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A quick test to determine whether your wound needs stitches is to wash the wound well and stop the bleeding, and then pinch the sides of the wound together. If the edges of the wound come together and it looks better, you may want to consider getting stitches.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fitness formula: eat what your genes advise

The emerging field of nutrigenomics may hold the key to preventing many deadly diseases .

Prepared for your regular trip to the doctor? Cancel the appointment. All you need to stay healthy is to send your blood sample to a DNA profiling lab. A few weeks later, you will receive a package with your genomic analysis, a list of diseases you might be at risk of and a personalized dietary recommendation.

If this sounds like something out of science-fiction, rest assured it’s not. Instead, it’s the emerging field of nutrigenomics that investigates how the food we eat interacts with our genes to affect our health. Accumulating evidence shows that nutrients alter molecular processes such as DNA structure, gene expression and metabolism, and these in turn may alter disease initiation, development or progression.

To illustrate this better, let’s say your genomic analysis shows you are missing a part of the gene that, say, helps you fight flab and have extra copies of another that makes you pre-disposed to a certain kind of cancer. Experts suggest that by following a diet tailor-made for you, making certain changes in your lifestyle and adding a few nutritional supplements to your diet, you stand a high chance of not developing the disease at all.

Raymond Rodriguez, director, Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics (CENG) at the University of California, attributes it to the direct relationship between nutrition and genes. “The food we eat and our genes have a language that they talk in. If their conversation is a good one then the person stays healthy. If the conversation is not a good one, it makes a person sick.”

The potential of nutrigenomics in preventive medicine is clearly huge. As of now, scientists are looking at genomic markers or factors which give rise to different diseases. “Once we are able to pin-point these markers it would be easier to intervene before the onset of several diseases or to impede their advancement,” says Rajesh Gokhale, director of Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.

While all human beings are 99.9% similar at the genomic level, 0.1% of the total genome differs from person-to-person. This 0.1% makes an individual unique and different from everyone else on earth. It also allows one to develop distinct features, a certain hair colour, height, weight — as well as different diseases.

“These genetic variations influence how nutrients are assimilated, metabolized, stored, and excreted by the body,” says Rodriguez. This also explains why some individuals respond to a certain medication for a disease whereas others don’t. While some people are able to ward off an ailment through modifying their diet, others need medication.

Now, experts are utilizing this information to try and formulate personalized diet plans instead of generalized dietary advices.
“The idea is to not let the disease happen in the first place rather than curing it once it has emerged,” says Rodriguez.

Several companies across the globe are developing systems to maintain and prolong a state of optimal health. Experts at California-based nutritional supplements brand Nutrilite, for instance, are working with major universities globally to further their understanding of nutrigenomics principles.

“At our institute, a personalized healthcare nutritional plan includes DNA analysis to identify minor changes in the genes which give rise to diseases,” says Shyam Ramakrishnan, a scientist associated with Nutrilite.

The progress is steady, though slow. There are just a handful of diseases for which exact genomic variants have been identified, but experts believe the day is not far when there would be detailed genomic maps of ailments like diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases and several types of cancer. When it happens, the answer to the question ‘What’s on the menu today?’ may just be, ‘What does your gene say, dude?’

Ayurveda’s unlikely ambassador

He does pranayama twice daily and swears by it like a yogic guru. He also does a rigorous vata massage every day, like a zealous vaid, informing you that it’s done with a special oil of sesame seeds and herbs. Nothing new, except that we’re talking about a former Australian professional footballer who’s taken it upon himself to spread awareness on ayurveda, propagating its “wisdom” in every country, through every platform available.

India,” says 40-year-old Mark Bunn from Sydney, “is the land of the Vedas. And ayurveda, its traditional health system, can give enormous benefit to people. We need to reconnect with this timeless knowledge.” He’s done precisely that. Bunn’s new book Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health, which will be released in India this month, asks everyone to go back to this 6,000-year-old system of medicine.

The western system of treating illhealth, he asserts, is not perfect. Take concerns over sun exposure in the west — they have led to Vitamin D deficiency and osteoporosis. Similarly, inadequate sleep or late nights lead to disruption of the body's nighttime detox mechanisms, causing problems.

So while he may no longer be dribbling a football, his love affair with ayurveda has kicked off a different career. It was in 1990 when he started playing football that his sister and brother-in-law were practicing transcendental meditation (TM). “I was introduced to ayurveda then. Ayurveda gave me mental clarity, good sleep, and reduced stress.”

Even after his playing career got over in 1996, Bunn’s passion for ayurveda remained. He travelled to Cambodia for three months as part of an aid organization. “I got attached to an Indian ayurvedic doctor and saw how he treated people for skin rashes, nutrition deficiencies, worms…” After he came back to Australia, Bunn studied ayurveda at the Maharishi Vedic College in Melbourne, travelling across Australia with Vaid Rajan Mulay. Asked about Bunn, Mulay says, “Mark is a good practitioner of ayurveda and helps create awareness and knowledge of the system in Australia.” The continent now has many ayurvedic clinics run by Indian and Australian doctors.

Any final word? “It’s not enough to look after just physical well-being,” he says. “Spiritual aspects, too, should be watered. Watering only the leaves of a tree will not make you enjoy the fruits. One has to water the roots

Cancer, diabetes, hypertension LARGEST CAUSE OF DEATH


Lifestyle-related diseases are killing more Indians than the infectious ones. India’s disease pattern has undergone a major shift over the past decade, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

The latest WHO data paints a worrying picture. At present, of every 10 deaths in India, eight are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes in urban India. In rural India, six out of every 10 deaths are caused by NCDs.

Similar is the trend in the southeast Asian region. While NCD deaths have seen a 21% jump, infectious diseases deaths have fallen by 17%. The projection is that the south-east Asian region will have the greatest total number of NCD deaths in 2020: 10.4 million.

Dr Nata Menabde, WHO representative to India, told TOI : “Globally, 60% of the deaths are caused by NCDs. Similar are the numbers in India. NCDs are affecting the entire globe. If not controlled, they will become a tsunami that will not only kill people, but
also impair development and crash economies.”

Shocked by a spike in NCDs, India is launching a comprehensive national programme to prevent and control these. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “The programme will be rolled out during the 12th Plan period starting 2012. It will cover all 640 districts. The programme will focus on health promotion, prevention of exposure to risk factors, early diagnosis, treatment of NCDs and rehabilitation.” He called for urgent action to check the rise in NCDs, mental health issues and injuries which account for two-third of the country’s total disease burden.

India, with an estimated 5.1 crore diabetics, has the world’s second-largest diabetic population following China. Unless effective measures are taken, India may have 8 crore diabetics by 2030. Similarly, the number of people affected by cardio-vascular diseases, which was about 3.8 crore in 2005, may go up to 6.4 crore by 2015,” he added.

The UN has taken note of the NCD menace. After the 2001 UN summit on HIV that made the world come together to fight the deadly AIDS virus, this September, NCDs are set to receive a similar push in New York.

To be attended by the who’s who, including PM Manmohan Singh, the historic UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of NCDs on September 19 and 20 will decide how to better prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, which together cause 8 million deaths worldwide, annually.

A ministry official said: “Till now, programmes to combat NCDs which cause 60% of all deaths were tremendously under funded. NCDs also remained a low priority and not included in the Millennium Development Goals. The high-level meetings running up to the UN NCD summit should change that.”

Cardiovascular diseases will be the largest cause of death and disability in India by 2020, WHO says. It is estimated that the overall prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, ischemic heart diseases (IHD) and stroke is 62.47, 159.46, 37.00 and 1.54 respectively per 1,000 population of India. Additionally, there are around 25 lakh cancer cases in India.

Calling it “an impending disaster for many countries — a disaster for health, for society and national economies,” WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said: “Chronic NCDs deliver a two-punch blow to development. They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and push millions of people below the poverty line, each and every year.”

According to a recent report, each year NCDs cause more than 9 million deaths before the age of 60 years. They also kill at a younger age in countries like India where 29% of NCD deaths occur among people under 60, compared to 13% in high-income countries.

Dr Ala Alwan, WHO’s assistant director-general for NCDs said: “About 30% of people dying from NCDs are under 60 and in their most productive period of life. These premature deaths are largely preventable.” Without action, the NCD epidemic is projected to kill 52 million people annually by 2030, Dr Alwan added.

Approximately 44% of all NCD deaths occur before 70. In countries like India, a higher proportion (48%) of all NCD deaths occur in people under the age of 70, compared with high-income countries (26%). Cardiovascular diseases were responsible for the largest proportion of NCD deaths under 70 (39%), followed by cancers (27%).

Chronic respiratory diseases and digestive diseases were together responsible for 30% of deaths while diabetes was responsible for 4% of deaths.


Spirituality needs to be a part of everyday life.

A person’s life has several aspects that constitute a healthy whole. Some feel their physical health is the most important. Hence, they spend a lot of their time working out and eating healthy. Those who prioritize their social life meet with friends. But what about the people who believe that the spiritual aspect supersedes all others? How do they get time and energy to attend prayer meetings or other religious activities during the weekend after working through the week from 9 to 5?


Often, spirituality is mixed with religion. Psychiatrist Dr Rajiv Anand says, “Your spiritual life has little to do with religion. Rather, it is scientific and very systematic. Being spiritual does not mean only chanting, meditating and reading scriptures. All these may be a part of it but not the whole. Being spiritual is far beyond all this.”

An individual may not do any of these things and still be spiritual. “It is a scientific way of living, where your whole existence is in sync with the universe. You are constantly in deep communion with powers greater than yourself, which take care of you and nourish you in a sustained manner,” adds Dr Anand. Psychiatrist Dr Jyoti Sangle agrees. “It would be fallacious to consider spirituality to be synonymous with religion. Acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism and the experience of inner peace and self-awareness could all be facets of spirituality. These are virtues that are inherent and practiced in our daily lives. These originate from a belief deep within us that something, somewhere is taking care of us,” she says.

Psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria says, “Spirituality is that non-materialistic path that connects people to a universal superior force. It allows them to discover themselves and the spirit of their being.” Why is it that as time passes, more people choose to follow the path of spirituality in their lives? How different is the life of a spiritually-inclined person to that of someone who isn’t?” she asks. This can be answered with just a single word — health.


There is a mistaken notion that those who are busy with their 9 to 5 jobs cannot find time for their social and spiritual lives. Both of these complement each other.

Research has shown that people who manage to attend spiritual events and meditate despite their busy schedules, do so because of their strong faith.

This faith increases their

  • self-confidence,
  • self-esteem,
  • motivation and
  • positivity in life,

hereby improving their mental health.

An elderly person with a spiritual bent of mind, is more satisfied mentally as it acts as a support system. This helps them feel less lonely and more motivated after retirement.
Spiritual beliefs form an important part of coping with life’s joys and hardships. “They help foster feelings of optimism and hope, restore meaning and order to life situations, and maintain mental poise,” adds Dr Sangle.

Body-building exercises help us build muscles and increase our stamina, enhance our suppleness, flexibility and weight-bearing capacity. Similarly, through spiritual practices an individual attains a healthy attitude, tolerance, patience, equanimity, inner stability, resilience and acceptance for whatever is happening in life. Consequently, there is less room for angry outbursts.


We need to keep ourselves mentally and physically fit in order to function and carry out our daily routines. “Our spiritual lives impact both our mental and physical health. It is not necessary to adopt spiritual habits to have a healthy mind and body. But, being spiritual definitely improves one’s overall health in several ways,” adds Dr Chhabria.

Meditation and spirituality have a powerful influence on one’s mind making them more calm and collected. A person who meditates is more composed, relaxed and tolerant toward other people. They will be able to manage stress and depression better than the people who do not. They will also be able to release pent-up frustration, anger and negativity in the process.

Studies also show that meditation helps improve concentration to a great extent. “A person who meditates regularly will have better concentration, attention and focus than a person who does not,” says Dr Chhabria.

Medical studies indicate that spiritual practices stimulates the brain to release chemicals that act as natural painkillers and mood enhancers. Spiritual people exhibit fewer kinds of selfdestructive behaviour (suicide, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse) and display healthier behavioural patterns. They are also less vulnerable to stress, and score higher on total life satisfaction assessment.

Be healthy and happy

With today’s fastpaced living and hectic lifestyles, people don't always have the time to pay attention to their health. Which is specialist health insurance company Max Bhupa has introduced a first-of-its-kind health movement, Health Promise, which is aimed at creating awareness about the importance of being healthy.

The initiative, which was introduced at the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai, encourages people to be healthy and fit and encourages them to make a health promise for people they care about. Max Bupa also had a preview of a website, www.YourHealthFirst.in, which will enable people to keep their promises for loved ones by actionable tips, health advice and health information.

Dr Damien Marmion, CEO, Max Bupa said, “In our everyday busy lives, we often neglect our health care needs while striving to achieve material success. We believe it is our responsibility to promote the idea of living healthy among Indians.

To achieve this, Max Bupa has launched Health Promise, which will enable people to give priority to their health first and encourage them to make a health promise for their loved ones. The initiative is being launched against the backdrop of the Lakmé Fashion Week.”

The movement was endorsed by fashion designers Manish Malhotra and Rina Dhaka, who talked about the importance of health. They also joined the Health Promise Movement by making a health promise along with Dr Marmion.

After the Mumbai launch, Max Bupa will take the initiative to other cities in the country and to create awareness about the health movement. The initiative will reach out to people in a phased manner through many different methods, including above-the-line, below-the-line, direct custom outreach and activation touch points with a digital presence playing an integral part in it.

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