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 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.'
People also have different anatomy from one another: hearts and stomachs vary in size, shape, and physical location from person to person, for example.
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.)
Author of Primal Body, Primal Mind, Nora T. Gedgaudas writes,
'The belief that “genetics is destiny”. Don’t get me started. Even by the most conservative geneticists’ standards, we have anywhere from 80% to 97% control over our own genetic expressions. We ALL have dormant genes for all sorts of things, both good and bad. You’re not just fat because your mother and father were fat. Nor are you destined to have a heart attack just because half the people in your family have had one, or by the same token will you get diabetes, or cancer. Genetics can have some influence, certainly…but genes are turned on and off by regulatory genes and regulatory genes are mainly controlled by nutrients. A gene will not express itself unless the internal environment is conducive to its expression'
Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling explained that biochemical individuality, molecular disease, or environmental stress may increase the need for certain nutrients, 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 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 much 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:
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.
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 the ‘Biochemical Individuality’ book was first published in the 1950s, 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.
Biochemical Individuality: The Key to Understanding What Shapes Your Health by Roger J. Williams, PhD
Naturalpedia on Biochemical Individuality
Naturopathic Nutrition: A Guide to Nutrient-rich Food & Nutritional Supplements for Optimum Health by Abram Hoffer, PhD, MD, FRCP(C) and Dr. Jonathan Prousjy, DPHE, DSC, ND, FRSH
Evaluate Your Own Biochemical Individuality, by Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D.
Fire Your Doctor! How to Be Independently Healthy by Andrew W. Saul
How to live longer and feel better by Linus Pauling
Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas
The Myths of Vegetarianism by WAPF
Detoxify or Die by Dr Sherry Rogers
Stover PJ, Garza C. Bringing individuality to public health recommendations J Nutr. 2002 Aug;132(8 Suppl):2476S-2480S
Gonzalez C et al. Biological variability of thyroid autoantibodies (anti-TPO and anti-Tg) in clinically and biochemically stable patients with autoimmune thyroid disease J Clin Lab Anal. 2002;16(1):37-9
Fraser CG Inherent biological variation and reference values Clin Chem Lab Med. 2004;42(7):758-64
Eckhardt RB Genetic research and nutritional individuality J Nutr. 2001 Feb;131(2):336S-9S
V Betts J Ecological variability of hormonal concentrations in modern humans J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci. 2005 Jul;24(4):451-7.
Sodeman, William A. Pathologic Physiology = Mechanisms of disease W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, Pa, p. 346.
Anson, Barry An Atlas of Human Anatomy W.B Saunders Co. Philadelphia, Pa.
Netter, Frank Atlas of Human Anatomy: With netteranatomy.com (Netter Basic Science) Novartis, East Hanover, New Jersey, 1997
‘People’s ability to detoxify certain substances is as unique as their fingerprints or their face. There is as much as a 500 fold difference in people’s detoxification abilities with different chemicals.’ Dr Sherry Rogers
‘Roger Williams, first pointed out the importance of biochemical individuality, and that we cannot use the hypothetical "normal person" to set nutritional guidelines and norms. In his many years of study, he demonstrated that we vary considerably in our ability to detoxify environmental toxins, metabolize our foods, and in our nutritional requirements. Only recently is it being appreciated that normal values for laboratory tests do not fit a specific person. Instead, we must rely on physiological or functional values, which take into account individual variability.’ Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.
"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.' The Weston A. Price Foundation
'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.' Dr Abram Hoffer
Note that the aim of this site is to provide a starting point for health and healing research for ill people; especially very overwhelmed and disabled ill people. This site provides recommendations, summaries and reviews of books but is not meant to be a replacement for actually reading some of these wonderful health books if the reader is at all well enough to do so. (Plus getting individualised advice from a doctor that is also an orthomolecular medicine expert if possible). There is no substitute for reading as many of these books as you can. The HHH site can only really hint at their full brilliance. The amount of insight, scientific references, logic, intelligence, compassion and experience in the recommended books will most likely amaze you. HHH aims to encourage people to do their own reading and learning, and to always make up their own minds. All content copyright Jodi Bassett 2006 - 2014.