Genetics demystified

Every physical feature you have, you have your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and a bunch of ancestors to thank for. Likewise, certain health conditions too can be inherited through those unique genes you got from mom and dad. Fortunately (and sometimes not so), environment strongly influences which of your specific (read unique) genetic traits actually reach their potential. So any trait, good or bad may not ever become visible in you because of your lifestyle choices, environment and other outside factors.

You may have the gene of a basketball player but never grow to your full height if you were under-nourished as a child. You may have a long ancestry of heart disease but if you ate healthy, were physically active, and chose not to smoke or drink through your lifetime, you may never run into heart problems.

Predictive genetic tests will tell you what disorders run “in the family”, your risk of getting them before symptoms appear.

DNA is not destiny. It is what you choose to make of it. Personal genomics and its role in lifelong wellness is at least two tiered — personalised medicine and personalised nutrition. Let’s discuss personalised nutrition further.

Personalized nutrition or DNA diet

Says a young mom: “Scrambling in the kitchen to make one wonder meal that pleases the taste buds of a husband and two kids, I marvel at my mom who whipped up multiple meals that catered to all of our tastes as children.” At a restaurant every person at your table orders a different meal. If each of you liked to eat different things, could it be that your body might also ‘want’ or ‘need’ different foods? Now fast-forward again to year 2020. You are at a restaurant and order biryani. The waiter does not check if you want it mild or spicy anymore. Instead he says,  “Can you place your finger here, sir? I’ll just scan your genetic profile.”

For what? So that your biryani is cooked with the right meat and ingredients, oil and flavour best suited for your body. Your taste alone is not unique, so are your genes which are the blueprint of your body. Your DNA goes beyond identity; it is the unique code that decides your metabolic rate, your body composition and puts you at high/low risk to various diseases. This really is not as far fetched as it sounds. It’s exactly as far-fetched as airplanes sounded in 1880 when only birds could fly.

Have you wondered why your friend who follows the same diet as you loses weight faster? Well, it is partly dependent on your metabolism and body composition. Your genes determine your metabolic rate, i.e., your ability to digest carbohydrates, fats etc. Which is why, one diet does not fit all. It needs to be customised based on your body, your DNA and your lifestyle. Personalised nutrition is finally here and will create life-altering options for us in the near future.

What’s in it for me?

So, is DNA what we are born with and is there no way of changing it? Not at all, DNA is all about what you make of it.

Genes make up the blueprint of the human body, and this is what governs the personality, growth, health, development and functioning. Certain portions of DNA are unique to each individual. It is common knowledge that DNA profiling is one method of establishing identity of an individual. But DNA goes beyond identity; it is the unique code that puts an individual at high/low risk to various diseases. Then isn’t it obvious it plays a crucial role in the cure to your ailments too? Would you agree it can play a crucial role in managing your lifelong wellness and wellbeing?

So, can we conclude that DNA is what we are born with and there is no way of changing it? No, DNA is all about what you choose to make of it.

DNA assessment

You might wonder and worry that your parents have diabetes, and since it is genetic, you are likely to get the disease as well. Not really. Yes, the chances of you getting diabetes are high, but you could alter the age at which you get the same, or how your body reacts to the condition. Here is an actual opportunity to take a good look at your life, introspect, and take some decisions that will help change the course of your health. Your DNA could be a one-stop ticket to determine several of your choices in life beyond just health and wellbeing.

By starting young it is possible to gift ourselves a healthy long life that each one of us truly deserves. In fact, children as young as five years of age can have a genetic assessment conducted. Your DNA could become your ticket, your identity to a better tomorrow.    

India and lifestyle related diseases

* India has an enormous diabetic population (60+ million) of which 90-95 per cent have Type 2 diabetes.

* Indians have a strong link between the increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and the * TCF7L2 gene variation. Nearly 20 per cent diabetics in India have two copies of the TCF7L2 risk variant.

* Cardio Vascular Diseases (CVDs) easily account for 20 per cent of the overall outlay of all medical, hospital and insurance spending.

(The writer is one of the co-founders of Xcode Life Sciences.)

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