Lately, I’ve noticed more and more researchers commenting on the notion (an Ayurvedic notion, by the way) that many health issues—such as cholesterol levels or salt intake—are not one-size-fits-all. They suggest there is an individual component to health that today’s research model simply does not address.1,2
For example, according to a recent Washington Post article discussing new federal cholesterol guidelines, cholesterol is no longer a public health concern. In light of this, scientists are suggesting that there might be an individual sensitivity to cholesterol in about 25% of the public, but not in everyone.3
A recent study in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) addresses new evidence that little, if any, hard science can link salt to heart health risks. The research suggests that an often overlooked variable is the possibility that there are individual sensitivities to salt, rather than it being a global issue.4
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Currently, the research model is disease-based, not individual-based.1,2
For example, if there are ten people diagnosed with arthritis, the disease-based model suggests that they all should be helped by the arthritis drug. This model assumes that all arthritic patients became arthritic for the same reason and are in the same biochemical condition.
The disease-based research model requires the drug to have a significant impact on the condition being studied, rather than addressing the root of the issue for the individual who has the condition.
In contrast, the Ayurvedic model suggests that each of the ten people diagnosed with arthritis may have become arthritic for ten different reasons and there may be ten different therapies, drugs, or remedies needed. While the idea that every disease can have a magic bullet drug is long-gone, the research model has not been updated to account for the growing acceptance that there is a real and viable individual component involved in scientific accuracy.5
The future of medicine will hopefully build on the current disease model to include more diagnostics that access the susceptibility and predispositions of the individual. Ayurveda says, “We do not treat disease; we treat the individual who has the disease.”
According to John Ioannidis, a professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, “Almost every single nutrient imaginable has peer-reviewed publications associating it with almost any outcome.”3 This is the problem with a disease-based research model: a nutrient may work for some folks some of the time, and also for none of the folks some of the time.
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The Research Tide May Be Forced To Change
With the discovery of the microbiome, researchers are seeing firsthand how individualized this 90% of the human body functions.6 Microbes that make up 90% of the cells in the human body do not follow uniform rules. Microbes that are known to be beneficial for some people can actually act in negative ways for others. One person can have multiple strains of microbes in their gut, while another can have only a handful, and both can be healthy. Certain probiotics seem to help some folks and not others.7 Microbes change with the seasons, location, diet, and even between males and females.7-10
The inconsistency, complexity, and functional diversity is making the microbiome one of the most challenging components of the human body for researchers to understand.
The more I study the microbiome, the more I see how Ayurveda designed an entire system of medicine and lifestyle that directly supports the health of the microbiome. This is perhaps due to its focus on the subtle rather than gross aspects of nature.
In fact, Ayurveda makes the case that it is the most subtle influences and aspects of our physiology that are the most powerful. With its holistic and individualized focus, the aim of Ayurveda is to directly address the needs of the individual on a case-by-case basis, in ways that disease-based models of modern research have tended to overlook.