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Genetic Testing and Individualized Medicine

Changing your lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it’s usually easier when you can see results. What if I told you I could make lifestyle recommendations that were custom tailored to what is ideal for your body, meaning the changes would have a high impact and would be guaranteed to benefit you? This is the future of individualized medicine: using genomics to determine the best plan of action. Genetics is changing the field of medicine. We now know why some people experience bad side effects from certain drugs, and why some people do not. It comes down to the enzymes made in the liver, which are written in your genetic code. So instead of prescriptions by trial and error, prescriptions could be the right fit for you with fewer side effects on your end. The same goes for natural remedies: we can now pinpoint what will work for you, whether it is a lifestyle factor or a supplement. Whether or not marathon training is beneficial or detrimental for you can now be answered. Because each body is unique, medicine should be unique for each body as well. At HealthSource Integrative Medical Centre, our naturopathic doctors recognize this and work with each person to achieve personalized healthcare- and now we have a powerful new tool with which to do so.

Sample of conditions that benefit from genetic testing: Depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, cancer prevention, auto-immune disease, fibromyalgia, autism, addictions, miscarriage, all have answers among the genes.

Genetic testing allows us to look at the function of a person on the most fundamental level. I’ll go through several examples that highlight the power of genetic testing. Neurotransmitters are one area that our doctors will usually test or evaluate. These are the hormone messengers in the brain and the body that determine things like addiction, appetite, calm, anxiety, depression, focus, and so on.

Some Neurotransmitters and Their Functions
Neurotransmitter Function Problems Caused by Imbalances
Serotonin Affects mood, hunger, sleep, arousal Undersupply linked to depression
Dopamine Influences movement, learning, attention, and emotion Oversupply linked to schizophrenia, undersupply linked to tremors and decreased mobility in Parkinson’s disease
Norepinepherine Helps control alertness and arousal Undersupply can depress mood and cause ADHD-like attention problems
GABA A major inhibitory neurotransmitter Undersupply linked to seizures, tremors, and insomnia
Glutamate A major excitatory neurotransmitter, involved in memory Oversupply can overstimulate the brain, producing migraines or seizures; this is why some people avoid MSG in food
Acetylcholine Enables muscle attention, learning, and memory Undersupply leads to deteriorating muscle function

There are biochemical pathways that both produce and remove these neurotransmitters from the system. Think of it as water from a tap, and a tub with a drain at the bottom. Ideally we want balance between the amount of water coming from the tap and the size of the drain, so that the body can keep a level amount for its use. Now consider someone who produces more of a certain messenger than they remove from the system, and say that messenger is adrenaline. Even a simple startle will cause some adrenaline release, and if it is hanging around longer, ie the drain is clogged, that adrenaline is acting longer. That person may experience higher states of anxiety. In the case of cardiovascular disease, research has now shown that people who carry certain genetic types could be advised not to consume high doses of fish oil in order to prevent it. Others benefit from added fish oil. Whether or not you should be building that supplement into your routine is a question for your genes. A significant link that needs to be considered is how your metabolic pathways, predetermined by our genetics, can affect your risk for certain cancers. Research shows that a direct link exists between colon cancer and a polymorphism that affects folate metabolism (known as an MTHFR defect). This same gene is also implicated in autism, tongue-tie, and chronic fatigue. The culprit, however, is never as simple as one gene causing a certain outcome. The web is complex and interrelated, and requires special training to understand and address it. It is perfectly normal to have certain genetic strong spots and certain weak spots. So what do we do about them? The best part is that knowing this genetic picture allows us to support the full functioning of the body’s systems through targeted natural supplements or treatment methods, to either boost or bypass the genetic polymorphisms. We can regain balance in the body through understanding how the various pathways interrelate. Note that these pathways are complex and should always be addressed in a holistic context, by a person specifically trained to understand how to do so – such as one of our doctors. It is important to consider that there are always multiple factors of health and disease. There is no magic bullet approach to health. But by understanding the most fundamental makeup of what makes a person unique, we can build a customized program to lay the right foundation for your health goals.

Did you know that foods that you eat have been implicated in a wide range of medical conditions affecting virtually every part of the body—from mildly uncomfortable symptoms such as indigestion, mild eczema and acne to severe illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic infection and chronic headaches. However, people most commonly are used to hearing about food allergies – peanut or shellfish for example – which cause unpleasant symptoms of hives, swelling of lips, skin reactions around the mouth or, in worse cases, anaphylaxis. If you have been to an allergist, you may have experienced a pin-prick test for a number of environmental allergens, and sometimes food allergens. This test measures your immediate immune response to allergies – mediated by IgE – which could occur within minutes to a few hours. There is another type of immune response: a delayed reaction which can take up to 3 days to occur. For this reason it is hard to identify the problem foods. These foods do cause an immune response but since they are not your typical allergy you know of we refer to them as food sensitivities or intolerances. Some food intolerances are caused by an immune response related to food-specific antibodies called IgG antibodies, while others are associated with an enzyme deficiency or chemical sensitivity. These IgG antibodies recognise and bind to specific food proteins to form immune complexes in the body, which can accumulate in joints and other organs where they cause inflammation and many of the symptoms associated with food intolerances. Food Sensitivities/Intolerances can present in many forms. Take a look at the chart below:

System Symptoms and Diseases associated with FOOD ALLERGIES
Gastrointestinal Irritable Bowen Syndrome (IBS), Celiac Disease, Ulcerative colitis, Constipation, Chronic diarrhea, Canker sores (recurrent mouth ulcers), Stomach ulcers, Duodenal ulcer, Gastritis, Irritable colon, Mal-absorption, Vomiting, Indigestion, Colic (in babies)
Genitourinary Bed-wetting, Chronic bladder infections, Kidney infections, Frequent urination
Immune Frequent colds or flu, Chronic infections, Frequent ear infections
Mental/Emotional Anxiety, Depression, Hyperactivity, Inability to concentrate, Insomnia, Irritability, Mental confusion, Personality change, Seizures, Fatigue & lethargy
Musculoskeletal Fibromyalgia, Joint pain (arthritis), Back pain, Bursitis
Respiratory Asthma, Sinus infections, Chronic bronchitis, Wheezing, Chronic runny or congested nose, Post nasal drip
Skin Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, Hives, Itching eyes, Rash
Head Migraines, Headaches
Miscellaneous Fatigue, Headache, Hypoglycemia

Our clinic offers food sensitivity testing – through a blood sample (not a pin-prick test!) – which detect specific IgG antibodies in a wide range of foods.Some examples of food items include fruits, vegetables, animal protein, nuts/seeds, seafood, dairy, spices, yeast, coffee & tea. If you suspect you have an intolerance to some foods, an IgG food test is something to consider.

So you have identified your food allergies – now what?

Food sensitivity testing is the first part of the jigsaw puzzle to piece together exactly what is causing your illness or symptoms. Knowing what you are sensitive or intolerant to can be helpful in the management of your lifestyle through the design of diets based on food test results. In addition, the condition and function of your gastrointestinal (GI) system strongly impacts vitality and overall health. Our gastrointestinal tract is the largest part of our immune system and this is where we absorb the vital nutrients from our food. If the proper steps are taken to heal the gut many health conditions can improve or even be eliminated. Our treatment program ensures the health of your GI system is optimized through individualized strategies that have been tested and work effectively with our clients. Inquire about our food allergy testing and our approach to individualized treatment programs for your health condition so you can experience the benefits of what it is truly like to experience optimal health.

“Why do so many people who feel chronically fatigued or burnt out are told there is nothing wrong with them?”

Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the blood, enter tissues and regulate cell function. There are dozens of hormones in the body and many of these hormones work interdependently. The adrenal gland sits just above the kidney and it releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol as well as the androgen precursor DHEA-s. DHEA-s is eventually converted into either estrogen or testosterone. If the hormones from the adrenal glands are not produced or are not working efficiently, there can be a downstream negative impact on many systems in the body. Stress is becoming more and more of a factor in many peoples lives. Careers, family, finances are some of the most common stressors. However, diet or poor eating habits can also be stressors on the body. When we feel stressed, our body naturally adapts by increasing certain stress hormones so we can maintain our level of functioning on a mental and physical level. However, ask yourself what happens when we are faced with low grade chronic stress over a long period of time. Your body typically begins to develop a number of symptoms:

  • cravings for sugar and salt
  • feeling stressed and irritable
  • exhausted/fatigue or feel tired but wired
  • frequent infections (catching cold easily)
  • putting on weight around the mid section
  • foggy thinking
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dark circles under the eyes
  • hypoglycemia
  • low blood pressure
  • need to start the day with caffeine
  • non-restorative sleep
  • sleep problems – difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep
  • water retention
  • decreased libido or excessive libido
  • changes in menstrual cycle

This tells me that the adrenal gland hormones are being produced in an insufficient amount or in an excessive amount. This has been termed adrenal fatigue. In more serious cases, where a person is completely burnt out, adrenal fatigue can lead to adrenal exhaustion. Right now the concept of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion is not recognized in conventional medicine. With the thyroid gland, conventional medicine says it can be working within a normal range, overworking or underworking, or not working at all. With the adrenal gland, conventional medicine says it either works or it does not work. When it does not work, it is termed Addison’s disease. Yet I see many clients commonly with low DHEA-s levels, low or high cortisol levels in my practice. Dr. Thammasouk and I can often tell if someone is having adrenal issues just by doing a thorough intake during the first visit. However, we also like to confirm our suspicions by running blood hormone tests or saliva hormone tests. It is amazing to see how quickly clients respond to treatment when they are properly assessed and are determined to get adrenal support. Treating the adrenals usually includes a multi-factorial approach with specific herbal support based on the symptom picture (low DHEA-s, high cortisol or low cortisol), and vitamin, mineral and dietary support. If we do not get an appropriate response we may add low dose bioidentical hormone replacement for a short period of time which allows adrenal glands a rest to help them restore their proper functioning. If you feel you may be suffering from adrenal issues, please contact myself, Dr. Reid, or Dr. Thammasouk for further information on assessments and treatments for this common disorder.