Personalised key to health: genetic tests

Genetic testing estimates genetic risks or predispositions to various diseases based on one’s DNA. Technologically advanced prevention tools like genetic testing can contribute in personalising the health aspect for an individual, thereby reducing the curative costs on non-communicable diseases.

What can one know from genetic testing? As DNA is considered to be the blueprint of life, knowing your DNA through a genetic test opens up an array of information related to you, as an individual. This may range from genetic variations related to health traits, such as weight gain/loss, metabolism, and dietary tendencies like requirement of antioxidants, gluten sensitivity and much more.

Some of these tests claim to deliver information such as health risks, nutrition, fitness, skincare and even your food preferences, based on variations in your genetics. It lets you personalise everything according to what suits you the best.

Here’s how genetic testing can make a difference in the field of preventive healthcare. Considering that you opt for a direct-to-consumer genetic test, you receive a detailed report on the basis of your DNA which mainly helps you to:

• Understand your genetic makeup

• Personalise your lifestyle by making changes in your diet and fitness plan

• Delay or prevent the onset of diseases by observing relevant symptoms and planning regular health checkups

A direct-to-consumer genetic test may include a range of parameters, including health risks that help you in knowing yourself more and creating an action plan for your well-being. Some health risks are passed down genetically, however most diseases these days are a result of sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and unhealthy diet. Personalised genetic testing analyses genes to identify biological markers that help scientists locate genes that are linked with the disease.

Genetic testing very beautifully completes the circle of prevention. Genetic risk towards developing a disease can be avoided or delayed by making proper dietary and fitness modifications. If implemented properly as an essential preventive healthcare tool, it may curtail the incidences of NCDs.

NCDs cause major trauma and out-of-pocket expenses for the family, and therefore, an increased level of awareness and education about early detection can effectively contribute in preventing them. It wouldn’t be an understatement if we say that genetic testing, preventive health checkup and lifestyle modifications can prevent a disease from happening.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing may involve a play of highly advanced technology and analytical minds at the background, but for the user, it’s a simple process — mostly done through saliva or blood sample.

The users can collect the samples themselves and send it via mail. It is mostly done without a doctor’s suggestion and often used as a gift of health for close ones. You can find out your genetic risk for several diseases and traits sitting at home and get the results as an online report.

Your genes have multifold implications on your health. It is decoded into your genetic test report, and hence it’s imperative that it is interpreted accurately and explained for its actual utility. To explain the report along with the associated health checkup strategies and appropriate lifestyle modifications, a certified genetic counsellor comes into play.

Post that counselling, the report can be effectively put to use for altering the lifestyle according to your genetic requirement. Your physician, dietician, fitness trainer, beautician can help you adapt to that lifestyle by outlining further steps.

India scenario

The Human Genome Project is one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements. Since its completion, the cost of human genome sequencing has reduced considerably which has helped create affordable genetic testing products. The genome information resulting from the sequencing can also be used to create more affordable high output technological solutions, that is array-based genotyping.

Globally, many companies have started tapping into the genetic information for precision medicine, personalising health checkups, nutrition and fitness. However, despite advancement in DNA technology and its implications on improving healthcare, the Indian market is at a nascent stage, primarily because of a lack of education and awareness of its efficacy.

As India contributes to 20% of global population, there is huge scope for genetic testing, especially when we look at universal numbers where millions have availed genetic testing for several reasons. The primary driver of growth in these markets is affordability and education/awareness of genetic testing.

Currently, Indian genetic testing scenario includes players in clinical and direct-to-consumer genomics.

(The writer is Joint Managing Director & Preventive Healthcare Specialist, Indus Health Plus)

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