Knowing your right drug mix can save your life: just ask your DNA

Would you get on an airplane if you knew it crashed once a week? So why would you take drugs that could kill you?

On March 17th, my health journalist friend, Carolyn Abraham, published a landmark article about pharmacogenetics in the Globe and Mail.

Quoting Abraham, “Adverse drug reactions kill more than 10,000 Canadians every year, put about 200,000 people in the hospital and cost the health system an estimated $13-billion.”

Do the math. An Airbus 320 seats 180 people. If one of these planes crashed weekly, approximately 10,000 passengers would die in one year. With this kind of statistic, NO ONE would get on such an airplane.

Yet, we all take medications blindly.  Adverse drug reactions are the fourth-leading cause of death, according to the FDA.

Here are my TOP TEN highlights of her article about the importance of pharmacogenetics testing for you (along with my personal observations).

[then can you hit a link to show the 1-10 points below as an expand without getting them off the page]

What is pharmacogenetics?

Pharmacogenetics identifies your personal DNA drug response and predicts your inherited ability to absorb and metabolize medications. The degree by which you process them will determine the effectiveness and safety of the drug you take. Your genetics determine the speed in which you ‘break down’ the drug: rapidly, moderately, slowly or, in some cases, not at all. It gets more complicated when more than one drug is involved.

  1. Experts believe that pharmacogenetics testing, if universally available, could cut the death rate for adverse drug reactions by as much as a third. (Testing can save more lives.)
  2. The Food and Drug Administration is now including genetic traits information on the safety labels of about 300 medications which alerts consumers and doctors on how genetics may affect a person’s drug response such as painkillers, antibiotics and high blood pressure medications (not to mention anti-depressants and blood thinners)
  3. The field of personalized medicine – health care’s dream destination, where drugs can be matched to an individual’s unique genome is a work in progress. But ever since genetics testing has become relatively cheap and speedy, it’s taken off. (Costs of tests begin at around $400-$500 US)
  4. 10,000 patients in an Ontario study had their drugs matched to their genetic profile which reduced side effects and hospital re-admissions. (Of course!)
  5. About six of our CYP genes form the core of current pharmacogenetics tests, because they’re involved in metabolizing most of the drugs on the market. Everyone carries CYP genes, just different versions of them (just like how we inherit eye colour)
  6. The different versions of CYPs have an ethnic predisposition. African descendants often require higher drug doses because they tend to break down and eliminate medications more quickly while Asians tend to require lower drug doses than do Caucasians (Cautionary note: there are ethnic variations too)
  7. Pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to promote pharmacogenetics information on their drug labelling as it could reduce total ‘market size’ opportunity. (What?! Is effectiveness and safely being compromised for profits?)
  8. While physicians are interested in pharmacogenetics, they are still reluctant to order pharmacogenetics or to try to interpret them. (Medical schools are trying to bridge this gap of learning)
  9. Health Canada has licensed 20 companies who market their test kits for medical purposes to date. However, most companies test kits are sold for “research purposes only,” and therefore no licence is required. (Buyer beware, not all tests are the same if they did not provide all the CYPs)
  10. People should know their drug metabolism status like they do their blood type. (You’re more likely to take a drug than get a blood transfusion, and if the latter, we test your blood type beforehand)

globe and mailIt’s been a LONG time since Carolyn Abraham did a front page article about my practice (then called Scienta Health) on New Year’s Eve, 2005 titled: “Would you Gaze into a Genetic Crystal Ball?”

Over 10 years ago, I started using genetic testing. One area I focused on was the benefits of pharmacogenetics. My core messages in that article still apply today.

Here are my THREE TIPS for you:

  1. Get your pharmacogenetics testing done as it is now affordable. Stop being a lab rat, especially in an emergency when you may be in a life and death situation.
  2. Pharmacogenetics testing is on solid scientific ground. This is lifesaving personalized care. I can attest to its efficacy and accuracy. The challenge is to know the necessary amount of CYP genes which will enable you to interpret your genetic predisposition.
  3. Pharmacogenetics is really difficult to interpret as a static report especially when you take more than one drug and add on the use of supplements. However, there is one company offering a platform which interprets your genetics, drugs and supplements and makes recommendations to stop or change the use of your ‘meds and supps’ list. Check out YouScript.

I am an expert and acknowledged thought leader in personalized medicine in North America, practising this form of speciality for over 15 years. There are only a few labs which I trust with their testing and they have a proven track record. I also strongly recommend the use of computer software to support the interpretation of your pharmacogenetics.

To learn more about the pharmacogenetics tests I offer on line in Canada visit Health-in-a-box.

Learn more about my practice, Executive Health Centre and watch my video about personalized medicine.



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