Biochemical Individuality: How Our Biology Influences What We Should Eat
No two humans are biochemically the same. It's time for our nutrition recommendations to be as unique as our biology. Biochemical individuality is the science that explores biology, behavior and health. This article will explore how our biological differences influence what we should eat to optimize health.
What is Biochemical Individuality?
Dr. Roger Williams introduced the term “biochemical individuality” in 1956 in his book of the same title. He proposed the concept that humans are genetically diverse and that this diversity can help unfold the origins of disease1.
For over 40 years, the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans have provided generalized nutrition recommendations for all Americans2. Despite the advances in nutritional sciences, chronic disease rates continue to rise.
Advances in the field of personalized nutrition hope to break the cookie cutter approach to nutrition. Personalized nutrition is tailoring a person’s dietary recommendations to their biochemical individuality3.
According to the National Institutes of Health, human beings have 99.9% identical DNA and that the remaining 0.1% provides clues about why we develop diseases4. The amount may seem very small, but when you consider the fact that humans also share 99% DNA with chimpanzees, the smallest difference can have a tremendous impact.
The science of biochemical individuality explores the 0.1% genetic difference by examining a person’s genetics, microbiome and environmental stressors. Advances in genetic and microbiome technology are contributing to the growing field of personalized nutrition being used to optimize health.
Elements of Biochemical Individuality
The key elements of biochemical individuality are genetics, microbiome, lifestyle and environmental stress.
Genetics and Genomics
The genetic component of biochemical individuality encompasses both genetics and genomics. Genetics refers to our genes, more specifically the DNA that we inherit from our ancestors5. Genomics is how our genes are influenced by the foods we eat and the environment5.
Genetic testing includes DNA mapping. With this information, we can understand what genes are and how our genes make us more susceptible to health conditions. DNA testing can offer insights into genetic conditions that affect how the body absorbs and uses vitamins and minerals.
Genomics testing including mRNA mapping. Data from mRNA tests give us insight into how our genes are interacting with the foods we eat. For example, there is a genetic marker in DNA that codes for how well the body can absorb vitamin B12, an essential nutrition for cognition6.
If this genetic marker is found, then a person does not readily absorb vitamin B12 and may consider a dietary B12 supplement.
Examining mRNA lends insight into how the body is able to withstand infections and cellular aging. RNA is involved in nearly all biological processing, including a cell’s ability to make proteins for recovery and repair8.
Signs of advanced cellular aging may indicate that the body is subjected to more stress than is ideal for optimal health. Advanced cellular aging is a sign to consider reducing foods that are inflammatory and increasing nutrients that promote health.
The colony of microorganisms living in the gut is known as the microbiome. A healthy microbiome is essential not only for good digestion, but for immune function, mental health and mood.
We have a mutually beneficial relationship with our microbiome. The foods we eat supply the microorganisms with food. In return, their presence is essential for the digestion and absorption of energy and nutrition from our food.
Enzymes uniquely produced by the microbiome are essential for breaking down components of our food and help with the production of some vitamins11. An imbalance in the microbiome negatively impacts our ability to absorb the nutrients we need11. Our ability to get energy as well as vitamins and minerals from our food is paramount to healthy living. A functioning microbiome is vital to good health.
Comprehensive mRNA and microbiome testing kits can give you a report of your own biochemical individuality. Each individual report gives you information about your microbiome profile and state of cellular health along with personalized dietary recommendations.
Environmental Stress and Lifestyle
In order to get a comprehensive look at biochemical individuality, we look inward at biology and outward at environmental stress and lifestyle. Exposure to environmental toxins can negatively influence our health and how we age.
Chemicals and toxins in the environment can trigger inflammation and cell damage in the body10. Increased inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases and cellular aging.
Lifestyle, including physical activity and exercise positively influence health. Movement improves health, digestion and aging. People who are more physically active, getting at least 8,000 steps per day have a 51% reduction in all-cause mortality, death from any disease9.
Reducing exposure to environmental toxins and increasing physical activity are potent influencers of biochemical individuality.
1. Williams, Roger. Biochemical Individuality: The Basis for Genetotrophic Concept. Wiley, New York. Chapel & Hall. London. 1956.
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
3. Sean H Adams, Joshua C Anthony, Ricardo Carvajal, Lee Chae, Chor San H Khoo, Marie E Latulippe, Nathan V Matusheski, Holly L McClung, Mary Rozga, Christopher H Schmid, Suzan Wopereis, William Yan. Advances in Nutrition. 2020;11(1)25-34. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz086.
4. National Institute of Health. National Human Genome Research Project. Sep 7, 2018.
5. Patterson AD, Turnbaugh PJ. Cell Metabolism. 2014;20(5):761-768. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.07.002.
6. Hazra A., Kraft P., Selhub J., Giovannucci E.L., Thomas G., Hoover R.N., Chanock S.J., Hunter D.J. Nature Genetics. 2008;40:1160–1162. doi:10/1038/ng.210.
7 Borbolis F, Syntichaki P. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development. 2015;152:32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.mad.2015.09.006.
8 Cookson MR. Wiley Interdisciplinary Review RNA. 2012;3(1):133-43. doi: 10.1002/wrna.109
9. Saint-Maurice PF, Troiano RP, Bassett DR, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2020;323(12):1151–1160. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1382.
10. Pearson, B.L., Ehninger, D. Current Environmental Health Report. 2017;(4) 38–43. doi: 10.1007/s40572-017-0131-6.
11. Rowland I, Gibson G, Heinken A, Scott K, Swann J, Thiele I, Tuohy K. Eur J Nutr. 2018;57(1):1-24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-017-1445-8.