Healthy choices according to your DNA
MOST people only go to the doctor when there are symptoms or signs of a health problem. It may be too late by then.
Imagine being able to go to the doctor in advance to find out which illnesses and diseases you are susceptible to and how to keep them at bay. Wouldn’t that be ideal?
In the past few years, thanks to the advancements of technology, Malaysia has seen the introduction of healthy ageing programmes.
Dr Rajbans Singh, president of the Malaysian Wellness Society, explains that healthy ageing is a preventive programme.
The doctor takes a look at your blood test, hormone levels, inflammatory markers, telomeres and DNA profile to come up with a programme to help you age better and keep diseases at bay.
“As a geriatrician, for 20 years all I’ve seen are diseased people – Alzheimer’s, arthritis, osteoporosis, stroke, heart problems and cancer. I see that as they get older, patients generally don’t age well and might end up in a wheelchair or a nursing home,” says Dr Rajbans.
The role of genes
According to him, the Americans and Europeans have been looking into why some people age very well (like those in Okinawa, Japan) and others get sick and don’t age well. What they found is that lifestyle and genes play a big role in determining how one ages.
This is where the healthy ageing programme comes in. The tests conducted can actually be done at any age but if you’re looking at prevention, then Dr Rajbans recommends coming in for the programme after the age of 40 and not wait for retirement.
“Where health is concerned, we tell people they should look at it earlier. Don’t wait until you have a disease because to reverse that is difficult.
“Rather than a health screening, like those done in most hospitals, a healthy ageing programme looks at what preventive measures can be taken. For example, based on the DNA profiling we can advise people on what type of food they should eat, what food they should avoid, what exercises they should do, what exercises they should avoid, what supplements are good for them, what they shouldn’t take at all, whether they can take coffee, or smoke ….
“From their DNA, we can customise a health and lifestyle programme for them. Then we put them on a programme and tell them what they should eat, which exercises will be beneficial and their lifestyle choices, too.
“Then we monitor them through regular blood tests to see whether they’re on the right track. We monitor their anthropometric measurements to see whether their body fat and muscle strength are okay.
“With the new technology, especially with telomeres, we can tell a patient how they’re going to age and with that we can show them how to lengthen their life and age better. We can also tell from their genes if they would benefit from meditation, spas or deep breathing,” says Dr Rajbans.
Make the change
All well and good, however there is one condition.
Dr Rajbans cautions that the programme will only work if patients are willing to follow the advice given. If they are not prepared to change their lifestyle, then there is no point coming in to get tested.
Dr Rajbans reveals that a lot of his patients do follow the programme, especially those who have a family history of a disease. He also finds that women tend to be more proactive in taking care of their health.
“If you take care of your lifestyle, you can prevent a lot of diseases, and ageing will then become just a number,” says Dr Rajbans.
While the United States and Australia have been using this technology for the past six years, Malaysia has only had it for about two years.
The DNA profiling test is 99.9% accurate and needs only to be done once in a person’s lifetime. However, the other tests will need to be repeated every one or two years.
As the cost of healthcare is not decreasing, people should be proactive in making lifestyle changes to have a better quality of life and good health, says Dr Rajbans.
“There are a lot of elderly people who are still very active and mobile. I would rather become like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at 89 and still be very active; he doesn’t need anybody’s help yet. He’s an icon for healthy ageing.
“It’s not a matter of being able to afford it. I think he’s very disciplined – he exercises every day, keeps his mind active, and is careful of what he eats. That is a discipline that he has had and has maintained from those days. It’s nothing to do with money. There are a lot of rich people who are very sick. It’s the discipline that they need.
“There’s no shortcut,” adds Dr Rajbans.
Currently, Dr Rajbans and a group from healthcare solutions provider Fitgenes in Australia are training local doctors about the healthy ageing programme and DNA profiling.
The healthy ageing programme (in 2014) can cost as much as RM3,000. This would cover a consultation, a nutritionist to follow up with, a free monthly newsletter and invitations to free health workshops.
According to Dr Rajbans, in the last six months, about 500 of his patients went through the programme.
“We have to start educating people. Wellness and healthy ageing requires a change in behaviour and mindset. It’s the hardest thing to do. It can be very difficult to suddenly change your lifestyle according to things that are right for you. I think that’s one of the biggest things to overcome. It’s up to you and your priorities.”