Genetics & Nutrition: The Future of Healthcare?
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Genetics & Nutrition: The Future of Healthcare?

UMI takes a look at the future of healthcare and how big a role genetics can play.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem naturally slim, whilst others, no matter how committed they are to eating right and maintaining a healthy weight, seem to pile on the pounds just looking at a doughnut? What causes families to lose members every generation due to hereditary illness? And more importantly, in what ways can future generations mitigate the risks of becoming ill?

These are just some of the questions to which scientists dedicate their entire careers to answering; and in that quest to discover new ways to prevent and treat disease, there have been huge advances in our understanding of genetics, most notably with the decoding of the human genome around the turn of the millennium. The term genome refers to the total collection of genes, in essence the building blocks that make up a particular species.Once this genetic database was identified in full, it allowed scientists to begin working on the really tricky part: decoding the data and researching exactly what these functional genetic elements actually do, in order to help us tackle the root causes of disease and hereditary conditions. More than simply providing treatment, genetic research offers the potential to find a cure for cancer and such chronic illnesses as heart disease; all huge killers in the UAE.

The commercial possibilities for targeted diagnostics based on genetics are not lost on healthcare providers or governments, particularly in the field of individualized medicine and personalized nutrition. Nutritional genomics, or “nutrigenomics,” examines the relationship between food and gene expression; how a gene’s information is used to influence a cell’s function. Nutrigenomics research was initially hailed as this generation’s surefire solution to tackling obesity and offering dieters personalized regimes based on their individual DNA profiles. The reality, however, is that whilst there have been many advances in nutrigenomics (and a plethora of companies offering “DNA Diets”), there is still no way to determine what an individual should or should not be eating based on his or her genetic code.

It turns out that genetics is a fairly complex science: simply knowing what genes are involved when it comes to a specific disease, or aspect of a person’s appearance, is just a fraction of understanding all the ways in which humans are affected by their genetic code. Analyzing how environmental and nutritional factors influence genes is just as important as deciphering the genetic code we were born with, and researchers are only just starting to comprehend these complex interactions.

DNA Diets may be little more than a scam, but one clinic in Dubai is taking an innovative yet realistic approach to the possibilities of targeted genetic diagnostics.

The XY Clinic of Dubai defines itself as a concept clinic practicing “molecular nutrition” combined with a functional/integrative approach to medicine; this means looking at the underlying causes of disease as opposed to just their symptoms. Clinic Founder and Director, Sam Rao explains the difficulties associated with DNA Diets: “Theoretically it is possible to design a diet based on one's genetic makeup. The difficulty lies in providing meaningful and actionable information whose benefits can be measured in an objective way. While recreational genomics can claim to provide such diets, the reality is we are quite far away from being able to run a test and say so and so is your diet.”

For Rao and his team of specially trained doctors, the emphasis is less about getting you bikini-ready, and instead focuses on examining family history and other environmental factors in relation to a patient’s own genetic make-up. According to the XY Clinic, this analysis of genetics can then provide remedies to chronic health  issues, particularly in relation to female infertility, low energy and chronic fatigue, child developmental disorders, and gastrointestinal problems. In the words of Rao, a molecular approach may help “those who have not benefitted from conventional medical approaches and are looking for evidence-based outcomes, without side effects.”

So how does it work? According to Rao, “we start the process by listing a person's likes and dislikes because we firmly believe both have a biochemical basis. We have a number of functional and integrative medicine evaluations to determine health risks. These are in addition to specific mutation tests we may recommend. The genetic tests that we rely upon are related to disease risk- diabetes, cardiovascular health, osteoporosis, autism, weight and obesity etc.Based on family, personal health history and lifestyle habits, it is better to run tests to identify mutations for likely diseases and then design a diet.”

It’s a holistic, patient centered approach, but differs from standard complementary medicine because the diagnostics ask more searching, science-based questions and the analysis takes into account a number of factors including “a person's genetic make-up, racial/ethnic background, the climate and environment a person grew up in, his or her metabolic fitness, history of health and illness, to create a diet and targeted supplements program to achieve the desired health outcomes,” this according to Rao.

Indeed, understanding how ethnic and environmental differences affect cell activity is critical in understanding all sorts of healthcare problems and solutions. One of the key features of the XY Clinic’s approach to wellness is nutri-epigenetics, or the focus upon how nutrition can trigger cells within the human body. When cells change and mutate, we may end up with a healthier immune system, or we may end up with cancer; understanding the role of nutrition in prompting cell mutation allows the team at XY to suggest a more tailored regime of diet and medication for patients.

Rao has also commented, “we know from experience that most of the commonly held wisdom about good nutrition is plain wrong and does not stand up to either to biochemical scrutiny or evolutional evidence. For example, when someone is perceived to have a cardiovascular risk, she or he is advised to consume plenty of fish and nuts rich in omega-3 fatty acids. But there are entire populations such as the Masai tribes of Africa who never eat any fish at all and on the other hand survive more or less on red meat, cow blood and full fat milk and yet have a low mortality from cardiovascular diseases.”

Examining the root causes of illnesses is not exactly rocket science, however these nutrigenetic methods do represent a paradigm shift in the way we approach disease, and one that’s likely to meet with some opposition from the establishment and its pharmaceutical-heavy interests. But, for those looking to take a diagnosis into their own hands and find a broader range of healthcare options, this futuristic field of science does appear to offer a glimmer of renewed hope, and a visit to this type of clinic may provide the future key to unlocking treatment and hope where traditional approaches have failed.

XY Clinics Dubai


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