Consider this case: Two patients each take the same dose of the same antidepressant medication. One patient’s medication makes her feel extremely nauseous, leaves her with no energy and does not alleviate the symptoms of her depression. The other patient has no side effects and her medication works as prescribed.
How can this be? The answer lies in our genes.
Genes map what makes us unique. According to the Genetic Alliance, genes explain:
- Why family members’ appearances are similar
- How families’ health history can be passed down for generations, including some diseases like cancer
Genes also play an important role in how our bodies metabolize certain medications, such as antidepressants.
How Genes Impact Metabolism
Our unique genetic profile contains six enzymes that metabolize 90 percent of all medications patients are given.
These genes and enzymes help determine our individual rate of metabolism, which varies from person to person. Depending on your genetic profile, you may process some medications too quickly, or others, too slowly, which can both cause complications.
Research has found that people fall into one of four general metabolizer types.
- Poor metabolizer: Patients who are poor metabolizers experience a very slow breakdown of medications, making side effects more pronounced. That means standard doses of certain medications may not work as intended.
- Intermediate metabolizer: A slowed metabolism may impact breakdown of medications, causing effects similar to poor metabolizers, but not as pronounced.
- Extensive metabolizer: Considered a “normal” rate of metabolism. Patients are likely to metabolize medication normally and medication is likely to work as intended.
- Ultrarapid metabolizer: Patients in this group metabolize medications too quickly to experience relief from symptoms of depression or other disorders.
How Can I Learn My Type?
A pharmacogenomic test, administered by your physician, can give you insights about how your body processes certain medications based on your genetic metabolism rate.
According to Mayo Clinic: “Pharmacogenomic tests look for changes or variants in genes that may determine whether a medication could be an effective treatment for you or whether you could have side effects to a specific medication.”
Physicians use genetic tests to help patients by:
- Pinpointing which medications their body will better metabolize
- Recommending proper doses of medication
- Saving time and money by avoiding trial and error
To learn more about how your body processes antidepressants and the role genetic testing can play in medication selection, check out our infographic.