Welcoming Chris Damman M.D., UR Labs’ Chief Medical & Scientific Officer

A picture of Chris Damman MD
READ TIME: 5 MINUTES —

Here at Muniq, we’re growing our team and bringing on some truly brilliant people that believe wholeheartedly in what we’re doing to improve chronic health conditions. The latest addition to our team, Chris Damman M.D., is a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Clinical Associate Professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington, and spent the last five years leading the gut health, microbiome and functional food initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Chris joining the Muniq team is the next step in our deep commitment to science-backed solutions and transforming human health.

We caught up with Chris and asked him a few questions to learn more about his background and some of the exciting things he’ll be focusing on at Muniq.

 

We’re extremely excited to have you on board, Chris. Can you give us a little background on your experience and what brought you to Muniq? 

As a clinical gastroenterologist, I still see patients regularly and so know — rather intimately — the frustrations folks experience around metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders. As a clinician with a researcher’s heart, I also have my passion set on changing what is fundamentally missing in health and patient care. I spent my last five years at the Gates Foundation doing just that, along with developing next-generation foods and microbes based therapies for addressing malnutrition.

An image of Chris Damman, CMSO at UR Labs

It really is an honor to be joining the Muniq team as Chief Medical and Scientific Officer, especially during such a pivotal time of growth for the company. I believe in the “Food As Medicine” philosophy that Muniq is embracing, and in my new role, I’ve found an incredible opportunity to reach underserved populations through science-backed results, alongside some of the most passionate people in the industry.

 

What interested you most about Muniq? What potential in Muniq and the company piqued your interest enough to come onboard as Chief Medical & Scientific Officer?

I was very interested in the possibility of taking what I was doing at the Gates Foundation and applying it to a different underserved community in our own backyard. There is great therapeutic power to unleash using the microbiome and gut as a lens for focusing our approach to addressing chronic disease!

Those living with chronic underlying conditions are largely underserved in terms of having accessible solutions that are highly effective in addressing their conditions. We have known the key to a healthy diet for a long time now and Michael Pollan sums it up well, “Eat, mostly plants, not too much!” in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The problem is that his words and published guidelines are surprisingly difficult to follow.

The time plus the financial and logistical pressures of life (combined with mixed messaging and consumer confusion around food) has led to the current state of poor health and rising epidemic of metabolic, autoimmune, and neurological diseases.

Muniq is taking a unique approach — truly doing something that no one else is — in providing an accessible suite of products, informed and backed by microbiome science, in the context of a platform that offers community and coaching on healthy eating. Some companies and solutions provide products and others provide technological platforms for relating with and reaching the consumer, but few combine the power of both approaches. Muniq does.  

 

Can you tell us a little about your role at Muniq and what you’ll be focusing on?

The key to the value that the company provides to its customers is products backed by science. Muniq prebiotic shakes are our first products. As you know, Muniq is a nutritional meal-replacement shake based on a blend of prebiotic fibers, and is designed based on a surprising amount of existing literature.

One key piece of my role in the company is to further validate the product using the gold standard of studies, a randomized, blinded placebo controlled trial. These are the types of trials often run by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, but less often by food companies. The aim is to bring this level of rigor to the “food-as-medicine” sector in an evidence-based approach.  

Additionally, my role as Chief Medical & Scientific Officer is to partner with our product development team in creating a suite of products backed by science to complement and add to the health issues addressed by Muniq. To this end, we have products aimed at heart and gut health percolating down the development stream! It’s all very exciting. 

 

What do you think about the current health landscape in the US, especially in regard to managing diabetes and chronic health conditions? 

I think there is a problem of truly epidemic proportions. Some call this the epidemic that underlies COVID-19 and in truth, metabolic disease is indeed an important risk factor for COVID-19, especially severe COVID.

There is a lot of mixed messaging and confusion around what a healthy diet should look like, but in truth it’s quite simple and well put by Michael Pollan. The problem is these words are surprisingly difficult to follow and get lost in the shuffle of the many other messages out there.

Health-promoting fibers like prebiotic resistant starch from unripened bananas, and oat beta glucan from oats, have been virtually removed from the Standard American Diet.
For many, the key to restoring the health of the gut is to reintroduce healthy fibers along with repopulating the microbes that consume them.

The other problem is that through generations of unhealthy eating (especially consumption of ultra-processed foods that are largely sterile and have had key ingredients removed like diverse fibers and polyphenols), much of the microbial diversity in our guts that thrives on these fibers and transforms them into vitamins and molecules for health have been lost in disease states and segments of the population. When many people try “healthy eating” they temporarily experience symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort while these beneficial bugs take time to come back.

In some folks, the key to restoring the health of the gut is to reintroduce healthy fibers along with repopulating the microbes that consume them.

Fermented foods may also play and important role here as they have bugs for transforming fibers into healthy molecules outside the body, and may help change the microbes inside the body as well.  Other solutions like thoughtful approaches to probiotics — perhaps with a focus on some of the keystone species in our guts like Bifidobacterium — will also be an important part of the solution.

In short, much of the focus of healthy eating has been on what not to eat (e.g., fat, sugar, salt), and I think we would do well to focus more on what to eat: whole foods with a focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains. A complete food solution also includes redesigning processed foods to have many of the ingredients that we have taken out including fibers, phenols, and good bacteria!!  Indeed processed foods can provide a convenient, shelf-stable, affordable, and familiar compliment to whole foods.

 

Q: How much potential do you think Muniq has for being a natural option for helping lower blood sugar and improve chronic health conditions?

A: The proof will be in the pudding (or shake) so to speak! That’s why we’re conducting the clinical trial. But I will say that I was surprised to learn of a sizable amount of existing literature that backs up the ingredients in the shake. There are also an impressive number of customer-reported accounts of amazing results within the Muniq Community.

 

Q: What do you like to do for fun?!

A: Who has time for fun?! Truthfully, I so enjoy the work I do that I have a hard time distinguishing between work and fun. That said, I’m always game for a good run, a camping trip to the gems of the Pacific Northwest, a delicious meal prepared and consumed in community, and cherished time with my wife and three daughters enjoying the delight and unfolding of curiosity and discovery seen vicariously through their eyes.

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