The British Naturopathic Association's annual Study Day on June 23rd 2012 will have the theme of Naturopathic Approaches to Endocrinology. MIfHI graduates, Drs. Tom and Jacqueline Greenfield, are presenting a lecture entitled: A Nutrigenomic Approach to Endocrinology. A summary of their lecture follows:
Medical endocrinologists typically deal with major hormonal imbalances pharmacologically. A reductionistic approach to the body perceives the organ which is producing increased or decreased levels of hormones as the source of the organic dysfunction; the "cure" is either hormone replacement therapy, suppression of excess hormone production or blocking receptor sites. In the same way, nutritional supplementation can be used to make up for deficiencies or excess to directly enhance or suppress the function of specific hormonal pathways. However this is not necessarily treating the patient as a whole: it could be seen as linear thinking, not looking for the reason behind the disturbance in homoeostasis, or whether the cause of the imbalance is still there. As naturopaths how can we support health in the patient with endocrine-related disorders using natural methods and a more holistic approach?
Nutrigenomics has brought a growing awareness of the potential for modification of food intake to promote health and reduce the risk of diet-related diseases. It is a way of altering the expression of genes through nutrition: a nutrigenomic perspective views nutrients as cell-signalling mechanisms which are detected by sensors in the cell: a variation in nutrient levels triggers a cellular mechanism which changes gene expression, protein and metabolite production. This can restore balance in many body systems where the individual's genes have been programmed during gestation to survive in an environment in which they no longer find themselves.
In our presentation we discuss ways of influencing hormonal pathways through diet and nutritional supplementation at the level of the gene using the example of types of thyroid dysfunction and diabetes. We also look at a commonly-supplemented hormone in detail: vitamin D, it's role in many disease processes; we review a hypothesis for the role of vitamin D3 and it's metabolite in dysregulation of androgen and glucocorticoid receptors in autoimmune disease.
Knowing what diseases to prevent and how to address existing illness is the key to individualised medicine. As naturopaths we can target prevention to the specific disease tendencies of the individual rather than assume everyone will get the same illnesses. We present a system devised by Dr. Peter D'Adamo ND which looks at three overriding responses to the environment: reactive, thrifty and tolerant, further refined by gene clusters, or haplotypes, in proximity to the blood group gene on 9q34. We discuss simple in-clinic biomarkers that can be used to assess the patient's epigenetics: how to determine their disease susceptibilities and which preventive measures may be the most appropriate for them; in the presence of an existing disorder, how to know which pathways to upregulate or downregulate through dietary intervention. We also discuss an educational opportunity for practitioners and the informed public to become certified in human individuality.
Other speakers at the event are Dr. Marilyn Glenville Ph.D., nutritionist specialising in women’s health, Alison Cullen, education manager at Bioforce UK, and Marian Baartz MSc., Iridologist. The event is open to non-members of the British Naturopathic Association.
Here's a preview of a guest editorial I was asked to write for the British Naturopathic Journal about where Naturopathy is heading over the next decade:
With the dramatic rise in access to information over the last decade our patients are becoming experts in their own conditions and ways to heal themselves. The increase in patient knowledge means the days where a patient will accept uncritically the word of the physician are coming to an end, particularly where the advice given does not correspond with what they have read or expect to hear.
How does this change our role - how can we keep up with the new expectation of our patients: That we have a knowledge of their disease as detailed as they do and the skills to offer specific treatment? Traditional naturopaths might say stick to the basics: Fresh air; clean water; hydrotherapy; pure diet; exercise; right thinking; fasting when appropriate. This approach will always give the healing power of nature a chance to restore and maintain health in most situations with which we are presented. In reality many people nowadays have the pressure of work, family or other financial and time constraints, and the option to resort to orthodox treatment: They demand something more, a quicker, easier solution to their problems, or advice that they can't get for themselves. Unless we specialise in the naturopathic approach to treating patients with one particular type of condition, how can the polymath respond to this challenge while staying true to the core principles of naturopathy?
The essence of naturopathic philosophy maintains that every patient is unique, and every treatment must be tailored to that individual. As experts in assessing types of patients and with the ability to compare the person in our office with those we have treated before, we are in a good position to judge their differences and similarities to others and recognise the therapeutic significance. Naturopaths have access to tests, experience in taking body measurements, and the ability to interpret the results and offer advice. With genetic testing, orthodox medicine is moving towards a scientific understanding of the patient's individuality, and naturopathic medicine must follow this example. Genetic tests are available for use with functional medicine, but are still relatively expensive and the results often too complex for the average patient to easily relate. Another way to determine patient individuality is to use traditional observations and simple tests that can be done in the clinic - the body has many external signs that can indicate specific tendencies, patterns and needs: Iridology is one system, reflexology another. Despite their regular and efficient use by many practitioners these systems often lack clinical validation as primary assessment tools, a factor which is is frequently being questioned.
One system using scientific measurements of individuality that can be carried out in the clinic while remaining true to core naturopathic concepts is 'The GenoType Diet', a therapeutic system devised by naturopathic physician Dr. Peter D'Adamo. Having evolved from 'The Blood Group Diet', naturopaths using this system will initially classify the patient into one of six major categories based on their blood group; further refinements are then made according to genetic and epigenetic factors determined by simple biometric measurements taken in the consulting room, along with the clinical judgements of the practitioner. An example of this would be D2:D4 ratio: The difference between the second and fourth digit on each hand. Many published papers show how this characteristic can be influenced by hormone levels in-utero; the epigenetic effects last throughout life; measurement simply requires a ruler, and that the patient still has these four fingers. The practitioner can also assess the likelihood of these prenatal influences being due to maternal hormone exposure or hormone-mimicking xenobiotics.
D'Adamo offers this system to practitioners who know and understand his work. Any level of personalisation can be added to the secure online data collection tool according to the patient's requirements or clinical need; a complete dietary and lifestyle report is accessed via a complex database that makes millions of calculations based on how a particular food influences this patient. In addition to calorific value, factors such as enhancement of methylation, histone activation, acetylation requirements or contribution to glycation of a particular dietary component may be factored in according to the genetic tendencies of the patient. If any factors change, for example: The patient's weight; exercise regime; family history; conventional medication prescription; adjustment to the patient's data may result in changes to their recommendations, so the advice can be updated with each clinic visit.
Systems such as this are the future of naturopathic medicine: Patients feel satisfied that they are getting personalised healthcare they can't get elsewhere, while the practitioner can integrate their own favourite therapeutic approach according to individual need. By 2020 this approach may well be standard procedure in naturopathic healthcare.