Biochemical Individuality and Impact on Health

Over the years of my clinical research revolving around herbs and phytonutrients, I have become quite fond of the writings of several past researchers including the biochemist Linus Pauling.  It is interesting to me to read and often re-read their thoughts and opinions regarding certain health conditions and proposals for therapies.  Often, despite the research being perceived as outdated, their conclusions still hold true and their predictions or insight startling at times.  It is neat to see that some of the observations that I have discovered are in fact similar, if not identical to theirs, regardless of the time difference.  Let’s look at some philosophies when it comes to your health.

Biochemical Individuality and Health
Biochemical Individuality and Health

Linus Pauling was a noted chemist, biochemist, engineer and educator over the years, exploring natural options in the management of several health problems in people.  One area of his focus was on the use of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the promotion of overall health in people, ranging from the recovery from the common cold to management of cancer. He was very forward with his opinions and often ran into much debate from his fellow colleagues, dismissing his research findings.

Linus felt very strongly about the use of vitamin C, but emphasized that dose was not the same in each person or in each condition, despite two people succumbing to the same health problem.  Vitamin C is involved in many normal cellular processes and levels can vary dependent on the ‘drain’ or the condition on the body.  Humans do not naturally produce vitamin C, while other species do, but this does not necessarily impact the need for supplementation.  It has been known that diseases such as Scurvy are easily prevented with the ingestion of low levels of vitamin C, often less than 100 mg, which ironically becomes the RDA level in most supplements.  What we fail to realize is that this low level can prevent Scurvy, but higher levels can actually achieve much more in terms of health promotion.

What I have come to realize over the years is that there is much potential in terms of health benefits when using various herbs and nutrients.  The reality is that even if we have two patients present with identical conditions, sometimes both patients don’t respond to the same dose, which means they may have different needs.  In some situations, such as when using the herb Curcumin, a patient will show improvement on a very reduced dose, while another patient with a similar condition may actually require 4 times the amount.  It is a frustrating situation, as a researcher and practitioner, as we want a solid dose or amount to use that will impact all patients.  After all, we are taught to expect this with pharmaceutical medications, seeing how a person should get results with just 50 mg of drug X or 500 mg of drug Z.

We want an easy to follow regimen, one dose to fit all situations, but in reality, health doesn’t come in one size, however, even with pharmaceutical medications this does not always hold true. 

When we look at research trials and the exploration of various medications, the end result is essentially a bell curve type of structure in which maybe 70% of patients responded favorably to a certain dose, while another 15% had side effects or 15% failed to respond at all.  This is the variation that I am referring to and it holds true for not only for medications but also herbs and foods.  We can have a set dose for a pharmaceutical pain medication that helps 60% of people, but 20% show no improvement and the other 20% have negative side effects.  We can also use a set dose of an herb, maybe 1 tsp, and improve 50% of patients, but not the other 50%. Why?

We are all individuals and no one person or animal is the same, despite genetic relations. We are not identical and thus, it is foolish to believe that we would all respond to a set dose or intake of a specific medication or herb.  Some people and animals, due to genetics or environmental influences, have higher levels of inflammatory cytokine production than others.  In other cases, maybe certain cellular pathways or enzymes are upregulated or even downregulated, which impacts other cellular functions.  The bottom line is that no two people are identical despite presenting for the same medical or degenerative condition.  As a case in point, some people are more prone to colds, allergies and immune mediated conditions due to genetic variations.

There is always more to consider with any one patient than just the presenting complaint.

The same holds true for animals, whether if they are companion pets, cattle or horses.  We see differences in the way we manage certain disease conditions between each patient with a big variation often between breeds.  We can have two horses present for signs of osteoarthritis , with similar disease progression, and prescribe the standard dose of a non-steroidal anti-inflamatory medication, but note that the two patients respond differently, often with one showing no improvement at all.  In those situations, we often resort to experimenting with higher doses or obtain results with a combination of other medications.  The same holds true regarding allergies and metabolic problems.

Linus Pauling ran into the same situation and many of his fellow colleagues began to develop certain protocols regarding Vitamin C usage, dependent on the presenting complaint.  In some situations, they would refer to a cold as a “30 gram cold” while in other more serious situations, they would resort to the use of more than 100 grams in a day’s time.  The bottom line is that no one constant dose would remedy every situation, it was often more a matter of experimenting with the vitamin to get results for the patient.  Linus Pauling referred to this individual patient determination as based on bowel tolerance. In the case of vitamin C, the side effects were not serious and most often related to loose stools or diarrhea, which actually helped to determine the dose needed for that patient.  Linus’ findings were often dismissed as his challengers would use various doses of vitamin C to target problems such as the common cold, but yet not get positive results, thereby criticizing his findings from their point of view.  Linus would simply respond that they had not used a high enough dose, as he understood that there was patient variation, which he termed “biochemical variation“.

Considering that each of us is unique and different from to another, we need to understand that sometimes our approach to health needs to be unique as well.  What works for one, does not necessarily mean that it will work for another, but despite this, we should not give up in our pursuit and demand for improved health and quality of life.  In today’s society, we demand a lot and we want results now.  The concept of taking initiative when it comes to our own health and with this knowing that we may have to experiment a little, does not make sense and most people don’t want to put for the effort.

When looking at herbs and nutrients, they are often quickly dismissed in regards to improving health for many reasons.  In some cases, a person can succumb to a cold, but state that vitamin C had no impact on their illness as they were taking it daily without results.  In reality, they were taking it, but the dose was too low, as is seen in most supplements.  The same can be held true for other herbs, including Curcumin.  Most supplements are utilizing less than 400 mg of a questionable extract, when in fact, clinical studies are using several grams to obtain results, each again with patient variation.

I believe that in the future, the concept of genetic mapping may prove to be a valuable tool in aiding many disease conditions.  We will be able to potentially see which pathways are active, upregulated or downregulating or potentially non-existent.  Knowing this, we may be better able to target our therapies for best results taking into consideration patient variation.  Despite this potential, I do believe that each person must become their own advocate for their own health as well as for that of their pets and equine companions.  We shouldn’t accept ‘no‘ as an answer and we must realize that there are many options out there, but sometimes they need to be tailored to each of us.  Natural therapies, including herbs and other nutrients provide many viable options and must not be dismissed.  They are full of many advantages in terms of benefiting overall health and often free of side effects. In light of the research, we must acknowledge that the individual dose or requirement may be different from one person to the next.  At best, with standard dosing, we can hope to impact 50% or more, but that does not mean that results are not achievable for the other 50%.  God created us as individuals and we must remember that.

All my best,

Tom Schell, D.V.M., CVCH, CHN

Nouvelle Research, Inc.


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