Healthy Plan to Keep You Trim and Fit: Q&A With DNA Diet Expert
Staying healthy and fit can no longer simply be measured in terms of calories eaten and calories burned. Urbanization has brought with it a host of lifestyle diseases and disorders that call for a paradigm shift in how we plan for a lifetime of good health and peace of mind.
Dr. Saleem Mohammed, CEO and Co-founder of Xcode Life Sciences, tells Medindia how the company's Lifelong Wellness program helps individuals know from an analysis of their DNA, their predisposition to four major health issues threatening the world population today-diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Post DNA analysis, the clients are guided through a step-by-step process that prevents the onset of disease and disorders, helps them eat right and stay healthy for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Saleem leads Xcode's progress in the R&D space, guides strategic ideas around the field of bioinformatics, so people get the opportunity to explore the world of genomic tools and applications and avail the benefits of life science analytics.
Q. What prompted you to launch this Lifelong Wellness program?
A. I was doing my doctoral studies in Bioinformatics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US and around that time Dr. James D. Watson put his genome sequence online "to encourage the development of an era of personalized medicine, in which information contained in our genomes can be used to identify and prevent disease and to create individualized medical therapies."
This was followed by news about Google Co-founder Sergey Brin's investment in his wife Anne Wojcicki's genome screening company 23andMe and how he learnt from the DNA analysis of his saliva that he has a mutation on the LRRK2 gene, a variation known as G2019S which ups Parkinson's risk in some families. Brin's mother has Parkinson's and the mutation. Brin went on to blog how he cut coffee, smoking and took to diving along with some lifestyle changes to prevent the disorder.
News of genetic testing for health and disease was very exciting and I realized this could be applied for the benefit of people in India who are unaware they are heading toward health crises. My mother was diagnosed with diabetes in her forties and I wasted no time in launching Lifelong Wellness program from our company's platform. Xcode Life Sciences got incubated in the Vellore Institute of Technology, South India this year and subsequently moved to Chennai.
Q. How different is Lifelong Wellness program from a Master Health Check up?
A. In this Lifelong Wellness program you are informed of your health risks based on a DNA analysis. A genetic counselor and a nutritionist advise you on what diet works for you depending on whether you metabolize carbohydrates slowly or proteins slowly, for example. On the contrary, health predictions using physical parameters are still subject to trial and error. Master health check ups are not custom made - it is as if one package fits all. DNA testing is personalized and caters to each individual in a unique manner.
Q. Tell us how this program is packaged to suit every person?
A. When a person is enrolled in Lifelong Wellness program the saliva is collected and we send it to a third party service provider who sends us the lab report. Our research facility analyses and interprets the raw data. We use DNA markers called "snips" and we use the latest in the field. For diabetes alone we have close to 82 markers as recent as 2012. A genetic counselor will take the client through the report and a nutritional counselor will suggest meal plans and recipes for healthy eating. Suggestions for practical fitness plans and life style modifications are also given.
The program has several components, a few of which are:
• Life Sight - A basic DNA assessment that gives your health risks so you can work changes in your lifestyle and lead a healthier life
• Life Food - Personalized 'DNA diet plan' based on your current lifestyle
• Wellness on Mobile - Daily reminders via SMS and an audio clipping to help you stay healthy
• Life Fit - Flexible, versatile, personalized fitness plan you can implement at home, or on the move
• Life Track - Offers cloud based online service to store clinical info and progress on nutrition and fitness plan
• Life Digest - A monthly newsletter that sends health updates
Q. How well is this wellness program received in India? In your interaction with people do you see a shift in health awareness and need for dieting and lifestyle modifications?
A. Personalized nutrition is new to many, but people are interested in this new wellness concept and open to its practical applications. We have packaged the wellness program in a way that is easy to understand and implement. Going by numbers, we have an excellent response so far. Ideally, young adults who are beginning their career would benefit from this wellness program. If they know their genetic makeup, they can be cautious, eat right and stay healthy when they get married and raise a family. Healthy eating, for example is a collective responsibility in a family. Meal plans should be devised for the health benefit of each family member. Children can be trained from a young age to choose from healthy food and lifestyle options.
For me, even a compliance rate of 5% of the population is a huge success considering the number of persons who can stay healthy using this program. Yes, it is a challenge to change the way people think about wellness. Even the medical community is only now gradually coming to terms with genomic sequencing and personalized therapies.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish in the near future and what is your vision?
A. My vision is improved human life and a disease free India. We have begun creating awareness among people on the various practical ways to stay healthy and achieve a lifetime of wellness.
We're working to discover mutational causes of at least two diseases, to unseat India as the diabetic capital of the world and to become the largest repository of genetic and lifestyle information. Lifelong Wellness by Xcode Life Sciences is enroute to becoming a leader in affordable personalized healthcare in India.
Healthcare industry is India has come a long way from being a sector involving just hospitals, doctors, patients, medicine and medical insurance. People are willing to learn more than just the basics to avoid living a disease ridden life, if they can help it. With the healthcare industry tuned to help people learn more about their propensity to certain diseases that's in their genes and guide them to eat right and stay healthy, the quality of life is bound to increase making India a healthier nation.