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No Single ‘Right Way’

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In his book Biochemical Individuality, published in 1956, world-renowned biochemist Dr. Roger Williams described variations among individuals and how these relate to their responses to the environment. Dr. Williams was the first to speak of “biochemical individuality,” which refers to the fact that different people have different nutritional needs for attaining optimal function. Williams pointed out that even identical twins can differ in this regard. His work still influences many in integrative medicine and integrative clinical practice. And thanks to genetic mapping, we now can identify genetic patterns that translate to unique nutritional needs.
Integrative medical practitioners who embraced Williams’ work shook their heads in disbelief when government-funded research proclaimed, for example, that giving a patient 500 mg of vitamin C does not cure heart disease. Vitamin C is one of many nutrients that can benefit heart health, but each person has a unique requirement for C. Their environment also affects genetic expression. For example, someone exposed to high levels of phthalates from soft plastics has a greater need for certain nutrients, such as glycine, in order to detoxify these environmental toxins, toxins that can literally poison metabolic pathways in susceptible individuals.
Along these same lines, it came as no surprise to the integrative medical community that there was an uproar from conventional medicine when advisory panels dared to suggest that “everyone under 50 perhaps should not undergo mass screening for breast cancer using mammography.” The truth is that mass screening has its false positives and false negatives, each with its own set of risks. But this well-established fact is foreign to the U.S. consumer, who typically has been conditioned to believe “we can catch it in time with everyone submitting to mammography, PSA screening, colonoscopies and the like.” Fortunately, articles headlined “Immediate biopsy unnecessary for some breast lumps” and “Many prostate cancers caught by screening won’t kill” help teach consumers that every medical procedure and every prescription medication comes with risks as well as benefits. Dutch researchers report that low-dose radiation from mammography and from chest X-rays may increase the risk of breast cancer in young women already at high risk genetically of breast cancer. Because of these risks, it’s important to remember “biochemical individuality” when making decisions about one’s healthcare.
At the American Heart Association’s 2009 Scientific Session, Duke University researchers presented data from 35,707 patients who had suffered a heart attack in 2008. The study found that these patients, who were being treated at 55 different hospitals, underwent a total of 248,822 diagnostic procedures that required ionized radiation, including cardiac catheterization, head CT, chest CT and nuclear-perfusion testing. The researchers concluded that each patient received about 17.31 mSv of ionizing radiation for every hospital admission. That dose of radiation is more than one-third of the annual recommended workplace radiation exposure (50 mSV) and 550 percent greater than the expected background radiation exposure for those who live in the United States. The authors were quoted as saying: “We’re not suggesting that appropriate or necessary testing be withheld, but we’re trying to reinforce the need for physicians to carefully evaluate the indications, so that when they do order tests that involve radiation, they consider decreasing the dose based on the admitting diagnosis.”
With growing data implicating radiation in cardiovascular disease and secondary cancers, it’s time for medicine to appreciate the risks as well as the benefits of procedures, be they diagnostic or therapeutic. Because some individuals are uniquely susceptible to the dangers posed by radiation, the one-size-fits-all Comparative Effectiveness Research, which is part of the pending government healthcare reform, should trouble all who value Dr. Roger Williams’ brilliant work on biochemical individuality.

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