Podcast Review: Personalized Medicine From Stuff You Should Know

“It’s far more important to know what person the disease has, than what disease the person has” Hippocrates

Like many other commuters, I often use my morning journey time to the FitnessGenes office to listen to the latest episode of my favourite podcasts. Topics include training, sport and science, but another I subscribe to is Stuff You Should Know.  Addressing topics of interesting general knowledge, this week’s episode focused on personalized medicine, and how our reactions to different diseases and also to different medicines is influenced by our DNA.

As the podcast played it became increasingly clear that the personalized medicine and the service we provide at FitnessGenes have a lot in common.

Evolving From Trial & Error

Before the adoption of personalized medication, western healthcare generally followed the rule “if it works for most people, it’ll probably work for you”.  Although this approach may work for 80% of people, this leaves 20% that are left to find an alternative that works for them.

Unfortunately, it’s also a potentially dangerous approach.  According to Stuff You Should Know, approximately 770,000 Americans a year experience an adverse drug event (ADE) as a result of being prescribed the wrong treatment.

This 80:20 rule and periods of trial and error are often seen in the fitness industry.  Even professional trainers need to spend a few weeks with a client, testing different training methods to discover which ones they are most responsive to.

Without a personal trainer, most people do not have the personal know how, time or dedication to go through this “trial and error” process in a structured way.  This usually results in them following generic workouts and making little, if any progress.  

Like the latest personalized medicine, the FitnessGenes DNA Analysis reveals your relevant genetic data and the resulting individual biology to match you with the most effective training and nutrition strategies to reach your goal.

It All comes down to proteins

The Stuff You Should Know podcast mentions a World War II example when medical professionals realised (well before gene mapping was available) that different types of people have different types of reactions to different types of medicine.

When US troops were given an antimalarial drug, they found that their reaction to it was largely influenced by their race.  Whilst Caucasian troops experienced no adverse side effects, some African American troops developed Anaemia. It was later discovered that his was because the African American troops were less likely to have an active version of a gene that produced a protective enzyme which prevented the white troops from developing the Anaemia when they were give the drug.

Similarly, your DNA determines whether you produce certain proteins that influence your reaction to certain training protocols.  For example, your ACTN3 gene variation directly influences whether you produce the protein alpha-actinin-3.  This protein is essential for the rapid and forceful muscle contractions needed for power based exercise, and also affects your muscle recovery rate.

By understanding your own individual variation of ACTN3, you can identify which training types your body is best suited for, and also how often you should train to maximise the benefits of each workout.

Improving Diagnosis

By identifying illnesses or traits in an individual's genome, health professionals are also able to make much more accurate diagnosis, which results in more effective treatment.

In 2012, the FDA approved of a drug called Kalydeco, which was developed to treat a small number of Cystic Fibrosis patients who were not responding to regular medicine.  By analysing their DNA, it was found their Cystic Fibrosis was caused by a mutation of the gene that regulates salt and water movement across the lungs.  Kalydeco corrects this genetic imbalance, and allows them to manage their condition.  Only 4% of Cystic Fibrosis patients carry this mutation, but by following personalized medication, pharmacies were able to produce a treatment specific to them.

The FitnessGenes test can also provide concrete evidence as to whether you carry a genetic predisposition to certain conditions.  Your LCT gene variation can confirm whether you are lactose intolerant, when previous tests could not do so with the same accuracy.  The widely used Hydrogen Breath Test results in a 20% false negative result, which means that some people are told that they can tolerate Lactose when they can’t.

This was the case for FitnessGenes customer Ben, and you can read his story here.

Prevention over cure

With the advent of personalized medicine, your individual biology becomes an essential factor when determining what the best treatment is.  Similarly, with the advent of personalised fitness DNA analysis, your individual biology becomes an essential factor in determining your optimum training and nutrition plan.  In fact, it’s been argued by some observers that if we can extend the adoption of personalized training and nutrition we would need far less personalized medicine!  Prevention is preferable to cure, after all.

If you would like to hear the ‘How personalized medicine works’ episode in full, you can download it from iTunes, or by visiting stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts

Written by Alex Auld

Wednesday, January 27, 2016