For more than a decade, 51-year-old management consultant Steve Gallagher has managed his rheumatoid arthritis — and chronic pain — through diet and exercise. The North Fork, LI resident stuck to a strict diet despite being bombarded with suggestions from quacks.
“When you have a disease like this, everyone says they have the cure – your mother extracts something from Reader’s Digest to send to you,” he said. Yet when his doctor, Dr. Qingping Yao of Stony Brook University, asked him if he wanted to participate in the beta trial of an intriguing new probiotic pill, he thought it couldn’t hurt. . “‘Everything is worth trying,'” he added, of his thought process at the time.
A few weeks after starting, he said he could increase the time he spent training by 10%. Now, a year into her diet, Gallagher’s workouts are 40% longer and significantly more intense. He also lost 7 pounds, although his weight has rarely fluctuated in the past. “I am a believer,” he says.
What he’s come to believe in, in particular, isn’t just any old gut health vitamin. Gallagher was part of a trial for a pill, marketed as Nella, which contains bacteria harvested from the poop of top athletes.
“We’re looking for what’s in the ecosystem of very healthy people,” said Dr. Jonathan Scheiman, Nella’s inventor and CEO of its parent company Fitbiomics, by way of explanation. He believes the answer to true sporting prowess isn’t just a good coach or a strict diet. Superstar athletes have something in common, and the way he discovered it was through their poop.
Over the past decade, it has become increasingly accepted that the microbiome – the bacteria in your gut – has a direct impact on our overall health, both mental and physical. According to the American Psychological Association, 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by gut bacteria, and 70% of our immune system is also found in the intestines. The idea behind Fitbiomics is to hijack an average Joe’s gastrointestinal system and bio-hack it with bacteria until it looks like a pro-athlete’s. Once you’re digesting at the Olympic level, Scheiman thinks the health benefits could be significant.
Scheiman himself was an athletic kid, but the 6’2″ New Yorker and basketball nut went undrafted by the NBA when he graduated from St John’s. Instead, he ended up studying biomedicine, fascinated by how superstar athletes stood out from their peers. His instinct told him to follow the microbiome. In 2015, when he was a researcher at Harvard, he had an idea that he could discover with a little digging. “I rented a Zipcar every day for two weeks, and for eight hours a day I drove around Boston with dry ice in the back seat,” Scheiman said, recalling his research methods. “And I was collecting stool samples all the time.”
The stool samples came from 15 elite runners training for the Boston Marathon, as well as a control group of everyday people he had recruited. Once back in his lab, Scheiman started digging through the poo for a common link — and he found something exciting.
In the runners, levels of the bacterium Veillonella atypica were consistently high. This microbe is the one that shows up after exercise and likes to feed on lactic acid. It’s the same molecule, of course, that causes sore muscles after exercise.
“It was a light bulb moment,” Scheiman said. “This metabolite is associated with fatigue, and this organism converts it into something beneficial.”
So Scheiman and his team set out to test what that might mean. They dosed lab mice with this lactic acid-munching bacteria and placed them on a treadmill until exhaustion, alongside a control group. The Veillonella-assisted group ran 13% longer than the control group. The microbe appeared to be an all-natural stamina booster.
Scheiman then founded Fitbiomics in April 2018 to capitalize on his findings. A slew of super-performers have signed on to endorse it, including basketball great Chris Mullin, triathlete Angela Naeth and soccer veteran Tim Parker.
But not everyone is convinced. Dr. William Li, the author of “Eat to Beat Disease,” has done extensive research on gut and microbiome health, and he’s skeptical of Scheiman’s findings.
“We know that many diseases are associated with imbalances in the gut microbiota ecosystem, called dysbiosis, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “Much less is known about the gut microbiome and physical performance. Science has developed a popular following, and many smart entrepreneurs have developed products like probiotic supplements that claim to produce results that aren’t well-studied or exceed the evidence of science.
There’s no risk, but also no guaranteed reward, Dr. Li points out. “Most are safe and many people report feeling better with fewer bowel symptoms after taking them,” he says. at Post. “But, for the most part, improving overall health with probiotics is a marketing claim that’s still waiting for research to back it up.”
Fitbiomic’s Nella is currently available via monthly subscription for $59, but the company is still seeking regulatory approval for similar supplements that have long been in the works.
In the meantime, Gallagher and others are enjoying the results they attribute to Nella. Nick Vendikos, a 52-year-old fundraiser from Brooklyn, had long suffered from chronic pain following an accident, as well as IBS and difficulty maintaining an ideal weight.
He decided to try Nella and was surprised at how much better he felt.
“I’m skeptical, but my stomach has started to get better. All my problems disappeared and I lost about 20 pounds,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s Nella or not, but something is working.”