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Is Pharmacogenetics the New Standard of Healthcare?

Updated on October 7, 2016
Pharmacogenetics allows us to personalize medical treatment without relying so heavily on trial and error.
Pharmacogenetics allows us to personalize medical treatment without relying so heavily on trial and error. | Source

We know that our genes affect nearly every aspect of our lives, especially unseen things like biological reactions. Pharmacogenetics is the study of how our genes dictate our unique metabolic reactions to food and medications. It allows us to personalize medical treatment without relying so heavily on trial and error.

This means getting the right medication to people sooner, with reduced risks of adverse reactions and less chance of wasting time and money on ineffective treatment. With rapidly increasing numbers of treatment options, physicians are relying more on pharmacogenetics to improve drug selection and effectiveness.

In some areas of medicine like cardiovascular care, pharmacogenetics is already a standard of treatment. Other areas, such as nutrition, addiction, and psychiatry, are quickly following suit. Before long, pharmacogenetics will be the standard for all medical treatment, and those who don’t utilize it will be deviating from best practices.

Pharmacogenetics and the Art of Medicine

We can already test people to find what medications will work best for them and which to avoid, and the database of medical conditions continues to expand. For instance, when treating addiction, we now know to obtain readings for MTHFR, a gene that produces the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase enzymes needed to regulate our bodies’ chemical reactions. Variations in this gene can determine whether a patient is at an increased risk of depression and addiction as well as heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Another benefit involves treating substance-related disorders and being able to determine how a patient processes dopamine, which is a major factor in the disease of addiction. We can tailor treatments and medications according to genetic variations and how they affect the patient’s dopamine levels, attacking the root cause of addiction rather than just its symptoms.

Blood tests can sometimes hint at this type of information, but not always and not definitively. With pharmacogenetics, we can know for certain which medicines will work for which patient, allowing us to refine the art of medicine in all areas of healthcare.

With pharmacogenetics, we can know for certain which medicines will work for which patient, allowing us to refine the art of medicine in all areas of healthcare.
With pharmacogenetics, we can know for certain which medicines will work for which patient, allowing us to refine the art of medicine in all areas of healthcare. | Source

A Diet Based on Genetics

Besides medication, pharmacogenetics is also expanding into the realm of food; specifically, how our bodies absorb and utilize certain nutrients. The conventional wisdom is that you should eat according to your blood type. While there’s some truth to that, pharmacogenetics is far more precise in determining what to eat and what to avoid.

You may have heard people say they can’t drink coffee or that soy doesn’t agree with their bodies. Some articles say coffee’s bad for you, but others say it’s good for you. While some articles say soy is bad, others praise its nutritional benefits.

Both viewpoints are true, and the same goes for medication. Whether or not you respond well to medication or benefit from certain nutrients depends largely on genetic predisposition. Soy really does benefit some people, but it also harms others and is neutral to the rest. In regard to most medications and nutrients, people fall into one of these same three categories depending on their genetic makeups.

Whether or not you respond well to medication or benefit from certain nutrients depends largely on genetic predisposition.
Whether or not you respond well to medication or benefit from certain nutrients depends largely on genetic predisposition. | Source

Many people eat foods all the time that they don’t process well, which blunts their energy and overall health. It may not be fatal, but they lack energy and don’t know why, not realizing it’s something they consistently eat or drink.

It all depends on how you metabolize food and drugs. For instance, if you have a rapid metabolism, you can enjoy the benefits of coffee without any of the side effects. The same is true for tomatoes and peppers, which are healthy staples but are in the nightshade family. They’re considered generally good for you, but some people can’t metabolize the compounds and therefore suffer digestive issues when they eat them.

For patients dealing with eating disorders, diabetes, or obesity, we can use pharmacogenetics to determine how best to build their diets. What ratio of protein, carbs, and fats will specifically benefit that patient according to their genetic metabolism?

Changing the Tides of Personalized Healthcare

Pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics — the more comprehensive study of genetic influences on certain disease processes, like cancer — are changing the tides of personalized healthcare in several different ways.

By understanding how patients react to medication and their diet, pharmacogenetics gives an enormous push toward truly personalized healthcare. We can eliminate much of the guesswork in prescribing medications, and we can better tailor patients’ diets to meet their unique nutritional needs.

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