Genetic Metabolism Testing for Mental Health – The Future of Health Part II
By mapping human genomes, scientists unlocked a powerful new tool that’s altering the approach that many healthcare professionals have in caring for their patients – Genetic Metabolism Testing.
Personalized Medicine, discussed in Part 1 of this series, is the treatment of a chronic illness tailored to a patient’s unique genetic code. This practice allows physicians the ability to predict and prevent some diseases, as well as provide targeted therapies that result in better outcomes.
“What was once thought of as science fiction is no longer a fantasy,” writes Dr. Deborah Serani, in her article Genetic Testing for Better Depression Treatment, published on Psychology Today. “It’s here and it offers enormous potential to manage diseases, particularly mental illness.
A licensed psychologist, award-winning author and professor, Dr. Serani has a unique perspective. Not only does she treat those living with mental illness, she’s suffered from unipolar depression her entire life.
Genetic Metabolism Testing is the key innovation behind personalized medicine’s exponential growth and effectiveness. Certain enzymes in the body, known as P450 enzymes, according to the Mayo Clinic, are what allow humans to process medications. Each individual’s inherited genetic traits however, contain variations that cause different reactions to medicines.
The Cytochrome P450 Test, which sounds very scary and serious, but turns out to be a simple swab of the inner cheek, reveals a plethora of information about a patient’s genetic makeup and their ability to metabolize medications. Dr. Serani writes that there are four different categories of “metabolizers.” Whatever category an individual falls into will help determine which medications should be prescribed.
What Are the Four Metabolizing Categories?
- Poor Metabolizer – a person whose system breaks a medication down too slowly. In this category, the individual is at risk for serious side effects or toxicity due to high levels of the drug lingering in their bloodstream for too long. A particular drug metabolized at this rate will not only be ineffective, but is likely to cause more harm
- Intermediate Metabolizer – slightly better than the poor metabolizer, but processes a given medication at a slower than normal rate. There is still a risk for side effects and toxicity in this category, though to a lesser degree. Here, a patient might feel some symptom relief, but, as Serani suggests, it will not be significant
- Extensive Metabolizer – a person in this category metabolizes a medication within the normal or average of amount of time expected, feels little to no side effects and has a clearing of their symptoms
- Ultra-rapid Metabolizer – the ultra-rapid genetic metabolism immediately processes a medication without giving the body time, Serani writes, to “synthesize” the therapeutic results. In this category, a medication is completely ineffective and the patient will not see any relief of their symptoms
Pinning down the metabolic category, in some cases, cuts years off a patient and doctor experimenting with different drugs, dealing with negative side effects or ineffective treatments, to see what works the best.
Furthermore, for patients taking medications for other health related issues, genetic metabolism testing reveals whether or not one type of antidepressant will cause an adverse reaction in combination with an existing prescription.
Targeted therapies that let people quickly get back to their normal life are incredibly important because mental illness is one of the most common health related issues in the United States.
How Prevalent are Mental Health Issues?
Research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows just how prevalent mental health issues are:
- 43.8 million U.S. adults (about 1 in 5) experience mental illness in a given year
- Severe mental illness, which significantly interrupts or restricts daily activities, affects an estimated 10 million people (about 1 in 25 adults) every year
- Major depression plays a role in the lives of almost 7 percent of the adult population. That’s an estimated 16 million who have at least one depressive episode each year
- More than half of the 20 million adults in the U.S. living with a substance use disorder – alcoholism or drug addiction – also suffer from mental health problems. This is sometimes called a dual diagnosis.
The link between mental illness and addiction is crucial. For many people, alcoholism or drug addiction fuels mental health issues. For others, existing psychiatric problems drive self-medicating or addictive behaviors. In order for patients to recover, both conditions must be addressed.
With personalized medicine and continued advances in genetic metabolism testing, the future of health related issues concerning diagnosis, precision therapies, and recovery times will be faster than ever.
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