The Quantified Double Self: A Tale of Twins
diet and weight loss | food tracking | metabolism
Rosane Oliveiria is a researcher and scholar that focuses on integrative medicine, genomics, and nutrition. She’s also an identical twin. In 2012 she was struck by the different patterns of weight fluctuations that she and her sister, Renata, had been experiencing. Using historical data and medical records she was able to go back in time and track their paired histories, dietary changes, and blood markers. Rosane and Renata started adding to there data-rich story by exploring genetic testing, additional biomarkers, and are looking to incorporate activity and microbiome data in the future.
blood tests | Fitbit
I was born as an identical twin, and for the first half of our life my sister and I were truly identical. But that changed in 1995 when I moved abroad and my sister graduated from law school. That’s when she learned what real stress was.
But then I also looked at the diets changed in the past 18 years but it was still not enough for me to understand the changes that we were seeing and I just couldn’t understand how two people with identical genes could live between 40 to 50 pounds apart. So I decided to look back and study every diet that me and my sister had, and as you can imagine someone needing to lose 40 pounds you try everything that you could; counting calories and cutting carbs, and diet shakes. You name it she tried.
And in 15 years she was very successful twice, but both attempts were not sustainable in the long run. So then came a question and the question was, what would happen if we went back to 1995 and we would live under the same roof and eat the same food again. And that’s actually what we did last year starting in September for four months.
When we did it we focused on the past seven years, and three diets. The two that I mentioned before and the one that we shared, and we looked at nine blood markers and apply them across time. As you can see, when she was counting calories, her total cholesterol was actually getting worse, and in our low carbs diet it improved a lot. And then in a plant based diet, it was the first time it was actually lower than mine and the trend followed for her LDL Cholesterol and you’re going to see the same for triglycerides.
And I believe one of the first things that we learned is that in the first diet she was focusing on restricting calories but not changing what she was eating, and the fat diet she was actually focusing on what she was eating but not the amount. But the take home message for us in this case, after this experiment was that in our case, a low fat, wholefood, plant based diet made our blood markers be almost identical for the very first time in seven years.
But when it comes to glucose the story was different. It was impossible to see any trends and that is probably because blood glucose levels was very tightly genetically regulated and the body would do whatever it takes to keep it within normal range. But when you look at insulin, insulin seems to be the marker that is making the body able to respond to that demand. And insulin levels matched my sister’s weight pattern like no other blood marker. Any time my sister’s weight went down, insulin levels went down. Anytime she gained weight her insulin levels went up.
And in the past year when we measured her insulin it also could predict if she was gaining weight or losing weight. So the last on is that when it comes to weight and maybe health, insulin seems to be a better maker than glucose.
So what we can see so far is can you really tell if it’s genetics or its diet that can explain our differences. And of course for us to be able to answer that, the first thing to know is, are we truly identical twins, and yes we are. We share over 921,000 SNPs and we are 100% identical. When it comes to our response to diet, we have the genotype associated with higher BMIs with the higher fat intake. And the news gets worse and the associations not only linear, meaning the more fat we eat the higher BMI, but the association is stronger with mono-saturated fat.
So in this food tracking experiment we had you can see my sister lost twice as much weight than me, and the only difference in our diet is the amount of fat. She ate less than 15% and I ate between 30 to 45% of the calories from fat, and those were healthy fat so healthy fat can contribute to weight gain depending on your genetics.
So when it comes to our response to exercise, our genotype goes towards lower BMI and exercise has just a tiny association with improving BMI. We do have the anti-age FR mutation that increases our increase of having folate deficiencies and this one problem remains here in metabolism. And I know I lost you there, but the only thing you need to know is that folate and vitamin B12 are key component of this pathway. And giving up a plant based diet those two vitamins need to be really carefully monitored by us. And our lesson number four is that identical twins will have non-identical food deficiencies or nutrient deficiencies.
We also have non-identical food sensitivity as you can see. She only passed positive for eggs and fish and I passed positive for everything I could basically possibly think about eating. And when it comes up nuts and grains she only passed positive for the ones that have gluten and again I passed as positive for everything.
So the last lessons that we learned is at first, identical twins may also have non-identical food sensitivity, and that goes for all the fat diets that we have now is that I don’t have any weight problems and I have antibodies against everything I eat basically. And food sensitivities may not lead to weight gain.
So what’s coming next. We have our up band and we’ve been tracking or omegas but the thing really excited about is at my home we’re having a sequence at three different time points unfortunately I don’t have the test now, but we’ll be able to see if my sister’s gut floor is changing across time as she’s changing her diet to see if it’s getting closer to mine.
So in conclusion, in our case I hope with plant based diets the blood markers are almost identical like I said for the first time. Insulin seems to be a better marker than glucose when it comes to weight and maybe health. And healthy diets may contribute to weight gain. Identical twins may have non-identical deficiencies, nutrient deficiencies, and non-identical food sensitivities. And those food sensitivities may not equal to weight gain. The most important of all, I trust that you got enough evidence that when it comes to weight, and maybe some health traits, the genes maybe playing a smaller role. And it’s up to us to control our fate.