A ray of hope as residents battle to put their weight under control

A ray of hope as residents battle to put their weight under control

Genetic testing could offer long-term solutions to problems of obesity and chronic diseases.

By Kelly Clarke - Reporter

Published: Fri 26 Jun 2015, 11:47 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:10 PM

Genetic testing will help the doctors identify factors that make a person obese.— Courtesy DNA Centre

Dubai — Amid growing concern for the rising number of obese people and mounting pressure on health care providers, an integrated medical centre in the Capital, offers a solution.

Genetic testing may provide the shock factor needed to curb the menace of obesity, says Dr Nasim Ashraf, founder, CEO and chief medical officer of the DNA Centre for Integrative Medicine & Wellness in Abu Dhabi.

According to healthcare reports, one in every three children in the UAE is overweight or obese and with this alarming trend, health care expenditure will become out of control in the next 20 years if people continue to live sedentary lifestyles.

“The health care system will be overwhelmed with cases relating to chronic disease and obesity over the next two decades. We need change now,” Dr Nasim Ashraf told Khaleej Times.

First opened in the UAE in 2012, it is the leading DNA centre in the country and has treated over 500 patients in three years.

With 70 per cent of it’s clientele made up of Emirati nationals and the remaining 30 per cent expatriate residents, Dr Ashraf says health promotion and preventative care is still a “relatively new concept” in the UAE, but it is going to become “paramount” in the coming years.

With obesity in the UAE double the world average, and 19 per cent of the country’s population suffering from diabetes, residents in the Gulf region are, on an average, 12 years younger when they have a heart attack compared to their counterparts in the US and Europe.

The pressure is mounting on the health care providers in the region and spending is also increasing, but Dr Ashraf says genetic testing could provide a long-term solution to the problem.

“What we do is look at a person’s genetic profile and identify if they are at risk of chronic disease. If risk factors are present, we put together a long term active lifestyle plan in a bid to reverse these risks.” Although the DNA Centre’s key objective is to “promote wellness”, he says, individual participation is essential to achieving the target. “We are simply here to assist.”

Eliminating risk factors

Dr Ashraf said the centre analyses an individual’s DNA using a number of different techniques to identify the triggering factors that make someone susceptible to obesity or chronic disease.

“For example, we’ve all heard of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) in women but only few have heard of IMS – Irritable Male Syndrome. This is where testosterone levels decrease and cortisol levels increase, causing high stress levels. This can have an adverse affect on men.” By performing a simple saliva test, he says IMS can be diagnosed on the same day by monitoring the peak cortisol levels, and from this, a lifestyle plan can be implemented to bring these levels back to normal. “Statistically speaking, the numbers we are seeing coming out of the region in regards to obesity and chronic disease are shocking. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is the single most important factor when it comes to reducing these statistics and that’s what we do.”

And with about one in 10 patients travelling to the UAE to visit the centre, primarily from Saudi Arabia, he says centres like this are beneficial to both the people and the economy.

“People are consciously taking the reigns on their health and they are willing to travel abroad to get the best in service. The primary reason we opened the DNA centre here is because the UAE is a world class destination and it has the potential to become a wellness tourism hub.” In addition to being able to identify if a person is susceptible to lifestyle diseases, the centre also offers bio-aesthetic cosmetic procedures, as well as a pain clinic offering alternatives to surgery such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP), a treatment which stimulates the healing of bone and soft tissue.

Case study

Sama Afach first visited the DNA Centre in June 2014.

With an aim to lose between 10-15kg, she initially sought help with weight loss but after revealing she had crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract), an alternative lifestyle plan was implemented.

For years, Afach had struggled with her condition, often breaking out in painful ulcers due to the disorder of her immune system.

Taking injections at a cost of more than Dh4,000 per week for two years, Afach said the medication was merely treating the symptoms rather than the condition itself.  Following a number of genetic tests at the centre, Afach discovered her body was rejecting most food types including fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat.

With a low allergy reading for chicken, she spent two months avoiding most foods and stuck to a predominantly chicken-based diet in addition to food supplements recommended by the centre.

 The food elimination plan brought about great results with all the usual symptoms of her crohn’s completely subsiding.  Afach was encouraged to slowly reintroduce some of the foods back into her diet, except dairy, as this proved to be the main trigger in aggravating her condition.

With regular consultations at the centre for a period of six months, Afach said the DNA Centre saved her life and taught her how to love and appreciate her body.

The simple lifestyle change achieved better results than any medication she had tried for her condition and she is now able to lead an active lifestyle.  In addition to correcting her crohn’s disease, Afach also lost 10kg. She is still in remission from the disease.


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