like the exhaust gases of oxidative stress; it’s a complicated thing to explain in the first place, but you know oxidative stress is you cut an apple in half and you see it start to turn brown, that’s a chemical reaction with oxygen. And so this is going on inside your body all the time and it’s obviously vital for life, you couldn’t completely extinguish the oxidative stress and survive but at the same time we know that many disease states are associated with or even caused by oxidative stress and when that starts to happen, when you start to have too much oxidative stress, you see these organic acids, dehydroxyphenylacetate is one, they build up on this urine sample and they tell you there’s too much oxidative stress inside your body.
Ben: Okay, got it. And so for example, I noticed that some of the interventions that are recommended are vitamin C and vitamin E. Are those the type of things that you use or do you recommend a fuller spectrum of antioxidants? What do people do when they find out that they’re producing or that they’ve got too much oxidative damage?
Chris: Yes, I’ve been looking at this quite a lot and it’s kind of a dicey and difficult area, like it’s not clear to me at this time whether the anti-oxidants that are in vegetables are actually anti-oxidants or whether they’re pro-oxidants. There’s some sort of hermetic effect where it’s upregulating your own internal production of these anti-oxidants and so Jamie, our doctor, has done quite a bit of research into this and she thinks that the best intervention option is to supplement with a product, an N-Acetylcysteine. So N-Acetylcysteine is an amino acid that’s the precursor to this molecule called glutathione which I’ve heard you mention many times before; it’s the body’s primary endogenous anti-oxidant. And so rather than trying to stamp out the oxidative stress with vitamin C and E as it says on this lab, we think it’s better to take something like PharmaNac that would upregulate your own internal production of anti-oxidants.
Ben: That’s like an effervescent anti-oxidant tablet that you can put in a glass of water, right?
Chris: Yeah, it’s great. I’m actually drinking some right now. People love it because it’s not another pill to swallow, it’s quite a pleasant-tasting drink. You can easily get two of these supplements if you try and fix everything on this test.
Ben: So it’s just something you can drink while you’re at work during the time?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. You can put into a bottle or…
Ben: Got it. Now then you get into detoxification indicators, what are these?
Chris: So these are telling me how well your liver is working. So everybody knows that our environment is becoming increasingly toxic and there’s been studies done by the Center for Disease Control and you’ve talked about it many times that it’s basically impossible to avoid exposure to environmental toxins and that’s why we have a liver and that’s what it does, and your liver removes those and excretes them from your body. And if that doesn’t happen properly then you start to see these organic acids build up on this test, and then you know your liver’s not doing such a great job. And the thing that gets tricky about this test, some of these markers they’re tied together so I think that maybe on this test, the liver function is divided into two phases and I think maybe the phase 2 liver function in this test is not running as well as it should, and that might be the cause of the high levels of oxidative stress, right? So these intermediaries that sit in-between phase 1 and phase 2, they are reactive oxygen species so they would elevate the oxidative stress; so you kind of have to look at the big picture a bit with this test and try to figure out a bit what’s going on.
Ben: Okay, got it; interesting. The next thing that you have on here is neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter metabolism. Would this be something that would be related to your mood, your brain function or is this more like a gut neurotransmitter type of look?
Chris: Yes, and this another quite tricky area and I think some people get confused that this is a urine test for neurotransmitters which is not very a useful test but the neurotransmitters that are measured in a urine sample are actually made locally in the kidneys and they don’t really have much to do with what levels are present in their central nervous system or in the brain. So again, this test is kind of a cool trick that you can just measure these metabolites, these metabolic ashes of neurotransmitters and know something about how well this person is producing and using neurotransmitters. So in this particular case you can see the vanilmandelate is very low and vanilmandelate is the metabolic ashes of adrenaline. So when you see that very low, that’s a strong indication that this person’s in kind of a deep adrenal fatigue but an outsourced state and that is exactly what we saw in the saliva test for this particular person.
Ben: And so in a case like that when you find out that your neurotransmitter function is low, what type of steps do you take?
Chris: So the stress reduction part can’t be skipped and it really is the most important bit. Every single person is an athlete, almost by definition you’re a sort of type-A hard-charging person. Quite often, it’s only once people see the lab work do they truly understand that they’re pushing too hard and they’re not making gains anymore, so the lifestyle interventions are by far the most important, and maybe for this particular woman, now is a really good time to take an off-season or just take four-five weeks off the bike, get really bored, just spend your time doing yoga and nature walks and stuff and the world is gonna be a better place in six weeks’ time.
Ben: Interesting, okay. And then you get into things like bacteria, yeast, what looks to me more kinda like gut-function clostridial species, fungal, et cetera. Can you get into what’s measured here and what people can do with the findings?
Chris: Ahuh. So no I think we’re kinda getting into the meat of it, you know? This is “why are all these things going wrong for this woman? Why is she having problems with phase 1 and phase 2 detox? Why is she so burned out? Why does she feel so bloated after she eats?” This is a really common complaint and so what this test does, it looks at metabolites that can only have come from bacteria, not of human origin. And more specifically, these types of bacteria are not beneficial and usually they are in the small intestine. So some people will have heard of this phrase SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and you can think of this test, not as a poor-man’s version, it’s kind of a crude, you could do a breath test I think would be better but this gives you a very good indication if you have an overgrowth of bacteria going on in your small intestine.
Ben: So you can actually measure that via the urine versus doing a breath test, huh?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. I’d say the breath test would probably be the gold standard but this is a really good indication and I see a very strong correlation between people that are feeling bloated after eating and seeing high levels of these metabolites from the bacteria.
Ben: So what do you do if you see a high level of these type of bacterial metabolites?
Chris: It’s quite often that the smoke and not the fire, so for this particular person the best way to do this whole thing is to do all three tests; you do the saliva test, you do a urine test and then a stool test as well. And then in this particular case, the woman had a parasitic infection called blastocystis hominis which is kind of a nasty little bug that can cause fatigue and other problems, and I think the overgrowth of the bacteria that we’re seeing here are the result of the dysbiosis that’s being caused by this other bug, right? But sometimes that’s not the case, quite often I see it where a person, the only problem they have are these overgrowths, and of course it could account for anything else on the lab test. If you’re not digesting and assimilating the nutrients from your foods, then you would expect to see some of these micronutrient deficiencies.
So usually sometimes if the case is not too bad, you can crowd out these bad bacteria with probiotics and maybe beneficial species of yeast like saccharomyces boulardii, but usually what the person does is a short kind of killing phase where they’ll go a couple of months taking anti-microbial botanical herbs like garlic and olive leaf extract and oregano oil, and taken in the right doses for a short period of time, those could be really effective for killing off those overgrowths and then you would focus afterwards on re-establishing a more healthy flora with probiotics.
Ben: I noticed after all these different tests are listed, this particular PDF that we’re looking up actually follows up with a customized formulation, like basically a printout of all the things that you should take to address the particular issues that are on the test. So they all come with this or is this something that you put together after you look over it?
Chris: No, the lab they have this algorithm where they calculate the dosages of all these different nutrients that would potentially fix the problems that they found on the lab work. Now like I said, this is just one option that could work for you and so take for example the phase 2 liver function isn’t working because there’s an insufficiency of sulfur-containing compounds; now you can take your N-Acetyl Cysteina is one sulfur-containing compound but there’s others like methionine, so there’s other things that could work.
Ben: Okay, got it. So do you find that you wind up recommending to people specific multivitamin complexes and stuff like that or people actually get custom formulations created for them?
Chris: Yeah, you could do that and I believe Genova they do have custom compounding service but typically I find that you run into problems like “how the heck do you fit all this stuff into one pill, one powder? What happens if you want to do one thing but not another?” and that’s almost the first thing that I take into consideration when I look at one of these results is like “what’s this person’s main goal?” So in this instance, this woman wants to be a better fat burner so she wants the carnitine to allow her to be a better fat burner, and then she’s feeling really tired so the enzyme CoQ10 and all those B vitamins could be really important for her. And so usually what I do is I just break this thing down and then divide it into modules that are ordered by her priorities, right? So if your first goal is to produce more energy, let’s just take two supplements that can focus on that and nothing else.
Ben: Got it. So this is a pretty dense amount of information so I wanna do a bit of a review here of what we’ve covered so far, if we could just because I know this stuff can get pretty tough to slog through if you’re not a physiologist or trained in medicine. So this organic acids profile, you do a urine measurement, it’s measuring the metabolites that occur as your cells are working, as they’re churning out energy, and when we look at those actual metabolites were able to tell certain things about what’s going on inside the body, particularly from a metabolic standpoint and that’s all done from a urine collection?
Chris: That’s correct, yes.
Ben: Okay, got it. And the things that this can measure, first of all you’ve got fat burning so you can measure whether or not you’re in or out of a fat burning state.
Ben: Okay. And that would be like a measurement of beta oxidation?
Chris: Yeah exactly. So this is so important; obviously for endurance athletes this is critical, you don’t want to be burning glucose in a four or five hour event. But even if you just sat at your desk, the thing that I’m starting to understand now is although I’m a pro mountain biker, officially I’m pro; nobody’s really paying me a salary to do this work and so it’s the time that I spend outside of training, I’ve got a 1-year old daughter and she’s getting pretty demanding, running around and stuff and I wanna have the energy and the vitality to be able to play with her outside of the training and off the bike. And I’m realizing maybe you can do your training but can you do this other stuff too, like can you be a great whatever it is you do for a living, and I think that’s where this test really comes into its own. When you fix those things, you just simply feel more energy.
Ben: Okay, and that’s also related to its ability to measure for example blood sugar stabilization and the speed or the efficiency of this Krebs cycle for producing ATP?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. I mean when you look at the difference between a skin cell and a neuron, the neuron’s doing your thinking but it’s still powered by the same metabolic processes, right? You still got Krebs cycle, you got mitochondria, and so if you’re not producing energy correctly as indicated by this test then brain fog could easily be one of the symptoms that you experience.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So we’ve got your fat metabolism, your blood sugar stabilization, your energy production, and then this whole methylation factor, where you can actually find out whether you’re actually properly methylating or whether or not you need something like methyltetrahydrofolate.
Chris: Yeah, so that would be my advice to anyone who’s done the 23andMe saliva test and notice that they have some of these snips that could cause problems with methylation is do this urine test and find out how well your methylation is actually working. So what you’ve just discovered is genetic potential, and I’m a really good example of this, I have some of those problems with those snips but I don’t have any problem with methylation at all, so maybe the enzymes are not working as well as they could do but they’re working well enough and I know that from doing this test.
Ben: Okay, got it. And then we get into toxins and it measures toxins and your ability to specifically detoxify.
Chris: Yeah exactly, it tells you how well your detoxing is actually working. And so in some instances I actually do a ton of coaching with someone to help them solve this type of problem, maybe they’re doing something weird like using a whole bunch of toxic personal care products or maybe they’re living in a house that’s got problems with lead paint or some kind of preservative in wood, it’s possible. But it’s really difficult; it’s a really interesting marker, it’s actually not come up on this particular result but there’s a marker called xylene and xylene is a metabolite of coal tar. And the reason they put it on this test is not to detect accidental exposure, it’s to measure specifically how well your phase 2 liver function is working because they know that every single person on this planet is exposed to it, right? It’s kind of a scary idea but it’s true, you cannot avoid your exposure so you really need to make sure your detox is working right.
Ben: And then it measures your oxidative stress, and your anti-oxidants.
Ben: Okay, and then the neurotransmitter that we talked about and then finally the intestinal function, or the intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Chris: Yeah exactly. So in this instance, this woman has also got a yeast overgrowth that we see is really common and this is not actually a very sensitive test for yeast, you have to have a real screaming yeast overgrowth before you start to see this organic acid called [0:32:56] ______ start to build up in the urine sample. So if you think you’ve got a problem with yeast then this test will tell you how bad it is, if it’s really bad it’ll be on here.
Ben: What are a few of the things that you find to be really common markers that are really dysregulated, not necessarily with super unhealthy people but the type of people that are listening in right now like exercise-enthusiasts, people who are taking care of their bodies, what are some of the things that you tend to find?
Chris: The kynurenine organic acid is really common so…
Ben: Wait, did you call it kynurenine?
Chris: Yeah kynurenine, that’s the name of the organic acid and kynurenine is the metabolite of an amino acid called tryptophan, and many people have heard of this amino acid because it’s in turkey and it makes you sleepy, right? And there’s actually some truth to that statement because tryptophan should metabolize into this intermediate called 5-HTP, 5-Hydroxytryptophan, which you can buy as a supplement, and then from there it should metabolize into this inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin, and there on into a sleep hormone called melatonin, which is the hormone that puts you to sleep at night. And if you’re under stress, your body will divert that tryptophan away from this really nice sleepy, relaxing pathway and down towards the production of inflammatory cytokines to fight an infection, and when that happens you see the buildup of kynurenine in the urine sample and so that’s exactly what I’ve mentioned here. And because 99% of the people that I work with are not feeling too good and they’re all athletes, then I see this all the time so they’ve driven themselves to the point where there’s too much stress and their body is saying “screw this serotonin and let’s just make inflammatory cytokines” and then they run into problems with sleep.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So that’s one thing is this kynurenine-tryptophan pathway, what another thing that tends to be common?
Chris: So again the neurotransmitter section marker, there’s a lot of commonality there so definitely the epinephrine, the adrenaline, and noradrenaline; so people say to me “I’m just not as enthusiastic as I used to be; just the thought of exercise exhausts me” and we know that norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter, noradrenaline, I keep using these words interchangeably but it’s the same thing. That’s associated with the willingness to move so if you’re kinda dreading exercise now, you used to bounce out of bed in the morning and you felt like you were really up for it and now you’re not really so sure, you kind of just wanna press the snooze button and sleep in; this test will tell you exactly what’s going on.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. Any other things that you tend to see is common?
Chris: Yeah, the carnitine thing is definitely really common, and again I think it comes down to stress physiology. Some carnitine it comes from red meat so if you’re a vegan or you’re just not eating much red meat, then you might run into this problem, and so this would affect your body composition. You can’t burn fat, that could easily affect your body composition.
Chris: But yeah, it should come from foods, but also produced endogenously from amino acid called glycine and quite often that doesn’t happen again because the person is under stress; your body is just thinking “screw the carnitine, let’s just make some glucose so that we can survive the day.”
Ben: It seems like a lot of the information that you get off this test is relatively advanced to be able to kind of interpret yourself. When someone does a test, do you actually get on the phone with them and walk them through it or how can people actually make sure that they’re interpreting their test correctly?
Chris: Yeah, that’s the best. Definitely need to work with someone is the best way to do it. But the first time I saw, it was Dr. Dan Kalish that persuaded me to do this test, and at the time I was working as…
Ben: Who is that?
Chris: I’m sorry, so Dan Kalish is a functional medicine practitioner and I met him and he was the guy that fixed me in the first place and I was so wowed by the whole experience I persuaded him to train me and my wife, who’s a food scientist, and so now we have our own practice. Dr. Kalish primarily focuses on training doctors at the moment, so he was the one that introduced me to this test; he’s been running it for about 15 years and he was kinda excited about it because I’m an athlete, he was like “oh you gotta fix this stuff.” Like, if you fix all this stuff that’s on his test, you’re just gonna crush every race, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that that was the year that I upgraded to pro after I fixed all the things that I found on his test.
Ben: Wow, so that was after you did this organic acids test?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Just fixed the things that I found, just make sure that it correlated with my life experience pretty well and then just fixed those things.
Ben: And so now when people get this test you help walk them through it.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. So at the time I was working as a computer programmer at Quantitative Hedge Funds, and when I first saw this test I was like “wow look at this, it’s a big programming puzzle” and “what do all these things mean, these variables what do they mean?” And so that kind of set me off down this rabbit hole; when you’re trying to learn something and you’ve got an example that’s all about you sat there in front of you, it’s like the methylation thing is the genetic, the 23andMe data, it’s kinda the same, once you know it affects you, you suddenly care a lot more about the story behind that data. And so that was how I got into this, and two years later I’m still kind of digging deeper and deeper into this so it’s definitely, if you’re the sort of person that likes kind of delving into things and looking at the literature, this test has been used and has been very well proven out in the literature so if you like to delve in and go deeper, you can definitely do that or if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t do well on that sort of stuff, you can just be on the phone for me for an hour or something, we can figure something out and do it that way too.
Ben: Okay, so people can go to your website to get this test, right?
Ben: So that’s at nourishbalancethrive.com. I’ll put a link in the show notes for people if they wanna check it out. And are you doing a special deal for the podcast listeners today?
Chris: Yes, so I think the best way to get started is to talk to me on the phone, so if you come over to the website, you can book a consultation, you don’t have to talk to anyone, you can actually book that for yourself online. And I’m gonna do 50% off for anybody that has the code GREENFIELD.
Ben: Is that on a consult with you or on the test itself?
Chris: No, that’s on the consult.
Ben: Okay, okay. Cool.
Ben: So it’s a half price consult with you where you can give people direction as far as where they should go from there?
Chris: Yeah exactly, so normally when I do this test it’s part of a bigger picture, like if you really want to get better as fast as possible, then the best way to do it is to do a couple more tests is quite common. But you could run this test too, by yourself, but the best way to figure out what’s right for you is to talk to me first. Of course I have much more information that I really do need in order to interpret the test.
Ben: Gotcha, and then also, if people wanna see what the test actually looks like, I’m gonna upload the PDF that you and I talked about just now, to the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organics; that’s organics with an “s”, so that you can see exactly what the test looks like. And I’ll also, you sent me over a bunch of helpful notes as well Chris, so I’m gonna put those in the show notes as well just in case folks’ heads are still spinning from all the different tests that we went over in the audio version, so I’ll try and make this really easy for you if you’re listening in. Just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/organics, I’ll have all the information over there about this relatively little-known test that seems to be able to tell you quite a bit about particularly your cellular metabolism. So, anything else you wanna share with folks Chris, about this test?
Chris: Yeah, I think I would encourage people to, I know it’s kind of dense and it’s difficult and it’s complicated, but this is where you’re gonna make your gains, right? If you’re just looking for five or ten percent and that’s gonna be the difference between age group and pro or back of the pack and front of the pack, then this is where you need to be looking, you know? Like when I arrived with my buddies, all they talk about is equipment like have you got this new 11-speed derailleur, do you have these wheels and all of that stuff. And that’s nice, don’t get me wrong, I love all that stuff like masturbating over equipment, but really this cellular metabolism stuff, that’s how you’re gonna win bike races or marathons or swimming or whatever it is that you do.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. Cool, so this isn’t just if you’re sick, this is if you wanna up your game.
Ben: Cool, I like it. Alright Chris, well what I’m gonna do is put a link to this PDF, Put a link over to the NourishBalanceThrive and also to the previous podcast that we did on testing for adrenal fatigue, coz it sounds like that would be a pretty good 1-2 combo to test yourself for cortisol and DHEA but then also test yourself for some of these other things, and this is far different than for example the blood test that they usually talk about. This is measuring different things, so it’s really interesting. Obviously there’s a lot of different tests that you could do, but I would say that if you can’t figure out what’s going on and why you don’t have energy or if you wanna break through the performance barrier, this seems like a pretty good one to get.
Ben: Alright, cool. Well I’ll put it all over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organics and Chris, thanks for coming on the call today, man.
Chris: Thanks for having me Ben, it’s a great honor. Thank you.
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.
- What is the organic acids test and how did you discover it?
- 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.
- 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 23andmesaliva 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.
- Who should take it, and why would someone take this test?
- 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.
- Is it a standalone test, or is it used in conjunction with other tests?
- 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.
- What are the optimal ranges for each of the biomarkers, and why?
- 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.
- How can I implement what I learn from this test ‘in real life’?
- 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.
- 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.)