This book is a classic and an essential read for all doctors, and also patients, if possible.
Biochemical individuality is the concept that the nutritional and chemical make-up of each person is unique and that dietary and other needs therefore vary from person to person. People have unique biochemical profiles based upon their own genetic structure, nutrition, and environment. Some of these variables can also change over time.
The book `Biochemical Individuality' was first published by Dr. Roger J. Williams in 1956. Jeffrey S. Bland Ph.D., who writes the introduction for the 1988 reissue of the book, explains that Dr. Williams was the first to recognize all humans differ biochemically from others, and to recognize that nutritional status can influence the expression of genetic characteristics.
Jeffrey Bland Ph.D. writes,
"Aberrant genes do not, in and of themselves, cause disease. By and large their impact on an individual's health is minimal until the person is plunged into a harmful environment. . . . The list of common diseases which has its roots in this genetic soil is growing almost daily. . . . How many human ills will be added to the list is unknown, although some contend that almost every disorder compromising a full and healthy four score and ten years of life can be traced in one way or another to this genetic variability.
The first major breakthrough that resulted in this revolutionary change in thinking about the origin of disease was the recognition that we are much more different biochemically than was previously acknowledged. Dr. Williams in Biochemical Individuality pioneered this revolution in thinking forty years ago. Genetic polymorphism is the term which has emerged in the past decade to describe this variation in function surrounding a specific genetic trait.
The second major breakthrough in thinking made by Dr. Williams is the recognition that nutritional status can influence the expression of genetic characteristics. Once again Dr. Williams foresaw this important concept in Biochemical Individuality and set in motion research and discoveries over the past four decades that have transformed medicine. It is now well recognized that our genotype gets transformed into our phenotype as a consequence of nutritional, lifestyle and environmental factors which are important in determining our health patterns.
He pointed out that even identical twins could be different in their needs for optimal function based upon the fact that they developed in different environments in utero. Although identical twins share the same genes, their differing nutrition and developmental environments can result in different expression of the genes as they grow older."
The Weston A. Price Foundation explain,
""Biochemical individuality" is a subject worth clarifying. Coined by nutritional biochemist Roger Williams, PhD, the term refers to the fact that different people require different nutrients based on their unique genetic make-up. Ethnic and racial background figure in this concept as well. A diet that works for one may not work as well for someone else. As a practitioner, I've seen several clients following a vegetarian diet with severe health problems: obesity, candidiasis, hypothyroidism, cancer, diabetes, leaky gut syndrome, anemia and chronic fatigue. Because of the widespread rhetoric that a vegetarian diet is "always healthier" than a diet that includes meat or animal products, these people saw no reason to change their diet, even though that was the cause of their problems. What these people actually needed for optimal health was more animal foods and fats and fewer carbohydrates.
Further, due to peculiarities in genetics and individual biochemistry, some people simply cannot do a vegetarian diet because of such things as lectin intolerance and desaturating enzyme deficiencies. Lectins present in legumes, a prominent feature of vegetarian diets, are not tolerated by many people. Others have grain sensitivities, especially to gluten, or to grain proteins in general. Again, since grains are a major feature of vegetarian diets, such people cannot thrive on them."
People have different anatomy from one another: hearts and stomachs vary in size, shape, and physical location from person to person, for example.
(The images in the book of all the different shapes and sizes of stomachs are amazing to see!)
Drugs affect people in different ways due to differences in body chemistry. The differences between individuals can be quite large, and affect many different areas. When an individual's specific needs are not met, diseases may arise.
For a person to get ill from a bacterial or viral infection, the book explains, there must be a susceptibility in the host as well as an encounter with the particular bacteria or virus. Neither the health of the host nor the infective agent is `everything.'
Hereditary diseases are mostly not hereditary at all and what is inherited is a susceptibility for a certain disease. This means that we are not stuck with an unchangeable fate and can potentially limit our susceptibility by using a genetotrophic approach. (Making sure the body has all the raw materials it needs to function properly, and that higher than usual needs for certain nutrients are met.)
Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling explained that biochemical individuality, molecular disease, or environmental stress may increase the need for certain micronutrients, such as vitamin C, considerably above the RDA recommendation.
Jeffrey Bland Ph.D. explains,
"Molecular medicine was a term used by two-time Nobel laureate in chemistry and peace Linus Pauling, Ph.D., in his landmark article on the mechanism of production of sickle cell anemia published in 1949.  It defined a new perspective on the origin of disease based upon the recognition that specific mutations of the genes can create an altered "molecular environment" and therefore the modified physiological function associated with specific diseases.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) which were developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council to establish the nutritional needs of "practically all healthy people" were not based upon the more recent information concerning the range of biochemical individuality among individuals. The RDAs that describe "normal" nutritional needs have questionable relevancy to the concept of optimal nutrition based upon individual needs. The contributions of Dr. Williams have opened the door for personally tailored nutritional and medical interventions that take biochemical individuality into account."
The concept of biochemical individuality seriously calls into question the logic of setting a single RDA for various vitamins and minerals for all people when the need for a certain nutrient may differ from one person to the next by 10, 30 or even 100 fold, or more.
Dr Williams' book explains that for a person to have all their lab values and other statistics in the `normal' range is itself abnormal and that we all have metabolic peculiarities, and probably more than a few.
Dr Williams writes that biochemical individuality explains why:
* Some of us are better at detoxifying drugs and chemicals
* The harmful amino acid homocysteine may or may not cause heart disease
* Cancer genes respond in different ways to diet and environment
* Some people are alcoholics or diabetics
* Low fat diets cause some people to gain weight
* One person needs higher levels of a nutrient than another to be healthy
Orthomolecular medicine expert Dr Abram Hoffer writes,
"There are many people whose diets are relatively good, but they still need extra nutrients due to biochemical individuality and many other factors, such as genetics or chronic deficiency. Orthomolecular and naturopathic therapists use optimum doses, which may be small or large. The important characteristic of the dose is not its size, but its efficacy - whether it is doing the job it is supposed to do to make the patient well."
The concept of biochemical individuality provides solid support for the notion that the most accurate test for some nutrients - such as magnesium or vitamin B12, for example - is the challenge test, rather than traditional blood tests. Watching how the body responds to a nutrient can tell a skilled practitioner far more about that person's need for a particular nutrient than a standard test which merely compares the patient's levels of a nutrient with what is considered `normal' for an average person. As this book explains, levels of B12 in healthy people can vary by 16 or 19 fold! More of certain nutrients is also needed during illness.
Extensive nutritional testing is also supported by the concept of biochemical individuality. Books such as Detoxify or Die by Dr Sherry Rogers list some of the cutting edge tests which are currently available and how they should be interpreted and the information acted upon, to improve health.
This book was fascinating to read.
I found it overall quite easy to read as well though I must admit I skipped some of the scientifically dense paragraphs that went into specifics about particular abnormalities.
The message that the patient - doctor relationship and the doctor listening to the patient and treating them as an individual is of primary importance in good health care, is just as timely today as when this book was first published, if not far more so. A 'one size fits all' approach is not very helpful and nor is slavishly adhering to the importance of 'normal' lab values and ignoring all other evidence.
Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
on February 28, 2001
Biochemical Individuality was first published by Dr. Roger J. Williams in 1956. It has just been reissued with a new introduction by Jeffrey S. Bland, Ph.D. Dr. Bland explains that Dr. Williams was the first to recognize all humans differ biochemically from others. He says that Dr. Williams was also the first to recognize that "nutritional status can influence the expression of genetic characteristics."
Dr. Williams conducted his own studies, as well as drawing on the work of others, to show that each of us is different. One chapter describes differences in anatomy, outlining how even such vital organs as hearts and stomachs vary in size, shape, and physical location from person to person.
The chapter on pharmacology explains how, even though the chemistry of each is known, drugs effect people in different ways, due to differences in body chemistry. That's why what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another.
Dr. Williams says that "while the same physical mechanisms and the same metabolic processes are operating in all human bodies, the structures are sufficiently diverse [that] the sum total of all the reactions taking place in one individual's body may be very different from those taking place in the body of another individual of the same age, sex, and body size."
His observations led Dr. Williams to theorize that each individual also had unique nutritional needs, and that determining and meeting those needs would help combat disease.
Although written in academic language, Biochemical Individuality is of interest all readers who recognize "there is no such thing as a truly 'normal' individual" and that people have "unique biochemical profiles based upon their own genetic structure, nutrition, and environment."