There’s a book called “Outsmart Your Genes” by Dr. Brandon Colby, which talks about how using predictive medicine can help determine whether a person has a genetic tendency towards developing certain health conditions. Although I enjoyed reading the book, there is plenty that I disagree with, some of which I will discuss shortly. However, there also are a few concepts included in the book that I do agree with. One of these has to do with the ability to prevent certain conditions from developing, even when someone has a genetic predisposition
I actually discussed this in a recent article, so I won’t go into much detail here about this. But what I essentially spoke about was that even if you have a genetic tendency to develop a thyroid condition, you can still prevent a future thyroid condition from developing, or cure an existing thyroid condition. In other words, your genes can play a role in the development of a thyroid condition, but lifestyle factors play an even greater role.
In his book, Dr. Colby talks a lot about how if we use predictive medicine to determine the genetic tendencies of people, doctors can then give specific drugs to prevent such conditions. So for example, he discusses how if someone is shown to have a genetic tendency for developing high cholesterol, then that person might want to consider taking statins as a preventative measure, even if they currently have normal cholesterol levels.
Another example he gives involves Alzheimer’s Disease, and how it’s been shown that taking NSAIDs can help reduce the chances of someone developing this horrible disease. And so, if doctors can use predictive medicine to determine if their patients have the genes to develop Alzheimers, then he mentions how they can give these drugs as a preventative measure.
The problem I have with his recommendations is that these drugs very well might prevent certain conditions from developing, but one can’t forget the side effects they can cause. We’re still not quite sure of the long term side effects of statins, and taking NSAIDs for many years has potential risks as well. So giving either of these drugs as a preventative measure just because someone has a genetic tendency is in my opinion the wrong approach. Especially since many of these conditions can be prevented by modifying certain lifestyle factors.
Since millions of people have thyroid conditions, I can definitely see the day when doctors begin prescribing medication to their patients based on their genetic predisposition to develop a thyroid disorder. I’m not sure exactly what drug they would they give, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the drug companies come up with a “miracle” drug that will help prevent people from developing thyroid conditions, but at the same time will potentially cause other side effects. Or perhaps they will recommend that people who have a genetic tendency for hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease receive radioactive iodine treatment BEFORE they ever develop the condition. I honestly don’t think it will go this far, but then again, you never do know.
This doesn’t mean I’m opposed to predictive medicine, as I’m sure it has some benefits. But using it as a way to recommend more drugs to people as a preventative measure just isn’t the right approach to take. No doubt the drug companies will show how taking certain drugs to prevent specific conditions from developing is highly effective, but I’m pretty sure they won’t mention anything about all of the different side effects that can result, as well as other conditions these drugs can lead to.
In summary, predictive medicine may have some great benefits, but in the hands of the drug companies, it could be extremely dangerous. I personally think the best approach is to use these tests to educate people, and then try to have them improve their health through lifestyle factors and to only use drugs as a preventative measure when absolutely necessary. Truth to be told, most people probably don’t need to receive these genetic panels in order to improve their health, but if it does a better job of motivating people to take better care of themselves then perhaps it’s not a bad idea for people to receive them.