Ever suffer with bloating or discomfort but don't know why? Despite having 100% the same DNA Lisa and Alana Macfarlane (The Mac Twins) only have 30-40% of the same microbiota, in this episode we look at:
Your microbiome affects your whole wellbeing. DJs Alana and Lisa Macfarlane (AKA the Mac Twins), founders of The Gut Stuff, and Holland & Barrett nutritionist Isabel Tarrant talk us through fibre, poo and why 30 is the magic number
‘We’re two DJs from working class Scotland who grew up on deep-fried pizza and chips,’ says Alana. ‘We couldn’t have been further from the wellness industry. We signed up for Professor Tim Spector’s TwinsUK research as we were curious about our physiological differences. After sending our poo off every day for two months, we discovered that, even though as identical twins we have 100% the same DNA, we only have 30-40% the same gut bacteria.’
'Your microbiome is the trillions of bacteria, pathogens and fungi that live in, around or on us,’ says Alana. ‘When Lisa and I first heard that, we were like: “Give me a bath.” Now I think of them as my pets. Lisa thinks of it as a garden or rainforest, but just knowing they’re around is important.’
‘We realised the microbiome is about much more than just digestive health,’ says Lisa. ‘Microbiome research is still in its infancy,’ adds Isabel. ‘But it’s fascinating how it’s being linked to brain health, hormonal health and skin heath, including conditions like acne and eczema.’
'Approximately 70% of our immune cells are in our gut,’ explains Isabel. ‘When we have an imbalance of bacteria, this can also increase permeability in the intestinal barrier; bacteria escape through the gaps, which can trigger inflammatory conditions and exacerbate immune responses.’
‘We know the brain influences the gut and vice versa along the gut-brain axis. The main way they communicate is through the vagus nerve,’ explains Isabel. ‘The microbes in our gut produce chemicals that are important for brain function, including 95% of our serotonin, which is involved in feelings of happiness. Research shows individuals suffering with anxiety and depression tend to have less diverse, rich microbiomes.’
‘Mental health is multifactorial,’ adds Lisa. ‘The gut-brain axis is exciting, but just eating some sauerkraut on its own won’t cure your depression. We have to see nutrition as one of the tools in our armoury.’
‘We should all be getting 30g of fibre a day, which is a lot when you think an apple is only 2.5g,’ says Alana. ‘The thing to focus on is variety. The study we took part in showed the benefits of eating 30 different plant-based foods a week. That can include fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds or wholegrains. And different colours count – you get four points for red, yellow, green and orange peppers.’
‘We can’t digest fibre, but our gut bacteria can and they love it,’ adds Lisa. ‘Fibre also bulks up your stool to make you go. It’s like the bassist in the band no one knows the name of – the unsung hero of nutrition.’
‘When we talk about gut health, people think of digestive issues like IBS, but it actually affects everyone. And poo is one of the last taboos,’ says Lisa. ‘We’re getting there with periods and sexual health, but after age 5, it’s not something we tune into. When your GP asks, “When did you last poo?”, we often don’t know. And we don’t know what a good or bad poo is as our “normal” is individual. You have to empower people to figure it out.’
‘As DJs, we were on stage at 4am, then on a flight three hours later,’ says Lisa. ‘Now the pandemic has gifted us routine. I go to bed at 9 and wake at 5.30am. Sleep affects gut health too, as gut bugs work in a circadian rhythm. However, wellbeing doesn’t have to be drinking green smoothies on your head. For me, going to the pub with my pals is my reset button.’
‘Before lockdown, I’d hammer a HIIT class at a boutique gym,’ says Alana. ‘Now I’ve moved to the country and go on a walk in nature. That can do wonders for your microbiome, too.’
Want to learn more? Listen to more episodes The Wellness Edit podcast here.
A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.