Biochemical Individuality: Our Unique Wellness Prescription
In my education and work experience in the nutrition field, I was exposed and trained in the philosophy of biochemical individuality. That’s a mouthful to say, but these two words may carry the key to managing chronic illness and reaching optimal nutrition. Let me explain.
Biochemical individuality is the principle that our bodies are all unique down to the biochemical level (think of how the body processes nutrients at the cellular level). This includes the notion that for some, the mineral calcium may be stimulating, while for someone else it may be a sedative. This idea isn’t completely new, as there are some to whom caffeine will never affect no matter what time it is consumed. Equally, a different person could have even the smallest amount of caffeine and be kept awake all night. This is more of an obvious example, but the idea holds true to nutrients (and anti-nutrients) in all of the foods we consume.
The concept of biochemical individuality is incredibly complex, and my goal here is to simply introduce the topic for consideration of a theory to reaching optimal wellness. If it is something you would like to investigate further, there are resources at the end of the article.
There is an ongoing battle of preference between conventional and alternative treatments. Whatever your choice, be it going to your internist for a prescription or your naturopath for an herbal remedy, you are still dealing with the same concept of treating at the symptom level. However, these two specialists are just using different approaches to the same level of treatment.
Treating at the symptom level can be helpful for short-term situations, especially if you know what’s going on and just need an immediate remedy. The challenge is to sustain this remedy to quell the symptoms, while all along the underlying cause is still continuing. The goal of biochemical individuality is to treat the underlying problem.
Different Levels of Disease
We are all familiar with what a simple headache feels like versus a much more serious condition that requires prolonged medical attention. This is an example of the various layers of disease.
Starting at symptom level one are such ailments as headaches, weight gain, fatigue. Next, we come to symptom level two which ups the ante a little bit, and brings in conditions that aren’t as quick to fix such as glandular problems and hormone imbalances. Finally, we get down to the causative level, where we find imbalances with basic homeostatic (balance of all body systems) control.
The Body Wants Balance
Homeostatic control is the body’s desire to always be in balance. The nutrients we take in through food and drink work synergistically and antagonistically to maintain equilibrium. For example, certain nutrients work together to help the body absorb the nutrients. Calcium and magnesium work in tangent as well as sodium and potassium. The over consumption of one will cause imbalance in the body to both nutrients. Amazingly, the body will compensate as much as it can to stay in balance as best as possible.
Variations Within the Body
We are all variants in some way of a “normal.” Sure, there is an average size for a female adult liver, but depending on the size, it affects how quickly substances can be processed through the body. Some people require higher (or lower) doses of the same medication to achieve the desired result due to how the body and the necessary organs can processes the chemicals.
So, yes, we are may have variations of the typical size of organs in our body systems. The key is some are more important (or life threatening) deviations than others! Something to think about is that not only can humans inherit the potential for carrying out chemical reactions in the body differently (absorbing calcium better vs. potential to not absorb calcium very well), but we also can inherit the possibility that reactions take place at a different rate (fast absorbing calcium vs. slow absorbing calcium). And this just leads to more variation among our bodies, bringing forth the notion that we are all truly unique!
The Role of Metabolic Rate
Metabolic rate is one of several important factors that determine your weight. It refers to rate at which your body burns calories or utilizes energy. The way (and speed) your body processes nutrients and converts these nutrients into energy (metabolism) is a crucial factor in determining your weight. So, finding the foods that work with your unique nutrient requirements and that are best utilized by your body, help it run efficiently and avoid malfunctions that lead to chronic illness and obesity.
Biochemical individuality is the idea that depending on your cellular make up, including variances in organs, etc., each nutrient can affect your system in a different way than someone else. This could explain the differences between why some people can eat a heavy protein-based diet, and others find it impossible to shed a pound on the same foods. One person could reap a ton of energy from eating fattier foods (even good fats like avocado and coconut), while another person might be bogged down and lethargic. It directly refers to the old saying, “One man’s food is another man’s poison.”
What does this mean for your health?
This theory supports the approach to health that we are complex beings, and that health is not simply about eating a certain amount of calories and calling it a day. Sure, energy input is important, but even more important is the quality of energy we are supplying to our bodies. Taking it a step further, it also means we need to honor our own uniqueness, and just because your neighbor is gluten free and your sister is vegan, is doesn’t mean these lifestyles will be right for you.
For further reading:
Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Keats; Reprint edition, 1998 (originally published 1939).
Williams, Roger. Biochemical Individuality. McGraw Hill Professional, 1998.
Wolcott, William. The Metabolic Typing Diet. Harmony; Reprint edition, 2002.