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Dr. Sears' Blog

Breaking down the latest research on Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition
Written By: Dr. Barry Sears, Ph. D | Creator of the Zone Diet

Written by Dr. Barry Sears
on March 14, 2016

We hear a lot about personalized medicine, and less about personalized nutrition. Zone knows the difference, and can help you feel better and perform better.

Personalized Medicine: Genetic Code Dictating Treatment

One definition I’ve read on personalized medicine is: “The practice of medicine that uses an individual’s genetic profile to guide decisions made in regard to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Knowledge of a patient’s genetic profile can help doctors select the proper medication or therapy and administer it using the proper dose or regimen.”

Great fanfare, but it has generated few results, since this definition totally ignores the impact of epigenetics and lifestyle (diet, exercise, and stress reduction) that can both alter the expression of your genes.

This is emphasized in a recent article in the New York Times, called When Gene Tests for Breast Cancer Reveal Grim Data but No Guidance, where a patient received conflicting medical opinions after a genetic test revealed she had inherited a gene mutation.

This relatively inconvenient truth has led to the development of the new term of precision medicine which can be defined as “identifying which approaches will be effective for which patients based on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.”

However once you insert the word “medicine” into any phrase, this legally means you are using interventions to “treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose” a disease. Unless you are licensed to prescribe prescription drugs, then you would be illegally practicing medicine by using such terms and very likely to have a visit from the authorities.

Confused? You should be. But like they say in TV infomercials: “but wait there’s more.” And that’s where personal nutrition comes in.

Personalized Nutrition: It Feels Better

Without words like “medicine” that get lawyers up in arms, legally, “personalized nutrition” could mean treating a nutrient deficiency like scurvy with vitamin C, or using an upper limit of a nutrient to meet a qualified health claim.

When you use a nutrient at a defined upper limit dose, it has been shown in a number of clinical trials to have a “structure-function” benefit. This benefit may provide stronger bones or better vision. And again, legally, practitioners must include modifiers like “may” or “could help support” in front of that qualified claim. This really doesn’t give the consumer a lot of confidence.

So how can you inform consumers without violating the rules?

One of the most researched nutrients in history is fish oil. Here is what the FDA allows you to say about fish oil:

Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Hardly a health claim that makes you stand up and take notice every time you hear it!

Avoiding this morass of legal definitions, I instead like to use the term “personalized wellness.” So what is personal wellness?

My definition is simple: “Personal wellness is feeling better and performing better.”

The Validation is in Your Blood

Instead of discussing the use of a drug (as in personalized and precision medicine) or a nutrient (as in a qualified health claim), I use the blood as my validating statement for personalized wellness.

In personalized wellness, there are three clinical markers that define whether you are well or not. Your clinical markers can be found by blood testing:

Clinical Marker Range Primary Source
TG/HDL ratio Less than 1 Your food
AA/EPA ratio 1.5 to 3 Your fish oil – test yourself!
Glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) 5.0% Your polyphenols

These are blood markers for wellness. They also happen to be the blood markers that define the Zone.

In the Zone, you are well. Outside the Zone, you may not be sick, but you are definitely no longer well. That means you aren’t feeling as well as you could nor performing as well as you could. Furthermore, this is not a multiple-choice test. Unless all those blood markers that define the Zone are in their correct ranges, you are simply not in the Zone. My best estimate is less than 1% of Americans are in the Zone, which means more than 99% of Americans are simply not well. This is one case where you want to be a “1 per center.”

Just like climbing a mountain, there are many paths to the top. Some paths are hard while others are easier. The same is true of reaching the Zone. I personally think the Zone Diet is the easiest dietary path to the Zone, but there may be other paths.

If your blood indicates you are in the Zone, then whatever you are doing, keep it up. Of course, if you aren’t in the Zone, then keep adjusting your diet and lifestyle until your blood indicates you are there. From this perspective, there are no bad or good diets or lifestyles, just more difficult or easier pathways to the get to the Zone.

Does being in the Zone mean you will never get sick or will live forever? Of course not! It just means you will feel better and perform better. If that is important to you, then let your blood guide you to that point.

Once you reach the Zone, real healthcare reform becomes a lot easier to understand and a lot less expensive to maintain. Why? Because your wellness is about you. And it should be personalized.New call-to-action


  1. Kolata G. “When gene tests for breast cancer reveal grim data, but no guidance.” New York Times. March 11, 2016.

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