I’m often asked about how I got into the field of science, and what led me to develop our products. I detail this journey, which began with my husband John’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s, in my TEDx Talk, but today I want to zero in on one special part of the story: our revolutionary probiotic, Sugar Shift. Here’s why I wanted to create it, and a behind the scenes look at how it came to be!
It was the fall of 2016, and my husband John and I were attending the World Parkinson’s Congress in Portland, Oregon. Our youngest son had just left for college, and the sadness John was settling into after that was impacting his health. He began to have some trouble walking, and was starting to use a walking stick to help his balance. He was no longer comfortable navigating large crowds, and all the erratic stops and starts.
I had just created my company, The BioCollective, and we were manning a booth in the conference hall with materials to educate People with Parkinson’s (PWP) about the microbiome, hoping to collect samples from PWPs. During a break I decided to explore the booth area, and I came across a Citizen Science group from Israel with information about a study suggesting that the sugar alcohol mannitol could have a significant impact on the protein aggregation that is a hallmark of Parkinson’s. The research showed that mannitol could stop the aggregation of the proteins, and at higher doses could even pull the aggregates out of the brains of the mice in the study. This group was recruiting PWP to take mannitol and report their results on a data collection platform.
I left that meeting energized and inspired by the possibilities of the research. I bought a mannitol chemistry book and began to read about this amazing molecule. Mannitol is the most abundant sugar in nature, and is rich in almost all plants. As I feverishly studied the book, I came to understand how important mannitol has been and continues to be in medicine. It’s on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines and is used in a variety of ways, from the treatment of brain trauma and circuit priming the heart-lung machine, to use in thermal energy storage.
One of the early chapters in the book showed how bacteria use and produce mannitol. After discussing it with a friend and business advisor, Steve Kazemi, who is a fermentation chemist by background, we landed on the idea of restoring the “internal pharmacy” in the gut to produce mannitol from all the excess dietary sugars in our food. Because Steve came from the probiotics industry, he was able to help me with the formula and produce a small batch of our first prototype product for John to try. In just three short months from initially stumbling on that study at the World Parkinson’s Congress in September to Thanksgiving 2016, we were able to create the product for my husband: what would eventually become Sugar Shift.
John started taking it in December, all the while collecting microbiome samples (read: poop) so we could analyze the samples and see if the product had an impact. We continued collecting samples for 120 days, but we could easily see the results in John within a month. His biomarkers were improving, he became more “regular” and his walking became smoother. By the end of summer 2017, he was no longer using the walking stick. It was incredible.
We were so excited about the results that we started asking friends, both with and without Parkinson’s, if they wanted to try Sugar Shift to improve their gut health. Many reported better digestion, increased energy, improved sleep, and more regular bowel movements. We decided to make a small commercial batch and sell it on The BioCollective’s website. We didn’t advertise or really promote the product, we just made it available and people started sharing their results. The feedback was amazing! You can see some of the success stories and the positive changes people have experienced here.
Sugar Shift isn’t some sort of miracle cure for Parkinson’s, it’s far too complicated of a disease for that. But it is a great tool in the arsenal of supportive therapies like diet and exercise that can improve digestion, nutrient absorption, toxin removal and regular bowel movements. These are things that rarely get discussed at a neurological appointment, but are really key to living well with Parkinson’s on a daily basis.
I tell people all the time that the intention you put into a product is every bit as important as the physical ingredients. I made Sugar Shift with LOVE for someone that I love to improve his daily life. And I put that same intention into every bottle that leaves our shop and comes to you. The product is made with Love and what’s more important than that?
Thanks for joining us on this quest. I can’t wait to see where it takes us together.
Martha Carlin, is a “Citizen Scientist”, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective , a microbiome company expanding the reach of science and BiotiQuest, the first of it’s kind probiotic line. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human disease. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.
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