Why One-Size-Fits-All Doesn’t Work in Medicine: The need for personalised treatments

Imagine going to a shoe shop where every pair is a size 8. It doesn’t matter if your feet are larger, smaller, wide, or narrow or if you have specific orthopaedic needs—size 8 is the only option. Sounds annoying, right? Now, translate that level of inconvenience and ineffectiveness to healthcare, where the stakes are infinitely higher. Approximately 30% of all patients with major depressive disorder show no therapeutic improvements after selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Among cancer patients, only 20% and 50% of certain groups respond to immunotherapy.  Why is this? Because, just like those size eight shoes, one-size-fits-all doesn’t cut it in healthcare. So, let’s dig into why personalised healthcare isn’t a luxury but a necessity.

Genetic Diversity: Not Just About Ancestry

 You see the very fabric of our being—our DNA—tells a story that’s incredibly unique to each individual. You might share genetic markers with your family or even whole ethnic groups, but your genetic makeup is yours alone. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies like 23andMe have popularised the concept of genetic diversity for tracing your ancestry, but have you ever stopped to think about how your unique genetic profile impacts your healthcare?

How your body metabolises medication, how you respond to different treatments, and even your predisposition to certain conditions can all be traced back to your genes. Your unique genetic makeup is not just a cool factoid about you; it’s vital information for your healthcare.


Pharmacogenomics studies how your genes affect your body’s response to drugs. In essence, it’s personalising medicine right down to your DNA. Instead of going through the pesky trial-and-error of finding the right medication, what if your doctor could prescribe a treatment tailored just for you? Not only does this mean faster recovery, but it also minimises side effects and eliminates unnecessary expense on treatments that may not work for you.


To give you a taste of just how transformative this can be—targeted therapy cancer treatments use drugs to target specific genes and proteins that support cancer growth. This allows healthcare professionals to prescribe drugs that are much more targeted and precise in their actions. 


Acknowledging and understanding the role of genetic diversity in healthcare is not a futuristic concept; it’s happening right now. And with this level of complexity, it’s clear that individualised medicine isn’t just an option; it’s an imperative.

The Gut-Brain Axis and the Microbiome: More Than Gut Feelings

 Speaking of complexity, have you ever experienced “gut feelings” or “butterflies in your stomach”? It’s not a coincidence. A burgeoning field of research focuses on the gut-brain axis, a direct communication pathway between your gastrointestinal tract and your nervous system. 


Here’s where it gets even more fascinating (if this is your thing!). Each of us has a unique gut microbiome—a personalised collection of trillions of microorganisms living in our gut. Yep, you’re hosting a bustling metropolis inside you! These microorganisms are involved in everything from digesting your food to regulating inflammation and even affecting your mood and mental health.


This means the microorganisms in your gut microbiome can directly affect your mental state, including anxiety and depression. And recent studies have shown that altering the gut microbiome can actually improve mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.


So, if the gut and brain are this interconnected, does treating one without considering the other make sense? The answer is a resounding no. A one-size-fits-all pill to cure your mood swings doesn’t do much if your gut is out of balance. Nor will a generic digestive aid work wonders if you’re constantly stressed. You see, it’s all interconnected.


Now, imagine a healthcare model that recognises and incorporates this interconnectedness. This is personalised medicine at its best. And if we’re dealing with such an intricate relationship, can we afford to stick to one-size-fits-all solutions?

Environmental Factors: The Exposome

Certainly not, especially when considering the exposome—the total of all environmental exposures you’ve had throughout your life. Pollution, diet, lifestyle choices, and even social factors contribute to your health. 


Someone living in a polluted urban environment will have a very different exposome than someone living in a rural setting. Add to that the complexities of lifestyle choices, occupational hazards, and social stressors. A one-size-fits-all healthcare solution? That’s like wearing someone else’s prescription glasses and expecting to see clearly.


It’s a point well illustrated in the Netflix documentary Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones when we met Stamatis Moraitis, a man who, at 66, was given a terminal lung cancer diagnosis and six months to live. **Spoiler alert** His move from the United States to his childhood home of Ikaria, Greece, to essentially die, saw him live not just six months more, nor six years more, but decades more to the ripe old age of 102. Stamatis didn’t do anything to extend his life other than move to the land of his forefathers and live, eat and behave like they did. 

So, how was this possible? Here’s where it gets complex but incredibly exciting. Your unique exposome interacts with your genetics and your health conditions, creating a web of influences that are entirely your own. This is why some people can smoke for years and not develop lung cancer, while others may get diagnosed after never lighting up a cigarette a day in their lives. Your exposome might be a silent player, but its influence is profound.

By considering environmental factors, personalised healthcare takes into account the intricate details of your life situation, offering solutions that are as unique as your personal history.


Cultural Sensitivity: It’s Not Just About Language

But environmental factors aren’t the only variables; cultural background also plays a role. 


Culture isn’t just about language, customs, or culinary preferences; it plays a vital role in our perception of health, illness, and wellbeing. For example, some cultures view mental health issues as taboo, while others might prioritise herbal remedies over pharmaceuticals. Why is this important? Because a medical approach that disregards cultural contexts will likely be ineffective.


When healthcare is delivered through a one-size-fits-all lens, we risk alienating people who need treatment framed within their cultural narrative. It’s the square peg in a round hole analogue all over again—it just doesn’t work. The outcomes are inevitable; individuals are less likely to stick with treatment or recommendations and more likely to misunderstand guidance, leading to inadequate care.


Personalised healthcare goes beyond your genetic makeup or your exposome. It delves into understanding your cultural background, belief systems, and even your family’s approach to health and illness. It’s healthcare that speaks your language, literally and metaphorically. And it’s not about changing the way you live; it’s about making healthcare adapt to you. This isn’t a matter of luxury or convenience but a necessity for effective care.

Psychological Individuality: Your Mindset Matters 

Your mental and emotional state plays an equally critical role.  No one else in the world processes experiences, emotions, or even daily occurrences exactly as you do. You’re the only one who can fully understand your fears, joys, triggers, and comforts. Stress, emotional wellbeing, and even your outlook on life can impact treatment efficacy.


Traditional healthcare often misses the mark when acknowledging the importance of psychological individuality. You might get a prescription for anxiety, but does that prescription consider your unique stressors, coping mechanisms, or past traumas?


As we’ve explored, a one-size-fits-all approach is already flawed when it comes to genetics, co-morbidities, the exposome, and cultural factors. But when you add the layer of psychological individuality to this mix, the generic approach doesn’t just fall short—it practically falls apart.


Personalised healthcare goes beyond the physical and genetic; it also factors in psychological individuality. We’re not just talking about treating diseases here but about treating people in their full psychological landscape.

Technological Advances: Tailoring Treatment with Precision

Fortunately, with technological advances like machine learning, AI, and genomics, tailoring healthcare solutions to individual needs is becoming increasingly possible and effective. 


Picture this: You’ve arrived for your first appointment with a healthcare provider who knows more about you than just your name and birth date. It’s a place where technology combines with human expertise to offer health solutions designed specifically for you. Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? But these aren’t futuristic fantasies; these are tools available right now that can help healthcare providers make more informed decisions tailored to you. 


From AI-assisted diagnostics to wearable health tech, we live in a time when technological advances are revolutionising healthcare. With advanced technology, we can analyse genetic data to predict disease risks, tailor health improvement solutions to individual cellular responses, and even use AI algorithms to determine the best psychological therapies for mental health conditions. Technology empowers us to be more human by offering care that truly understands each individual. These innovations make personalisation not just possible but incredibly precise. So, why are you still settling for generic when you could have personalised?


Economic Sense: An Ounce of Prevention

But good healthcare isn’t just about medical efficacy; it’s also about economic efficiency. Healthcare can be expensive, whether you’re paying through taxation, insurance or out-of-pocket. And when treatments are generic, the trial-and-error cycle doesn’t just impact your health; it can hit your wallet hard.


In a one-size-fits-all model, resources are often allocated inefficiently. You undergo tests you might not need, or get prescribed less effective medications for your specific condition and life circumstances. It’s not just patients who feel this; even healthcare systems strain under the inefficiencies.


On the other hand, personalised treatments can be a game-changer as they’re often more cost-effective in the long run, avoiding the costly trial-and-error approach of more generalised healthcare strategies. While the upfront costs of personalised healthcare might seem higher—genetic health tests, for example, aren’t cheap—the long-term economic benefits can be significant—meaning fewer doctors visits, less medication, and more time spent living your best life. Personalised healthcare isn’t just good for you; it’s good for the healthcare system as a whole.

Taking the Reins: Your Health, Your Choice

So, as we’ve explored, there are numerous layers of complexity in healthcare that a one-size-fits-all approach simply can’t address. Your genes, environment, culture, and even your thoughts and feelings contribute to a health picture that is uniquely yours. Isn’t it time your healthcare approach reflected that?


Personalised healthcare is more than just a buzzword or a trend. It’s an evidence-based, holistic approach that acknowledges you as an individual—with all your uniqueness. The shift to personalised healthcare is happening, and it’s happening now. The only question is, will you be a part of it? Will you invest in a healthcare model that sees you, understands you, and, most importantly, works for you?


You’ve already taken the first step by educating yourself. Now, why not take the next? Explore our range of personalised healthcare services, designed with your uniqueness in mind. Whether it’s a condition-specific programme, a testing package , or a comprehensive wellness plan, we have something for everyone.


Your health is your most valuable asset. Invest in it wisely, nurture it passionately, and treasure it always. Choose personalised healthcare. Choose you.


Hello, I’m Leah! Functional health consultant and founder of The Thrive Practice. Driven by data and supported by science, I’m unerringly obsessed with exploring your unique biochemistry to methodically get to the root of your health issues. So, you can achieve real and lasting relief.


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