Eat your way to good health based on your genes

There's more to healthy eating than just eating your greens - a new DNA test can help you pinpoint the type of fruits and vegetables that may just have better chemistry with your genes.

The test is based on nutrigenomics, a branch of science that studies how diet and nutrition influences our genetic make-up.

Despite our physical differences, all human beings are 99.9 per cent genetically identical. It is the remaining 0.1 per cent where changes in the inherited genetic variants may occur.

In essence, you are what you eat. But whether drinking coffee is good or bad depends on your genes.

Knowing for sure whether your body is poorer at metabolising certain substances, like caffeine or nicotine, means that you can now do something about preventing that disease that may come a-calling in the future, especially if you are predisposed to certain health risks.

And it's not just about eliminating the junk like high-fat foods and alcohol.

For some people, having that extra serving of broccoli can actually do more harm than good.

Those with hypothyroidism, for instance, should limit their intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, which can interfere with the production of the thyroid hormone.

And if you've always wondered why the Atkin's diet never worked for you, your genes could be to blame, says Datuk Dr Rajbans Singh.

"This is where the DNA test will come into play to clear up any guesswork," says the medical director, who heads the Fitgenes personalised DNA profiling programme in Malaysia.

How the test works: A simple buccal swab (a collection of cheek cells with a cotton swab) is taken, the sample of which will be sent for analysis. The results aren't instant, and the profiling report takes up to four weeks. Here, you'll receive a personalised diet plan during a consultation with a doctor and dietitian.

Apart from revealing if it is crucial for you to cut back on refined carbohydrates, or if a little indulgence won't hurt, your DNA can also tell you what type of exercise suits you best. For example, those who are prone to inflammation may not be well-suited to running as they are more likely to suffer injuries.

This link between exercise and genotype makes it possible for high-performance sports training in the athletic world.

The programme now analyses up to 54 genes linked to five major health concerns: inflammation, cellular defence, cardiovascular health, fat metabolism and cholesterol regulation, and vitamin D metabolism.

According to Rajbans, a consultant physician and geriatrician, these genes can reveal if you are indeed more susceptible to diabetes, hypertension, strokes and cancer, as well as degenerative diseases like arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The test doesn't come cheap. Thankfully, it is a one-off test.

"Sickness has become very expensive. Just walking into a hospital can cost you a few thousands.

"Here, we're talking about a test, not to pick up a disease, but to tell you how to prevent one, which will be cheaper in the long run," says Rajbans.

Of course, the test isn't a foolproof solution in eliminating all the risk factors. Moderation is key, Rajbans advises.

"There are some people who can be overzealous with their personalised plan. My advice is to take things step by step. Once you've got a plan, set up a goal: do you want to feel healthier, or do you want to lose weight? Whatever it is, we'll work on it together."

Lifestyle habits are often the hardest to change. What's amazing is that a little change comes a long way - eating and exercising well today will not only affect the future of your health, but also your children's health, and eventually, their children.

Rajbans cites the science of epigenetics, which is the study of how our actions and experiences can cause irreversible chemical reactions that modify our genes.

Research in this field famously speaks of how an 1836 famine in Sweden went on to alter the genes of children born decades later.

"Because of the genes they inherited, the grandchildren of those who were affected by the famine started eating more, which led to weight gain and diabetes," Rajbans explains.

Which goes to show that being in tip top condition today could be the key to lengthening the lifespan of your children and grandchildren.

So just how early should you be singling out your DNA when it comes to nutrition, lifestyle and exercise?

Rajbans says the test is recommended for all adults and even children as young as eight - an age where they are likely to better understand new concepts and terms.

The science of nutrigenomics is not without its challenge: the long-term effects of eating to turn on and turn off certain genes remain to be seen.

Advancing research, however, promises to offer more detail and insight into issues that we can further take control over. Like managing stress levels according to profession.

"In the future, it may be possible to look at individual stress levels and how you can reduce them.

"Also, what are the hormone patterns in your body or the hormonal issues in women and how changing simple lifestyle habits can improve your health for the better," says Rajbans.

To find out more, call 03-77872888 or visit www.thelaureate.com.my

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