“Biochemical Individuality” – book review
The chemistry of your body is unique to you. This simple fact is often overlooked in mountains of statistics and rivers of metabolic pathways on standardized diagrams.
“Biochemical Individuality“, by Professor Roger Williams, PhD, was first published in 1956. Dr. Williams described wide anatomical and physiological variations among people. His main points are that:
- Organs vary in size.
- Internal secretions vary in volume.
- What is “normal” for you may not be “normal” for me.
These variations can be on the order of four to ten times. What does this mean practically? It means that you are not a statistic. You do not want to become a statistic.
One consequence of biochemical individuality is that there is no “one size fits all” set of eating habits that is healthy for everybody. In other words, what is healthy for you may not be healthy for me and vice versa. This is often overlooked by official, academic nutrition. Related to this, individual requirements for minerals and vitamins can vary widely.
This illustration from Sally Fallon Morrell’s seminar, “Nourishing Traditional Health – The Key to Vibrant Health“, shows the variability in size and shape of the human stomach. In his book, Dr. Williams points out other variability in anatomy and physiology that make the search for an average almost meaningless when considering the individual. You are an individual not an average nor a statistic.
Considering biochemical individuality, you could also question the so-called “body mass index” (bmi) as a measure of excess body weight. Although the shape of the body is physical and not biochemical, some people simply were born with different body shapes (morphology) than others. The common fixation on the “average” as a standard merely distorts our ideas about health and fitness. According to WH Sheldon, a psychologist, the most common body types are ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. Some people have combined shapes.
Ectomorphs tend to be lean and long and not to build muscle readily. They tend to have narrow shoulders and narrow hips, compared with the average. They also tend to have rapid digestion. Imagine the shape of Olympic long-distance runners, who are usually ectomorphs. When they gain or lose weight, they tend to gain or lose weight in the stomach.
Even independently of the gender, mesomorphs tend to be more robust, with wider shoulders than hips. They tend to be shaped like “\/”. Imagine the shape of sprinters in the Olympics, who are usually mesomorphs. They tend to be compact and muscular. They may develop muscles more easily than others. When they gain or lose weight, they tend to gain or lose weight in the chest and the stomach.
Endomorphs tend to have longer small intestines, to gain weight in the hips, and to be more rounded physically. Some have much wider hips than shoulders. They tend to be shaped like “/\”. Imagine the shape of Olympic weight lifters. When they gain or lose weight, they tend to gain or lose weight in the chest, the stomach, and the hips.
This variation of body shapes makes a standard measure of body mass meaningless. A high score for one body type can be a low score for another. Note that many people have mixed body types.
With such a variation of shapes of human body, what is normal? One possibility is that there is no “normal”. One consequence of this is that you might simply choose to accept the shape that you have. Forget about your favorite professional athlete or movie star and their shape. You were born with a certain shape. You cannot change it. Accept it. Love yourself first. On the other hand, whatever shape you were born with, you can choose health via food.
Statistically, “normal” is often defined as within a certain range of measures, depending on the average. If the organs and secretions vary four to ten times between different persons, what is the sense of a calculated average and a variance from an average? pH or secretions can also vary during the day for the same person. With such variations in sizes of organs and volumes of secretions, what is “normal” for you may not be “normal” for me. These variations mock the idea that almost anything anatomical or physiological is “normal”.
What did Dr. Williams observe specifically, besides arteries of the heart and metabolism of alcohol? How did he make these observations? Read the book for details.
What is the practical meaning of biochemical individuality? The ABO blood type is one possible way to identify the individual both genetically and metabolically. What can you do about it, besides recognizing your blood type and how this may affect your digestion? To answer the question, “who am I nutritionally?”, you might read about biochemical individuality and nutrition.
For a peer review of Dr. Williams’ book, click here.
Arthur Livermore, a professor at Reed College and a peer of Dr. Williams, pointed out that “for many years research workers in the biological and biochemistry sciences, while aware of individual differences in morphology (shape) and metabolism, have nevertheless emphasized the average or mean when presenting experimental results. In many cases they have even discarded data for individuals if these data were far removed from the mean. Dr. Williams, pursuing further a path which he explored in his earlier book ‘Free and Unequal‘, emphasizes recognition and understanding of biochemical differences in experimental animals and in man. Sound experimental investigations have been abandoned in some cases when the measurements were too diverse or divergent from those expected to ‘make sense’.
‘Abnormal’ individuals in most cases simply represent the extremes of normal variations or gradients within a population, according to Dr. Williams. He explores these gradients in the branching of the arteries of the heart and the rate at which different individuals metabolize alcohol. Of particular interest to the student of biochemistry are the chapters on individuality and composition, enzyme patterns, endocrine activities, excretion patterns, and nutrition.”
“In the last three chapters of the book, Dr. Williams suggests implications of this concept of individual differences on research in biology, medicine, dentistry, and psychiatry. It seems probable to the reviewer that a reading of this book will suggest to many teachers in the biological sciences new experiments which can be included in laboratory work at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Indeed, some material in the book might be used even in teaching science in high school. For example, simple experiments in individual differences in the ability to taste substances are suggested by the section on taste sensitivities in Chapter 9. The book is well written and is documented with many references to original papers. It should be useful in jarring students in the biological sciences out of a blind faith in ‘the average’ and in giving them an initial insight into the individual differences already known in the fields of biochemistry, biology, and medicine.”
Dr. Williams further developed the idea of biochemical individuality in another book available here for online self-study – The Wonderful World Within You.
What is the practical meaning?
To repeat, it means that there is no “one size fits all” set of eating habits for everybody (no optimal diet for all). Also, individual requirements for minerals and vitamins vary widely. In other words, what is a “superfood” or wonderful multi-vitamin for your friend or neighbor may cause you indigestion. Does this contradict the idea of eating according to your blood type? No, the blood type is an approach to the person and their individual metabolism. Even within the same blood type, you can find individual variations.
In their review of the research, Drs. Neustaft and Pieczenik point out wide innate variations in requirements for certain nutrients, agreeing with the concept of biochemical individuality. This implies that to maintain health enough of one nutrient for one person is not enough for another person. You can find another review of “Biochemical Individuality” here – the key to understanding what shapes your health.
If each of us is unique biochemically, how do you approach the individual?
Is official, academic nutrition a fiction, focusing on standard theoretical metabolic pathways and diagrams that overlook the individual? No, they mostly mean well, but in their search for models and theories, they:
- often overlook minerals and vitamins in their analysis,
- usually overlook biochemical individuality,
- tend to believe blindly in the calorie theory, and
- may be improperly influenced by the sugar, grain, dairy, and meat industries.
Witness the official, academic misinformation about sugar, healthy fats, and obesity over the last sixty years. As Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions“, says, “beware of politically correct nutrition”.
Approaching the individual
We are all human beings, but we are each individual. So how do you approach the individual, regarding health via food? What is healthy for you specifically? Again, one possible approach to identify the individual is the ABO blood type.
People with blood type A tends to have less acid in the stomach than those with blood type O. Acid is required in the stomach to digest protein, such as eggs, fish, and meat. The more acidic your stomach, the more you are able to digest red meat. Blood type A may also tend to secrete less alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme necessary to digest nuts and seeds. On the other hand, blood type A tend to be better able to digest grains, beans, and legumes, such as tofu and lentils. Other patterns of digestion by blood type have been observed by advocates of blood type eating, including Dr. Peter D’Adamo and Dr. Pierro Mozzi.
In the ancient Ayurveda tradition in India, they try to identify the “dosha” of the person. This is similar to the digestive type. This then leads to different options for optimal eating habits.
In the ancient Chinese tradition, they try to identify the constitution of the person – either cold or hot and either damp or dry. This then leads to different options for optimal eating habits, although there also were many different local schools of thought.
Williams, Roger, “Biochemical Individuality“, John Wiley, 1956, reprinted McGraw-Hill, 1990