Biochemical individuality is a really cool sounding term (really cool to people like me:)) that simply means that every’s nutritional needs are different. These unique nutritional needs are based on each person’s genetics, lifestyle, diet and environmental exposure to various stresses. Biochemistry is a complex web of interactions that controls the way your body uses and/or responds to the things you take into your body (food, drink, supplements, medications, pollutants, stresses, etc.) and how that translates into how your body functions. For your body (biochemistry) to function properly, your body requires the right amounts and proportions of nutrients. This amount is dependent on you – the amount of a certain nutrient required by the average person (or another person) may not be the optimal amount you need for proper health (this is one of the reasons the RDA/DRI reported for nutrients is misleading at best – more on that later).
Biochemical Individuality and Disease
Symptoms of disease can occur in response to problems with biochemical processes (often as the result of insufficient nutrients). Depression provides a good example. The body requires specific nutrients in order to manufacture and control mood-regulating chemicals (including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine). For these chemicals to be properly manufactured, your body needs the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan, vitamins B3 and B6, and the minerals iron and copper. Low levels of these nutrients, or an imbalance between them can hinder the proper production of these chemicals and result in the symptoms of depression (along with a host of other symptoms).
Insufficient nutritional status may occur because a person does not get enough nutrients in their diet; this is very common. However, there are other reasons a person may not have all the nutrients they need for optimal functioning. For example, a person’s genetics may dictate that they require an additional amount (or a certain form) of a nutrient in order to function properly. Once more, stress (in whatever form it takes) and/or illness or injury can dramatically alter a person’s need for specific nutrients. Whatever the reason, when the body doesn’t get all the nutrients it needs, biochemical processes begin to break down and/or adapt and symptoms/disease results.
Isn’t the RDI Enough?
The U.S. Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) was created to give more detailed guidance than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). The DRI is defined as the amount of a nutrient considered sufficient to prevent a deficiency in nearly all (97-98%) of healthy individuals. For example, the RDI for vitamin C is 90 mg/day for nonsmoking men and 75 mg/day for nonsmoking, non-pregnant, non-lactating women. This is the amount determined to prevent vitamin C deficiency, which can result in a condition called scurvy that causes connective tissue problems and bleeding gums.
There are several problems with the DRI. One is that it doesn’t define what a ‘healthy’ individual is. We know that lack of overt disease does not constitute health, so who is this hypothetical ‘healthy’ person? By not defining what a ‘healthy’ person is, there is no basis for making nutrient recommendations, which makes it all but arbitrary.
In addition, the DRI does not define the optimal amount of a nutrient for body functions. Even if it did define the optimal amount, some people would require more of specific nutrients for optimal function, especially if they are under stress, exposed to environmental pollutants, or genetically predisposed to needing more of a certain nutrient. For these reasons, the DRI does not provide an adequate guideline for nutrient consumption.
How Can I Find Out My Nutritional Requirements
Nutritional biochemical testing is available and is the best way to learn more about your specific nutritional requirements. The most comprehensive versions of these test panels can evaluate over 400 aspects of biochemical function to provide a comprehensive snapshot of your unique nutritional needs. Testing of this sort can help you and your healthcare provider correlate nutrient deficiencies and biochemical pathway abnormalities to any symptoms you may have. Your healthcare provider can then devise a customized plan to correct any imbalances based on your unique biochemistry.
What are the Most Important Biochemical Tests
Since biochemistry involves a large number of interactions, we need to cover a wide range of nutrients to get a comprehensive look at each person’s unique biochemical requirements. The most important biochemical tests include those that report amino acids, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids. However, how these nutrients are measured is of utmost importance.
Amino acid testing should include all essential amino acids (which your body cannot produce and therefore must obtain through your diet) as well as those amino acids that your body can manufacture (if given the correct balance of raw materials) that are involved in critical physiological functions. These are usually assessed via the blood.
Mineral tests should evaluate for intracellular mineral concentrations, including magnesium, manganese, copper, chromium, zinc, potassium and vandadium. Minerals (except for calcium) concentrate inside cells, where they participate in biochemical processes. Therefore, knowing your intracellular mineral concentrations are the most accurate way to understand your nutritional status and needs. This is NOT what is measured when you have your routine bloodwork (i.e., metabolic panel) done; those values are for blood levels of key electrolytes, but they do not provide any information about intracellular mineral concentrations. Additionally, toxic metals,such as mercury, arsenic and lead, can also be tested to determine if they are disrupting any biochemical processes.
Most vitamins are best tested using urinary organic acids. These acids are produced as byproducts of biochemical pathways and are excreted in the urine. Each biochemical pathway requires specific amounts of vitamins and minerals, so urinary organic acids testing is a very sensitive and specific way to determine functional deficiencies of the nutrients involved. For example, if a marker comes up short, this means that regardless of the amount of a vitamin (or mineral) that you are currently taking, it is not enough for your specific biochemistry to function properly. Supplementing with higher amounts of the nutrients in which you are functionally deficient may correct the biochemical dysfunction and restore proper function. A couple notable exceptions exist, including vitamins D and E. These are most accurately tested directly via the blood. Urinary organic acids can also detect intestinal bacterial and fungal infections as well as test liver detoxification pathways.
Finally, fatty acids are found in every single cell in your body and are required for proper nervous system and immune function. Testing your fatty acid levels can provide valuable information about you risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation as well as dietary habits.
We use and recommend functional tests from Genova Diagnostics (www.gdx.net), including the NutrEval, ION, ONE and/or Comprehensive Organix Profile depending upon specific client needs. Many other labs will have similar tests, so be sure and check with your healthcare provider or contact us for more information.
Nutritional biochemical testing is often not covered under insurance, but it can provide you an incredibly insightful look at your individual needs that may provide you the answers you need to optimize not only your health, but your life.