We Are All Pretty Unique

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Resilience

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Understanding that you are unique can help you avoid re-thinking your choices every time you encounter a new theory about what everyone should or shouldn’t eat.

Have you ever asked, “if the latest popular diet worked for Joe, why isn’t it working for me?” If you have, you certainly wouldn’t be alone.

In an earlier “Food for Thought” piece, I discussed a research study in which 600 overweight adults were randomly assigned to either a “healthy low-fat” or “healthy low-carbohydrate” diet. After 12 months, they found that the average weight loss in both groups was so similar that no statistical difference could be detected. However, there was an almost 90-pound variation between the best and the poorest results, with individual weight changes ranging from losing around 66 lbs. to gaining more than 20 lbs.

Variations in human appearance are similarly dramatic and almost infinite. If you came to Earth from another planet, you could be forgiven if you concluded that a Sumo wrestler and a ballerina were different sorts of creatures.

A few minutes of focused observation in any crowded place are enough to illuminate how different humans are on the outside. What’s harder to see—but equally fascinating and important—is that we are surprisingly different on the inside as well, from the actual shape of our organs to the ways our bodies deal with food.

Roger Williams, discoverer of the B vitamin pantothenic acid, highlighted this phenomenon in his 1965 book, “A Physician’s Guide to Nutritional Science.”

Everything in the top row below is a stomach. The bottom row shows variations in the size and branching of aortic arteries.

In his study of variation, Williams conducted an experiment in which he fed rats nothing but white bread. Over the study period, the amount of weight they gained ranged from 2 to 212 grams, or between .5 and 53 percent of their initial body weight. If this had been a group of 160-lb men, the weight gain would range from .8 to 84 pounds!

Do you really need to stay away from carbohydrates? There’s not an exact answer. Normal, healthy adults have been found to have as much as a 20-fold variation in the amounts of the enzymes necessary to break down carbohydrates in their intestines. It’s clear that not everyone will have equal ability to digest that nutrient.

These are far from the only examples of individual sensitivity and response to food.

Whether dairy products offer a taste of heaven or a pain in the gut is dependent on how much of the lactase enzyme that your body produces. About two-thirds of adults have a reduced ability to make this substance, and even within this group response varies.

We’re only beginning to understand the vital role that the human microbiome—the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms in and on your body—plays in crucial functions such as digestion, vitamin production, and immune response. This puzzle is made all the more complicated due to the fact that the microbiome of every individual on Earth is completely unique, affected by infinite combinations of inputs from sources including breastmilk, diet, environmental exposures, and antibiotic use.

Understanding that you are unique can help you avoid re-thinking your choices every time you encounter a new theory about what everyone should or shouldn’t eat. It could also set you on the path to discovering what is right for you, whether through tests or paying more attention to how your body responds to what you eat.

We created this site as a resource for you to better understand the fundamentals of how the body works and the various influences on its performance. I encourage you to take advantage of our Guidebooks, courses and news briefs to assist you in your quest for better health.

Bob Graves

Bob Graves

Position

Bob Graves is a long-time veteran of publishing of health, environmental and public-benefit information. He holds a Masters degree in Nutrition from UC Davis.

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