Genetics and Functional Medicine
Clues to Rebalance the Body
Bob Miller, a certified traditional naturopath and founder of Tree of Life Health, has extensively researched the relationship between genetic variants, lab testing and presenting symptoms. He’s the creator of a specialized software program, Functional Genomic Analysis, which helps practitioners work with clients to understand and apply genetic-specific nutrition to their daily lives. Miller is also founder of NutriGenetic Research Institute.
Miller says environmental factors, combined with genetic weakness, are contributing to many health challenges we see today. Everything from plastic pollution contaminating water supply systems; high fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate in our foods; commercial livestock injected with artificial growth hormones; and overexposure to electromagnetic fields from electronic gadgets all over-stimulate the body’s mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which is how the body makes new cells.
“The mTOR is stimulated by amino acids, sugars, carbohydrates, iron, folate and growth hormones, or any time the body makes estrogen,” Miller explains. “If mTOR is continually stimulated, it doesn’t allow autophagy—the complementary process in the body that cleans and recycles the cells—to work. When mTOR is working, it says to autophagy ‘you can’t clean right now because the construction crew is here.’”
When mTOR and autophagy work against each other instead of complementing each other, it causes inflammation, Miller says. “Adverse environmental factors create inflammation, and what we’re researching is how that over-stimulates what is called ‘mast cells.’ They are white blood cells that contain histamine,” he relates. “When you hit your thumb with a hammer, it gets swollen and turns red. Those are the mast cells releasing histamine. What I’ve been researching and presenting is that environmental factors are over-stimulating mTOR and weakening autophagy, which leads toward mast cell activation.”
Those with certain genetic predispositions can have their health further impacted by some environmental factors. Miller cites iron absorption as an example. “Some people have genes that can cause them to absorb iron more effectively than the next person,” he says, “and there’s a lot of iron added to many foods. Iron is critical, but if you have too much of it, nasty free radicals are released.”
Some individuals also don’t make the enzymes that break down histamine foods, which is found in fermented products like sauerkraut or bone broth. Miller notes that while these foods can be very healthful for some, those who cannot properly digest histamine will suffer from inflammation.
Imbalances between mTOR and autophagy result in inflammation running rampant, causing stimulation of mast cell activity. Miller says this may be contributing to many modern maladies, such as the dramatic rise in autism, diabetes, anxiety and aggressive behaviors we hear of on the nightly news.
“Functional medicine is about trying to figure out where the imbalance is,” Miller says. While there’s no simple answer, he notes that genetic testing can show where potential weaknesses lie. “Genetics is not a diagnosis, but often it can provide potential clues. For example, if you have a lot of inflammation, maybe we’ll measure the blood histamine or try a low-histamine diet if there are genetic issues pointing to histamine.”
Miller and the other health coaches at Tree of Life Health test genomes to identify issues such as a client’s inability to break down histamine foods, gluten, iron or fats. “Functional medicine is not about treating the illness but instead supporting the function. The whole premise of traditional naturopathy is to find the function that is misfiring and bring balance to that function,” Miller says. “Genetic testing can give you an idea where to start looking and where to support healthy function in the future.”
Tree of Life Health is located at 15 Pleasure Rd., Ephrata. For more information, call 717-733-2003 or visit TOLHealth.com.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.