E42 - Upgrade Yourself, Not Just Your Device! Interview with Alessandra Edwards
Alessandra Edwards shares:
- Why cycling carbs can work in concert with our natural biochemistry for peak performance
- 3 pervasive bad habits that keep executives from top performance
- Hot nutritional tips for supporting optimum energy
- The science behind genetically-based nutrition and performance
- The best kind of carbs to eat for brain and hormone support
Alessandra Edwards has a background in clinical nutrition, integrative naturopathy and nutrigenomics, the science of how nutrition, exercise and mindset affect our genes.
She shows leaders how to maximise their energy so they can achieve more, even if they are genetically prone to have poor mental focus, energy fluctuations, or low motivation.
She has two cats Molly and Milly. She loves good food, inspiring conversations and outdoor kickboxing.
Breathing app for android and iphone - ability to set reminders to breathe and relax
Zoë Routh: Hi. This is Zoe, and today we have a very special guest, and I'm so delighted to bring her to you. Her name is Alessandra Edwards, and her background reads like a litany of everything out of a science textbook, so bear with me. She has a background in clinical nutrition, integrative naturopathy, and nutrigenomics. I believe this is the science of how nutrition, exercise, and mindset affect our genes, which is very cool science. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about that.
In her professional life, she shows leaders how to maximise their energy so they can achieve more. Every single leader I work with wants to do that, want more energy to do more, because they've got way more on their plate. The interesting thing about that is that she looks at how people are genetically prone to have poor mental focus, energy fluctuations, or low motivation, and therefore what we can do to adjust our habits and our nutrition and how we manage ourselves to compensate for even that. We can be high performers even if we're genetically doomed, you would think, to the opposite results, which is hope for all of us.
She has two cats, Molly and Milly ... very cute ... and she loves good food, inspiring conversations, and outdoor kickboxing. We just had a brief conversation before I hit record about her accent, because I swore up and down she was British. However, Alessandra, you're not British. You have a conglomeration of accents, so tell about your background and how you ended up in Australia, first of all.
Alessandra: I'm glad that we're mentioning this in the beginning, so that if I fluff my words, then people the reason why. I was born in Rome in Italy, and I grew up in Rome. I also spent quite a bit of time in France, since my mother was French, and so we had to speak French at home, because even though she'd married an Italian, she actually couldn't stand Italy or Italian. She was a very funny lady, very, very French, and that's what inspired my love of good food, by the way.
And then I became a real British-phile, and I moved to England after high school and went to university there. Then moved to Switzerland, spent some time, and then moved back to England and there spent just over a decade, and that's where I met my husband on a London train before then moving to Australia. The reason we moved to Australia ... Many people don't believe this story, but this is actually true ... is because my husband's parents had decided to retire somewhere warm, and they wanted to move back to France, which was where they spent a lot of time. My husband is one of four, and his youngest sister said, "No, don't go to France, because you still get winters. I've been to Australia once. It was kind of cool. Let's move there."
And so the entire family, 12 people and four cats, moved lock, stock, and barrel, including his grandma, who was in her late 80s at the time, and here we are 13 years on with no regrets.
Zoë Routh: Oh, my goodness. That's epic, to pick up and move an entire family plus cats. Cats probably had to go through quarantine for six months or something.
Alessandra: That's right. Yes. Yes. Quarantine and the lot. Very expensive, actually. Their flights cost more than ours.
Zoë Routh: Oh, my goodness. Thank you for sharing that. You definitely are a citizen of the world, and along with that, you've had an interesting professional journey. How did you end up as a clinical nutritionist, integrative naturopathy expert, and studying nutrigenomics? You have to tell us what those things actually mean and how you ended up studying and serving people through this.
Alessandra: When I was in England, I worked for quite some time in publishing and then ended up in marketing management for a coffee shop chain. The pace of work and life was very, very fast. High stress levels, a lot of pressure. When working that kind of sector, the campaigns basically fly thick and fast, and you're very much measured on the results of the campaigns, and so it's very much a sales-based environment, and so you're expected to work very long hours and deliver the goods.
And so at the time, I really knew very little about nutrition or complementary health, but I knew that I had to do something to improve not just my performance, but my energy level. I was in my late 20s at the time, and still I was very much aware of how stress was affecting me and affecting my mood and my ability, also, to de-stress and wind down at the end of the day. Obviously, this was taking its toll on my relationship at the time, and so I became a yoga teacher.
I'd been practicing yoga for years, and it was the one thing that I found really helped me greatly, but not completely 100%. First I became a yoga teacher and started teaching part-time, and then through yoga I became interested in a branch of nutrition called Ayurveda, which is a traditional Indian, very complementary and highly holistic system that includes diet, lifestyle, meditation, and yoga. That was my, if you like, initial step into realizing how modifying one's diet and introducing different types of mindset exercises actually could then produce incredible results in the workplace.
I kind of became quite addicted to it, because I felt better and better. My resilience increased. I was doing so well at work, and so that was the first interest. And this basically translated into researching more and more what nutrition meant. I left Ayurveda behind as I realised that actually, I'm very scientifically-minded, and so certain aspects of Ayurveda were a little bit too "woo-hoo" for me, and I really needed to buckle down and learn the science of nutritional biochemistry. That's basically where that passion first developed.
And then, just looking back on my family history, family health history, there is a lot of cancer, there is a lot of heart disease, and also some mental health issues, so some depression and anxiety. I certainly remember my mother not coping very well with life. She worked for the United Nations, so again, she had a very highly stressful job, and it seemed to me growing up that she wasn't coping very well. And so I became really interested in mental health, and particularly understanding where we've come from, because I could see those tendencies in myself of having high stress levels, and I refused, basically, to accept the prognosis. I refused to say, "I am my mother's daughter, and therefore this is how I will live my life."
And so I became very interested in genetics and the science of nutrigenomics, which is, as you said at the beginning, Zoe, basically is the study of how foods affect our gene expression. Genes are short sections of the DNA that are found inside your cells, and they send out biological instructions to our cells in order to make things, to make proteins, and these genes are passed down from our parents to us, and it's what makes us unique. But what really interested me, and interests me more as research is expanding in this field, is that we can actually tweak this so that we don't have to be slave to our genes.
This has certainly become completely true in my life. As you know, I have a very full professional life with lots of travel, working with many, many clients at a high executive level, and I also have two young children, two cats, and yet I find that my level of stress resilience is the best it's ever been. My energy's really consistent, and I see this in my clients, and so that initial passion has become really an obsession to help others navigate the very difficult and demanding lifestyles that we have these days and helping them live more, both in a private and professional sense.
Zoë Routh: I love that you say how the results that you're getting in your own life and for your clients, because when I met you about a year ago, I saw this tall, gorgeous woman with glowing skin and this energy just booming out of her. I thought, "I want what she's having," and that's why ... Full disclosure to people listening ... I've hired and been working with Alessandra for the last few months to work on exactly what she discussed, stress and energy levels, because like you, Alessandra, I travel a lot, have a high workload, and wanted to do that better, particularly knowing that you have the same lifestyle, and yet you look so vibrant. I'm like, "I need some of that," and it's been remarkable what we've been able to achieve in the last few months in terms of turning my energy and profile around. So you definitely live and embody what you teach.
Alessandra: You are also my ideal client, Zoe, just very committed, no nonsense, deeply involved, ask questions, so it is very exciting for me to work with people like you. And for me, it's about not just getting the results for you. Obviously, with the client we establish goals, but for me, working with people at your level is really exciting, because I just think ... Think of all the extra amazing things that Zoe and my other clients can do if I help them with this, how they're then going to impact their clients and their colleagues.
And I really believe that some of the problems we are witnessing today in this world in crisis of ours is that we have a broken biology, and when you fix that, you literally become ... I wouldn't say "invincible," because life keeps throwing lemons at you, but you certainly become ... It's like having a layer of Teflon. You're stronger, and you can cope better, and therefore pass on less angst and stress and just maintain that levelheadedness, which I think we're really in dire need of these days when you're reading the news.
Zoë Routh: I love that you talk about Teflon, so I think we should go totally there. How do we do that? Because I know all of my listeners will go, "Yeah, can we just jump to that part, please?" Can you tell me how we can develop Teflon coatings?
Alessandra: Yeah. First of all, let's remove Teflon from our lives, from our actual kitchen. That's a good start. That is a metaphor that does not apply to your kitchen utensils.
Zoë Routh: So presumably, Teflon is a negative thing to have in our environment.
Alessandra: Yeah. That's right.
Zoë Routh: Let's start there. In terms of tweaking our environment, let's start with that to make sure that we have a great immune system. What are your top tips for editing, auditing, improving our physical environment?
Alessandra: We could easily fill this in over two days, so I'm going to give you my top two or three points that I see very, very commonly in stressed entrepreneurs and executives. The first thing is ... which is connected to some of the myths surrounding food and nutrition these days ... is that most people I see have some kind of dysregulation of blood sugar metabolism. Without going too deep into the science, this basically means that our bodies, our cells, and particularly our brains, are hungry for energy-rich glucose that we get from food, and due to a series of reasons, number one, having chronically stressed levels where we don't allow downtime on a regular basis during the day, eating foods that are very carbohydrate-rich, and particularly starting the day with a carbohydrate-rich breakfast. Whether it's cereal, toast, or skipping breakfast, or even eating things like pastries or muffins, doesn't serve us and in time sets in motion the dysregulation of blood sugar, so that basically our cells become quite hungry for the energy-making glucose.
As a result of that, our brain, which consumes vast amounts of glucose on a minute-by-minute basis, becomes very foggy and tired, and as a result of that, not only does this affect our ability to focus and perform at work, but it also starts to alter our moods. You basically get those classic cycles of irritability and fatigue, which then become combined with cravings for carb-rich food, because the brain is very clever and it knows that if you grab the piece of toast or a muffin, it's actually going to regain some of its energy. That's why we end up there. So that's really the first thing.
The second thing is ... which relates to what I was talk about, not having downtime ... is this expectation of ourselves, and this is particularly common in the corporate workplace, where we assume that we can go at it all the time. Unfortunately, this is not-
Zoë Routh: That sounds very perverse.
Alessandra: I mean in a good way. Go at it as in go at work all the time.
Zoë Routh: Okay. Got it.
Alessandra: And we haven't evolved to do that. This leads me, basically, to seeing the second thing that I see, as well as this energy dysregulation, is basically sleep issues. Sleep issues are incredibly, incredibly common, whether it's a difficulty in falling asleep or remaining sleep. It's just super common, and there's this assumption that we can function on less than six hours of sleep a night, and this has a really strong impact, in a bad way, on how our brain is able to function, retain learning, and focus.
Zoë Routh: So these are all the problems. We're eating too many muffins and carbs and starchy stuff, and we're not taking enough breaks during the day, and we've got sleep issues. Let me just tease out each of the antidotes for these, if you like. Especially I want to know about, if you're doing the opposite of no downtime during the day, what does that actually look like if you're going to fix that on a practical level? What kinds of things could you do during the day to recalibrate so you're not going at it, as you said, all day long?
Alessandra: Some of these suggestions your listeners may be familiar with in the sense of if they have perhaps looked at hacks to increase their productivity. For me, it's about cycling, and particularly understanding how our neurotransmitters and hormones cycle. I'll give you a very quick rundown of what happens. We basically have a burst of cortisol, which is ... People associate cortisol with stress, but cortisol is the hormone of life, and it's really necessary for us to function. In the early hours of the morning, we usually have this burst of cortisol, which helps us to wake up naturally.
Incidentally, people who wake up around 4 or 5 AM and can't go back to sleep, that is generally due to dysregulation of the circadian cycle of cortisol, so they're so stressed that basically they're producing cortisol inappropriately, and then they cannot go back to sleep.
So we're supposed to have this burst of cortisol in the morning, which is followed quite closely by a release of dopamine, which is the ... It's the gorgeous neurotransmitter that makes you feel like you're on top of the world. You can conquer anything, and you're excited about life. People might associate this feeling with when you've got maybe a holiday to look forward to a party to go to, and there's that anticipation of great things to come. That is dopamine at its best.
We want to support that natural cycle of release of some cortisol and some dopamine in the mornings, and so my recommendation is to ditch all carbs for breakfast entirely. I'm a huge fan of smoothies, because my mornings are busy, so I usually recommend a high-protein smoothie with no carbohydrates, so just a small amount of berries, because they're quite low-carb, high amount of protein, and then following this up mid-morning, if people are still hungry, with a protein snack.
At the same time, allowing yourself ... and I recommend usually for my clients to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, so getting up earlier, before the whole household is in motion or before you have to rush out of the door, and actually grounding yourself. I know this sounds a little bit sort of hippy, but there's quite a lot of science behind it, and there's different techniques I like to recommend for grounding. Some people are open to even a two-minute meditation or concentrating on the breath or doing some kind of grounding type of exercise, so some simple Pilates or a couple of rounds of yoga. Those are things that help us basically become into ourselves, and they have been shown in studies to slow the release of adrenaline and high-level cortisol. You're starting the day, basically, on a good footing.
Then I like to cycle in terms of work, so whether ... And because of this increased dopamine, unless people have profound circadian clock disruption, then the best time to work and do good mental is actually the morning. So I usually recommend doing chunks of up to a couple of hours and really focusing on that, and then allowing yourself afterwards to do movement-based work, and by that I mean if you need to make phone calls or you need to go to meetings, try and instigate standing meetings, walking meetings, and really starting to break that down and allowing yourself to have these cycles where you're stopping work, you're checking in on yourself, taking a few breaths. There's also apps that can help you do that and help you refocus and just focus on your breath for 30 seconds.
Zoë Routh: Just on the apps, have you got any that you can recommend?
Alessandra: I knew you were going to ask me that, and I can't remember it right now. I can certainly add this in later, but they're not hard to find. Even just doing a Google on breathing apps, they will come up, but the specific one I recommend I can't think of right now.
Zoë Routh: I'll get that after we finish the interview, and what I'll do is I'll put that on the show notes for people. You can find that at zoerouth.com/podcasts/health for this particular interview. We'll list the breathing app that Alessandra recommends there.
So we've got cycling activity, so do mental-focused stuff for a couple hours in the morning, and then take a break, and then do active type of work, which is calls, standing meetings, etc. What else?
Alessandra: Yes, and then going back to that cycle of neurotransmitters, what we want to start doing then is ... Going into lunchtime in early afternoon is still supporting our production of dopamine, so it's important to have good levels of protein with our lunch, as well as a wide array of vegetables. My favourite type of lunch would be a mixed salad, mixed chicken salad or fish salad, but also starting to add back in those slow-releasing carbohydrates. My favourite are lentils and beans, and they're just fantastic, and the research just keep piling on the benefits of these types of foods for energy levels, for maintaining good blood sugar levels. They're really fabulous.
Then, going to the evening, that's when having dinner that would be more carbohydrate-based would be more beneficial, particularly if there's sleep disturbances, because carbohydrates help serotonin building blocks enter the brain to make serotonin, whereas I see the opposite usually. Most people will have a more carb-base breakfast, and then they'll have the main meal when they get home for dinner, and it will be a big chunk of meat and protein. What the protein does is that it really stimulates the dopamine rather than allowing the serotonin to increase, and the serotonin is necessary to wind down in the evenings and start to promote that curve of melatonin, because melatonin is made from serotonin.
That's why it's really important, and many productivity experts do not take this into account, and this is a big point of difference, that it makes really a huge, huge difference to people's energy levels throughout the day, because you're mimicking the natural state.
And then, coming onto a more bedtime phase, what I find is that most people are lacking is actually really a consistent winding-down routine. What they do is they'll come home, and they either ... If they've got kids, they have to perhaps go through a bedtime routine, or if they haven't got kids, they're going straight back into work or they're going into social media. There hasn't been any disconnect from technology and devices, and there is a very strong connection between our eyes and our brain, and so what you're watching, and particularly the kind of light that you're being exposed to, actually has an effect on the biochemical changes going on in your brain.
I usually cap devices at 9 PM, and then having at least an hour of downtime, and by this I mean reading a book that is not work-related. You know in our field, Zoe, that's a little bit hard, because we're constantly educating ourselves and reading more books that are nonfiction, but I think it's really important to having some time during the day, particularly in the evenings, when we're doing things that are actually really fun-based and pleasure-based, because that has a big impact on our biochemistry.
Zoë Routh: I'm curious about that, then. For your reading list, what kind of fiction do you like to read?
Alessandra: I like to read all kinds of fictions, and I have to say that until recently, I was reading mainly theory books, because I do love reading them, but I find that if I have a full day at work, and then I go into reading more scientific-type books, my mind just doesn't stop working, and I want to take notes, and I'm thinking of, "This would be really useful for this client or other." And so I have gone back to ... And I'm not sure I should be divulging this publicly but ... It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but I really love adventure fiction and romantic fiction. So anything, basically, that helps me just unwind and have a laugh I really, really enjoy.
Zoë Routh: That's great. I can't wait to see copies of the books that you read.
Alessandra: Don't ask me for a bibliography, please. I will not divulge that. That's as much as you're going to get.
Zoë Routh: I knew you were into bodice-rippers. I knew it.
Alessandra: Yeah, that's right, that's me. We might have to edit this bit at the end, by the way.
Zoë Routh: Come on.
Alessandra: We just don't laugh enough. That's the thing. We don't laugh enough, and so whatever makes you tick, whether it's reading Games of Thrones or just reading a Seinfeld biography, it doesn't matter. Just finding something that allows you to reconnect to that more playful part of you. Doesn't have to be reading. There's plenty of other fun activities that I can think of that one could do in the evenings that are useful for rebalancing a stressed biochemistry, and it could be something as simple as having a bath. But disconnecting from our phones and devices, I think, is absolutely essential in that part of the evening.
Zoë Routh: That seems hard to do, actually, when I think about that. I get most of my books, fiction and nonfiction, on my iPad, and that's sort of ... If I'm going to unwind, I've still got a device, so it means having to revert to old-school, hard-copy books for fiction.
Alessandra: I have to say, I'm a big fan of those, and I think that there's definitely a place for reading books on readers, and I have those, and I do use them, but for the particular purpose of optimizing someone's energy and optimizing someone's biochemical stress levels in the blood, then that is the way to do it. And I've really got the proof. I'm not just making these things up. As you know, I do a lot of biochemical testing, so I like to see where someone's at both genetically, but also by doing blood testing, and I see this constantly.
Most of my clients will present to me saying that their energy's okay, and some will also say their energy's great, but when we actually look at the blood, they're profoundly fatigued, and I'm seeing more and more markers of a hormone called DHEA, which is basically a marker of how much stored energy your adrenal glands have. They're the ones that produce your cortisol. They also produce testosterone through DHEA, and more and more people are actually having levels of DHEA of what someone in their 70s should have. I've seen people in their 40s with levels of someone in their 70s, and to me, they're kind of standing on the edge of a precipice, because when your DHEA drops so low, for men, the issue is that developing low testosterone quite young, and particularly if you're in a high-performing job, testosterone is really, really essential. It's what gives you that grit, that drive. And for men, also, it's particularly important to maintain healthy and happy relationships.
For women, on the other hand, they also need testosterone, so if their DHEA is low, that's going to have the same type of effect on their ability to maintain focus, levels of libido as well, and their ability to produce cortisol, so their ability to cope with a stressful environment. Once the DHEA is gone, your energy bottoms out. You get extremely fatigued and you have a much higher risk of developing depression.
So for me, these are very simple hacks that are based and steeped in science, that we can reintroduce, and also are very pleasurable. Once you've broken that initial inertial of switching from an i-Reader to an old-fashioned book or being stricter about having this hour of fun in the evenings, then it's very easy. Once you've done it for three to six weeks, it becomes really ingrained.
Zoë Routh: I will make commitment to that, because that is a significant challenging block for me, for sure, particularly as my husband likes to read his iPad as well. We've become like little iPad readers. Not good. He hasn't had any problem sleeping, though. As soon as his head hits the pillow, he's out.
Alessandra: And that won't necessarily be linked to the sleep, but perhaps energy levels might be different, or there's a number of different things that could be affected.
Zoë Routh: I had one question to go back to nutrition, and that was having carbs at dinner. Are there particular kinds of carbs that you recommend over others? We slammed muffins. Poor old muffins.
Alessandra: Especially to a Canadian, I shouldn't be slamming muffins. You're very, very good at making those in Canada. I'm really quite specific with the carbohydrates that I like. I'm not a big fan of bread. I'm not a big fan of flour. By now, you might see that maybe some people will be disconnecting from this podcast, by the way. To me, those are really processed carbs, and I don't care whether the bread is whole wheat and whole grain. This is one of the myths that we have around, that there's different qualities of bread. For me, all those foods are processed, and we have seen now ... We've got this epidemic of diabetes, this epidemic of increased weight gain and obesity and all these stress conditions that we have, and I think that ditching bread altogether ... And I don't mean 100% of the time, but most of the time, really, we don't need bread and flour products.
Also, I'm not a huge fan of things made with flour, so pastas and things like that. What I do love, however, are whole grains, and when I say whole grains, I mean literally the whole grain, so things like quinoa. Quinoa is a great addition to any kind of dinner. It's got a fantastic profile. It's also high-protein, not just high in carbohydrates. I love things like buckwheat, coloured rice, so black rice, red rice, because they also contain specific chemicals called polyphenols that are great for promoting cardiovascular health, and they're great at promoting good gut health. They feed beneficial bacteria, and incidentally, when you have good bacteria, your energy also goes up, because we up to a fourth of our daily energy requirement from gut bacteria.
Those are some of the carbs I like, and my absolute favourite as basically lentils and beans. If I have clients who need to lose some weight and where their blood sugar levels, as seen through blood tests, have been less than ideal, then I do often eliminate the grains altogether, but I increase lentils and beans, because they do not affect the blood sugar in the same way. Those are my favourites.
Zoë Routh: Wow. Okay. So look, I think I've been gluten-free for a while now, about a year, to fix up some of my gut issues, and the prospect of losing bread was a travesty at first, and then ... It's amazing how many other amazing foods you can have instead, so it's pretty easy-
Alessandra: Yeah, that's right. There's also some beautiful paleo breads out there that fulfil that function if someone is missing the odd piece of toast. But I think, really, all these diet manipulations and biohacks, for me, are all related to the question of how do you want to show up as a leader, or how do you want to show up in life in general, because we don't hesitate to upgrade our devices, but we never think about upgrading ourselves. And so it's about ... You might be happy with working at half-mast. You might happy working with an energy of 50% of what your potential is, and that's okay, in which case I would say, "Well, just keep the bread in."
I'm lucky that I get to work with these really extraordinary people who are up to big things and want to achieve extraordinary things. For them, just like for an athlete, then these tweaks are what make the difference. These are the one-percenters that then add up to really significant shifts in energy, performance, and mental focus. The deluxe version might not be for everybody, and it really just boils down to what do you want to achieve, and how do you want to show up.
Zoë Routh: Wow. I love that. That's a beautiful calling-out. It's like, "Do you want to live your life at half-mast?" No. And I love it. I think that's ... You're so right. We have no problem upgrading our software on a device and buying a new computer, and yet the equipment that's got to last us to our very last day, we treat it with such disrespect and disdain half the time, where we just expect it to keep going and going until it craps out, essentially. It's often that when we start to crap out, when something gets broken or it's not working, that's when we reach for help, but what you're suggesting, the hacks that you've got, are ways to fix some of the issues as well as to elevate what we've got going in general.
One of the things I love about working with you, Alessandra, is that you are like a forensic detective. You really go deep through a lot of the testing and the genetics testing and the blood markers and all the biochemistry to really work out what is the bespoke, customized approach to looking after the individual's biochemistry, because I know genetics is a big piece, and we worked out some of my genetic predispositions to cholesterol. My mom has high cholesterol, and so we're working specifically to manage that, which is not the same for everybody. Everybody's got different little things, and so I think this is one of the advantages of being a high-performing executive, is to get high-performing assistance, and you are definitely a master at that. That's for sure.
Alessandra: Thank you. Yeah, I'm sort of a bit of a closet geek, I think. Yeah, and just to give you an example, I was working recently with this CEO, and the main issue that he had was that he was basically finding ... He tried so many things to address his sleep, lots. He'd done lifestyle changes and whatnot, and what ... And he wasn't drinking coffee. He's just a tea drinker, but what we found through his genetic profiling, for example, was that he's a really, really poor caffeine metaboliser, and what he didn't realise was that he was having quite a lot of dark chocolate in his diet, and he was also having quite a bit of tea. And then we find out genetically, also, he was an under producer of melatonin, so once we'd addressed those things ... And so I counselled him on the kinds of things in his life that were not matching to his genetic variance ... then the sleep just naturally went back to normal. We didn't have to do heavy supplementation or anything. It was really about supporting that genetic expression.
That's what I was mentioning earlier, is that there is this constant dialogue between our genes, ourselves, our environment, and we now know that even thoughts actually affect the way our genes work. And so I'm absolutely fascinating in looking for all the forensic evidence of how our genes are working through the blood, and there's so many markers that can show you basically what I was saying. Are you flatlining? Are you not producing hormones that make you focus? Are you underproducing neurotransmitters that make you feel happy or the ones that help you shut down the anxiety response? It's normal to have some degree of stress and anxiety, but some people do not shut it down very well because of their genetics, and then what they're doing is perhaps they're eating certain foods or following certain lifestyle patterns that are actually cranking that adverse gene expression even more.
And so for me this is highly, highly individualized medicine, even though I'm not a medical practitioner. I'm not a doctor, integrative naturopath and nutritionist, but I think this is really where the future of medicine is headed. Completely, highly individualized, where we will be swabbed, and our gut microbiome will be sequenced, and everything will be completely tailored to the individual, and that will completely reduce side effects also from drugs, when drugs are necessary. We're living in highly exciting times, from my point of view.
Zoë Routh: Yeah. I love that too, because it goes to one of the struggles I have with both diet and exercise advice, is because there's so much conflicting advice out there. And really, when it comes down to it ... I know this is one of your bugbears, is that there is no one uniform diet that applies to everyone, so this whole notion that you've got the tech now that can really look at somebody's biology and psychology and basically do a bespoke diet and exercise plan and even mental health regime that will help them optimize their individual self. So the whole ... "What we need to do is eat paleo, is the right way to do," or, "What we need to do is do a low-fat, high-fibre diet," it totally ... You just blow that out of the water by saying, "Actually, no. It depends on your genetic blueprint and how we manage yourself in that way."
Alessandra: So true.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, and I love the fact that ... Because it gives so much hope to people, because I know lots of people, and I'm one of them, who have tried different exercise regimes or different nutritional plans, only to find ... I was on a very high-fat paleo diet for a good six months, and when we got my genetic markers saying, "That's totally the wrong thing for you to be doing," because I have a high-cholesterol predisposition and fat malabsorption, so this highly promoted diet, which is like, "This is the thing that's going to help you become a fat metaboliser," was completely the wrong thing for me because of my biology.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, I know. It's crazy, so I love the fact that you're advocating for, "Let's find out about you".
Alessandra: Perhaps some of the listeners at the moment might have adopted bulletproof coffee. It seems to be all the rage, certainly among executives, as the ... Also, because it sounds quite funky, doesn't it? I like just the title, "bulletproof coffee." Who wouldn't want that? But I've really ... I've done so much testing, and I really categorically say that if you do have certain genetic variants, having that amount of fat, even straight off the bat in the morning, is just not only going to increase your cholesterol, but also it's going to actually affect your blood sugar metabolism, because some of the myths behind these diets are that you basically cannot develop diabetes from these diets, and you can, because you can actually develop some called insulin resistance from high levels of fats if you're not well-adapted at metabolising them.
So again, it really is ... Yeah, it really needs to be individualised, and unfortunately, following my advice, because I guess some people right now might be thinking, "Well, okay. Well, it's all good for her, because she's got this knowledge, but how am I going to find out?" My advice is, like in everything, just be sensible. Any diet that actually has a label and has a name to it, just steer clear of it. It's because these things have been neatly packaged so that they can be resold, and let's face it, who doesn't like a quick-fix pill, right? So you just go on this label diet, and you know what it's going to do. Unfortunately, we're highly complex organisms, and we don't quite work that way.
So the first advice is just follow the cycling of carbs that I mentioned, and just steer clear of anything that has a label or a diet, because really, there's not a lot of truth behind it.
Zoë Routh: Thank you for making that simple, because it was becoming very complex, all of it. Thank you, Alessandra, for your wonderful, pragmatic, scientifically-based, extensively-researched advice for us today. You were such a delight, and I wanted to keep speaking to you for many hours. I've got lots and lots more questions. We might have to do another interview to talk more about how the mindset affects high performance. I'd love to have you back on that show to talk about that, but for today-
Alessandra: I would love that.
Zoë Routh: - thank you so much for everything that you've shared and what you're doing for the world.
Alessandra: Pleasure. Pleasure. Bye.
Zoë Routh: Bye.