DNA testing becoming increasingly popular to diagnose and treat lifestyle diseases, reduce health risk

Bijan Dutta, a 45-year-old businessman from Assam, suffered from Androgenetic alopecia or hair loss to the extent of a barren head. Upon consultation at a Kolkata clinic, he was asked to undergo a hair transplant procedure. Despite medication and nutritional supplements, he was not able to retain this transplanted hair. Dutta was offered a DNA analysis of his hair based on a simple cheek swab. The test results gave the trichologist a clear direction to manage Dutta’s post-transplant clinical condition. He recommended optimised doses of Minoxidil and Finasteride, common hair loss treatment drugs. Today, Dutta has a head full of hair.

Sejal Khanna (name changed), a 42-year-old IT professional was concerned after she found fine lines around her eyes and mouth. She also felt a slight loosening of her skin. A worried Sejal wanted a focused therapy package that would ensure effective results. A hair and skin DNA test is what she was prescribed.

Khanna’s DNA test brought to light the fact that her skin had started to slow down on collagen production, leading to its looseness. It also highlighted that her skin was sensitive to pollutants in the environment around her, making her skin react to perfumes and irritants in the air.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Khanna was prescribed oral supplements to enhance collagen production and low sugar diet which reduces the chances of wrinkling. She was prescribed the use of products with ingredients that specifically protect against free radical damage. All of these helped arrest hair and skin damage extensively, while restoring significantly lost hair and damaged skin.

DNA as well as gene-based testing is gradually gaining momentum as methods that help in two primary ways – curative – to deal with a specific issue on hand that may have remained unresolved despite multiple measures, and preventive – to understand how pre-disposed one may be to particular ailments.

Delving into the DNA of hair and skin

“Hair and skin DNA testing is about taking away the guesswork from treatment packages,” says Dr Bani Anand, founder and managing director of Hairline International Hair and Skin Clinic, Bengaluru. “Hair DNA analyses genes associated with hair follicular stress, inflammation and growth factor. It also analyses the client’s genotype and its association with various health conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Skin DNA examines 16 genetic markers across five categories associated with skin ageing. Not every skincare product is going to suit everyone and so your DNA results are used to scientifically create a personalised regime tailored specifically for you.”

Besides customisation of treatment packages, knowledge gained is also a plus point. “A trichologist is primarily interested in learning about Androgenetic alopecia and a patient’s sensitivity to common drugs like Minoxidil and Finasteride,” says Dr Abhijit Paul, managing director, of Dr Paul’s Advanced Hair and Skin Solutions, Kolkata. “A dermatologist is keen to know about collagen metabolism to identify the pattern of skin laxity, ageing and to map the activity of anti-oxidant, immune disorders, phenotype etc.” DNA testing helps with all this.

What your genes say about nutrition

Nutrigenomics that is becoming popular in healthcare is a concept that is over 20 years old when the Human Genome Project was completed. Shah Fahad Husami, managing director, Adam’s Genetics Pvt Ltd, Delhi explains that nutrigenomics focuses on understanding the interaction between nutrient and other dietary compounds with the genome at the molecular level to study how specific nutrients or diet affect the health of an individual.

The results of nutrigenomics-based treatments have been very positive and it is increasingly being recommended as a means of managing lifestyle diseases.

“As far as application is concerned it is going to be the future of healthcare management – especially for non-communicable diseases like lifestyle diseases – obesity, diabetes, cardiac diseases and certain cancers. It is promising because it gives a healthcare professional an opportunity to look into the genes of a person, where there are lots of clues hidden which can help an expert decide on diet, medicinal and therapeutic approaches to better health,” says Dr Amol D Raut, CEO, GeneSupport, Pune.

A simple example Raut cites is that of Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid, which plays a very important role in pregnancy, recurrent spontaneous abortions and so on. Whether to prescribe a folic acid simple form or a complex form folate is something that is based on a person’s genetics and nutrigenomics holds the power of being able to determine the right use of the vitamin.

The need for measured prescription of these tests

Blood, saliva or buccal swab samples are sufficient for DNA extraction. The test report may take one to three weeks to come in and depends on the number of genes being tested.

All professionals from the industry believe that there are two principles to conducting the test. Pre-test counselling – to understand the aim and objective of the person doing the test. For example, for an obese patient, this form of testing should be prescribed only if conventional forms of treatment, diet and therapy have failed. The same principle must be applied for all cases. The second is, when tests are a preventive – in such as case, anybody can opt for it to understand what they are predisposed towards and to take necessary precautions.

Raut believes that since genetic testing can result in the prediction of certain lifestyle ailments or the risk of such diseases, conveying the message has to be done correctly, else it may end up causing fear rather than awareness. Trained professionals, high levels of ethics, pre- and post-counselling for evaluation, and handholding will make these tests holistically successf