It’s not even January 1st, and marketers are out in full force to lure consumers into diet-culture approaches for preventing holiday weight gain. As a holistic, naturopathic doctor, I feel compelled to step in once again and punt the harm that can result from healthism.
This is the first article in my series on personalizing nutrition for the individual.
A One-Size-Fits- All Anything (Including Diets) is Not Practicing Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Principles
As a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor, I recognize that everyone has different dietary needs based on their biochemical individuality. In this first post within this series, I will explore how food can be used to address physical and mental health, and how it needs to be personalized, just like any other intervention.
Future articles will explore:
- How genetic variances in certain enzymes influence how one will respond to various dietary components
- Why there is no one-size-fits-all approach for nourishment
- The impact of overly restricting food on social relationships
- A holistic, balanced approach to food for the holidays and into the new year
Now, onto the topic of “food as medicine.”
Recognizing the Power of Food in Naturopathic and Functional Medicine
As a naturopathic doctor and functional medicine practitioner, I subscribe to the belief that nutrition and lifestyle are impactful tools for overall well-being. The concept of “food as medicine” is not a fringe idea or an outdated ancient practice. It is a now-recognized and well-understood concept in conventional and integrative health communities that dietary and exercise patterns effect clinical outcomes, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and support healing. (source, source)
Rationally, this makes sense. On the basic biochemical level, our cells and organ systems need specific nutrients to function. (source, source) This alone is important; however, beyond metabolism, compounds found in our food also impact how our DNA, our cellular genetic code, will be expressed. This is the concept of nutrigenomics.
Dietary changes influence not just the physical domain of health, but also effect mental health. This makes food a healing modality that reflects the naturopathic medicine philosophy of “treating the whole person.”
Just recently the SMILES trial demonstrated that dietary changes can be a powerful intervention for changing mood and improving depression. Furthermore, there are countless publications devoted to how nutrition and lifestyle medicine can transform chronic health conditions and mood. The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research has a wonderful library of studies that support “food as medicine for mood.” Exercise, similarly, is just as evidence-based for its benefits to the brain and body.
The Power of Personalized Medicine
As a naturopathic doctor, one of the most precious naturopathic medicine principles is to address the whole person using an individualized treatment approach. The latest availability of consumer genomics is popularizing this approach. In 2014, an article entitled, “Individualized medicine from prewomb to tomb,” reviewed how the current merger of technology with biology is transforming healthcare. This has led to discoveries in research in the “-omics” fields and the microbiome, the commercialization of genetic data, and the emergence of using “smart technologies” for diagnostic functions.
Literally, medicine is revolutionizing before our eyes. We now know that even identical twins, with the same DNA, have differences. This is based on the concept of epigenetics. Each twin’s lifestyle choices, environment, social relationships, and what they are exposed to, will determine how their specific genetic code is read and the resulting cellular effects.
The article states (bold emphasis mine):
That each of us is truly biologically unique, extending to even monozygotic, “identical” twins, is not fully appreciated. Now that it is possible to perform a comprehensive “omic” assessment of an individual, including one’s DNA and RNA sequence, and at least some characterization of one’s proteome, metabolome, microbiome, autoantibodies, and epigenome, it has become abundantly clear that each of us has truly one-of-a-kind biological content. Well beyond the allure of the matchless fingerprint or snowflake concept, these singular, individual data and information set up a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity to improve medical treatment and develop preventive strategies to preserve health.(source)
Personalized medicine is about tailoring the individual treatment to the person rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to symptom management. This concept of personalization is promising and cutting-edge, and the aim for precision is quite complex. (source, source, source)
The same holds true for applying the proper nourishment for individuals. No one diet or dietary practice is going to work for everyone, and many factors need to be considered.
How Genetic Variances in Metabolism Impact Health
Narrowly focusing on manipulating dietary components for weight loss is not the solution to longevity and a life well lived. One needs to consider what is right for someone’s unique biochemical makeup and what makes them feel nourished in all areas of wellness, not just the physical.
Finding the right diet for one’s genotype can modulate health outcomes. For example, variations in genetics will determine how one breaks down certain nutrients. This is correlated with risks for various physical and mental disturbances. (source, source) Literally, one man’s food could be his medicine for optimizing his genetic expression, but the same food could be another’s poison, putting her at risk. Hence, generalized dietary approaches can be healing but also dangerous.
In the next post, I will explore more about this topic. Specifically, I will discuss two important genetic variations in enzymes that impact how one processes foods. I will then correlate how their metabolites can either alleviate or aggravate certain symptoms. Finally, I will briefly discuss how I approach this aspect in my practice.
Food is a powerful tool that impacts health. In general, most people feel good on a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet; however, dietary approaches that trade personalized medicine concepts for generalized theories are shortsighted and could be causing harm. Whereas nutrients can help to heal the mind and body, too much restriction can lead to unhealthy physical states, relationship strains, and disordered eating patterns.
Please feel free to share your thoughts below.
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This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
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Please be extra cautious and be sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
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