Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

The gut health guinea pigs: Tenacious twins on the road with a microbiome mission

By Nikki Hancocks contact

- Last updated on GMT

Lisa and Alana Macfarlane
Lisa and Alana Macfarlane

Related tags: Gut health, microbiome

Two radio star identical twins have combined their presenting talent with their passion for gut health and co-founded a business devoted to taking the mystery out of the gut microbiome with public education on a large, evidence based and entertaining scale.

Lisa and Alana Macfarlane - aka ‘the Mac Twins’ in the radio world - have co-founded a business called The Gut Stuff​ after becoming ‘obsessed’ with gut health after lending themselves as guinea pigs to the famous Predict twin study by Prof Tim Spector and the Twin Research department at Kings College.

It was then that they discovered that despite having 100% the same DNA they only share 30-40% the same microbiota.

Alana said this knowledge came as a huge revelation for them as they had always wondered why, despite sharing an extremely similar diet and lifestyle, they always had very different body shapes to one another.

Surprisingly, the results revealed the opposite to what was expected. Lisa’s body, although heavier, was more effective at processing the foods they ate, while slimmer twin Alana’s blood sugar level would shoot up to double the amount of her sister’s.

Prof Spector explained this could relate to their microbiomes which are so different from one another and suggested Lisa’s healthy gut bacteria could have been affected by taking antibiotics as a child.

lisa and alana

“We were genuinely interested to find out the answer to so many questions and really enjoyed being the guinea pigs for the benefit of science and we just wanted more people to know what we had discovered,” ​Alana told NutraIngredients.

“We set up a YouTube series where we were knocking on the doors of hundreds of top scientists, then we thought we should set up a website where people can go to get more info."

The 30-year-olds have done everything from DJing at the Olympics to presenting on the red carpet at music awards, so with entertainment being in their nature they decided to make a gut health YouTube video series.

The website has become a hub of information including videos, a one-stop shop for scientifically proven gut health products and an ‘ask a nutritionist’ section allowing people to submit questions to leading gut health professionals.

But the website is just one small element of the business.  

“Things snowballed quickly and we decided to host our own event about two years ago – a ‘pop up supper club’ in London which quickly became a series of events.”

The supper club was so well received that it was voted one of the best things to do in London by Time Out magazine.

The roadshow

Probiota 2020

The Mac Twins will be discussing The Gut Stuff and their mission for public engagement at the upcoming Probiota 2020 in Dublin on February 10-12. 

The three day event will see business leaders and top scientists come together to focus on the challenges and opportunities in the rapidly evolving universe of probiotics, prebiotics and the microbiome.

From microbiome advances, to start-up game changers, market stats, crucial clinical science and regulatory knowledge, this is a congressional must-have. 

Will you be joining your peers in one of Europe’s greatest cities?

They decided to take their events onto a larger scale earlier this year and started their own roadshow, going to cities around the UK and sharing their evidence-based knowledge in an entertaining way.

Their events tend to include fun stuff such as kombucha cocktails, ‘gutsy games’, acid testers, shots of probiotics, live music and panel discussions with experts in the field.

“We find this is the best way to reach people that have never even heard about gut health before,” ​adds Alana.

“What gets the fire in our belly is educating people at a grassroots level – those people who have never heard about gut health before. Our main aim for the business is to empower people to understand more about gut health.”

The duo will even present to the leading experts in the field at Probiota 2020 in Dublin next year (details in box to the right). 

Lisa adds that it’s their un-scholarly background that makes them the ideal pair to provide information in a relate-able way.

“We don’t come from a background of nutrition and have such an incredible team of researchers, scientists, dietitians and nutritionists behind us, but we see it as a positive that we don’t, as we’re learning alongside the public and making sure it’s all on unbiased terms we can understand.

Some of the personal changes the duo have made since starting their gut health journey are: cutting down on processed foods, increasing their intake of fruit and veg and understanding they have to make diet and lifestyle choices appropriate for their body, rather than concerning themselves with what other people are doing.

They say nearly everyone they meet seems to be fascinated by the subject of gut health.

“For so long we’ve always looked at organs and conditions in isolation and the fact they could all be linked in some way seems to trigger a behavioural change or at least reaction in everyone,”​ adds Lisa.

Growing business

The trailblazing twins have recently launched their B2B service in the form of a 12-week programme to provide employees with gut health education, nutrition advice, improve health, wellness, morale and productivity.

And looking to the future the dynamic duo can see their efforts going global, with much interest already coming from the US market.

“A lot of our audience is from the US. It’s quite shocking for us!”​ says Alana. “So I think there’s definitely potential to take what we’re doing over there in the future.”

The dynamic duo will be joining NutraIngredients' Probiota​ conference in Dublin, Ireland, next February. 

Related topics: Markets and Trends

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