Israel’s national basketball team has new strategy – at mealtime

Israeli nutrition startup has program based on Weizmann Institute research to control blood sugar levels, which is crucial for athletes

DayTwo's Lehi Segal (standing) discusses nutrition with members of Israel's national basketball team (DayTwo)
DayTwo's Lehi Segal (standing) discusses nutrition with members of Israel's national basketball team (DayTwo)

Israel’s national basketball team has a recipe for success – a literal recipe.

DayTwo, an Israeli startup, is helping tailor customized diets for players based on the DNA sequencing of their gut microbiomes – the billions of bacteria, viruses and microbes that live in human stomachs and have been shown to have an important effect on many aspects of the body’s functions.

DayTwo‘s technology is based on a study conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science called the Personalized Nutrition Project, led by Prof. Eran Segal of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department and Dr. Eran Elinav of the Immunology Department. It appeared in the scientific journal Cell in 2015.

That study, according to Lihi Segal, co-founder and CEO of DayTwo, “proves that different people eating the same foods can have different glycemic responses, and gut bacteria is one of the reasons. For example, even foods that are considered healthy, like apples, can raise the blood sugar level of level of individuals who do not respond well to apples.

“For athletes, increased blood sugar levels eaten before practice or before games could lead to reduced levels of energy.”

As part of the program, DayTwo will analyze the microbiomes of each player on the team and provide an individualized list of foods they should and shouldn’t be eating – with each player’s list guaranteed to be different from the others’. The objective is to keep players’ blood sugar levels at a manageable level, to avoid the initial blood sugar spike that raises energy levels for a short period of time followed by the dreaded sugar crash.

For DayTwo, the golden rule is that there are no bad foods – just bad reactions to foods, depending on who is eating them. The Weizmann research examined some 800 people who ate a total of some 47,000 meals and discovered that blood sugar responses to the same foods varied significantly among people – and that the composition of gut bacteria appeared to be an important factor.

Based on that research, the team developed “a machine-learning algorithm that integrates blood parameters, dietary habits, anthropometrics, physical activity, and gut microbiota measured in this cohort and showed that it accurately predicts personalized postprandial glycemic response to real-life meals,” according to the study.

Other studies by the team focused on comparing specific foods with each other, such as white bread and whole grain bread. While the latter is generally considered healthy, the former is seen as the root of all nutritional evil among many nutritionists. But it’s not necessarily so, according to Weizmann researcher Segal.

“The initial finding, and this was very much contrary to our expectation, was that there were no clinically significant differences between the effects of these two types of bread on any of the parameters that we measured.”

The bread study just confirms what the team discovered in its 2015 study. “Different people react differently, even to the same foods.” said Elinav. “To date, the nutritional values assigned to food have been based on minimal science, and one-size-fits-all diets have failed miserably.”

Thus was born DayTwo, a startup that analyzes microbiomes based on a stool sample kit and provides a customized nutrition profile for each individual – with recommendations and ratings on thousands of foods indicating whether or not they are a good fit for an individual.

Avi Kovalsky, a trainer for the National Basketball Team, said, “Ensuring proper blood sugar level is critical for professional athletes, and with this system we hope to see an increase in the energy level of each athlete.”

DayTwo in June announced that it had completed a $12 million Series A round of financing through Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. (JJDC), Seventure Partners’ Health for Life Capital fund, Mayo Clinic, co-founder Marius Nacht, and other private investors. Previously, the company had raised $5 million from private investors.

Athletes aren’t the only group that will benefit from this research. The Weizmann research and DayTwo’s application of it could mean life or death for hundreds of millions of people around the world who are susceptible to contracting Type II diabetes. Blood glucose levels are rapidly increasing in the population, as evident by the sharp incline in the prevalence of prediabetes; in the US alone, 37% of the adult population have prediabetic symptoms, studies show. Prediabetes, characterized by chronically impaired blood glucose responses, is a significant risk factor for type II diabetes mellitus (TIIDM), with up to 70% of prediabetics eventually developing the disease.

“We’ve just scratched the surface of how powerful the microbiome is to support personalized diet, nutrition, and chronic condition management, to enable our customers to have the ability to live a full, happy and healthy lifestyle,” said Segal. “DayTwo has brought actionable, evidence-based science down to a mobile app, to make personalized nutrition easy and convenient for the first time. This enables DayTwo to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people who struggle with diet and nutrition-related health risks every day.”

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