A new clinic in Dubai is prescribing treatment determined by our genes, which work with our unique make-up for optimum results. The personalised programme includes a customised diet and supplement regime, with patients raving about results, as Alice Haine reports
We are all genetically different. Yet when we go to the doctor we are treated using the same medication.
Imagine if your doctor could prescribe a treatment programme that would work specifically for your unique genetic make-up.
After all, what cures one person may not cure another.
This individual approach to health care has been adopted by a new clinic in Dubai, XY Clinics.
Offering personalised medicine and molecular nutrition therapy, the facility treats patients with chronic conditions using a regime of customised diet and supplements.
"We have dispensed with the idea that there is a solution for everybody," explains Sam Rao, the clinic's founder and chief executive.
"People talk about personalised medicine but how do you personalise it if there are no new drugs coming on to the market?
"The only way to personalise is through diet, then to work with the vitamins and minerals your body really needs. That's biochemistry."
For this reason, Mr Rao and a team of scientists working in India, Germany and the US have developed a concept they believe can improve the lives of "end of the road patients" - those with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal problems who have visited their doctor over and over with little relief.
By treating the underlying cause of their illness rather than the symptoms, Mr Rao believes he can help bring a turnaround in modern healthcare practice.
"If you look at the model of medical practice, it has been a qualified success when it comes to fighting infectious diseases and surgical practice. But the same cannot be said for anything long term," explains Mr Rao, a biologist and molecular biologist.
"Health authorities and medical experts have been talking about the growing burden of chronic diseases on national health budgets and the general healthcare infrastructure for some time," he says.
"But if you look at the track record of what has actually been achieved, it is pretty dismal."
To help change the way chronic disease is treated, Mr Rao turned to nutritional therapy, which integrates elements of dietetics and medical science, and combined it with futuristic scientific theories, such as those developed by the US biologist, Dr Leroy Hood.
Dr Hood, who visited Abu Dhabi this month to talk about his work, believes medicine will change so much in 10 years that we will not only know what is wrong with us straight away, but will be able to predict our future health problems - something Mr Rao embraces wholeheartedly.
"If you go to a normal laboratory they can tell you what your health status is as of today. They cannot tell you what your health is going to be like in six months or a year's time," he says. "There's really no predictive testing, only standard diagnostic testing, so we needed that."
Mr Rao and his team spent three years sourcing the right tests for the XY Clinics brand. To ensure his concept worked in conjunction with conventional medicine, Mr Rao hired a family doctor and two nutritionists, training them to understand his brand of health care.
"It's the first clinic of its kind in the world," he says. "There may be other clinics doing parts of what we do but from my knowledge no one has retrained the nutritionists and the doctors the way we have so that they understand biochemistry and molecular biology and can link information together."
Patients have an hour-long consultation with a doctor and a nutritionist, who delve into their medical history.
A series of tests determining the extent of problems may be carried out and, once the results are in, the team design an eight to 12-week diet and supplement programme to ensure imbalances are put right.
The programme costs Dh2,000, with tests another Dh1,500 to Dh4,000. But the team says the levels they go to to solve the patient's problems are definitely a benefit.
"You can get a diagnosis of high yeast from a stool test at any clinic but what our test shows is that, yes you have high yeast, but it also gives us more information about why," explains the clinic's nutritionist, Stephanie Karl. "It's looking for reasons to explain why the yeast is there and why it has been given the opportunity to proliferate."
The clinic mainly treats patients for chronic fatigue, stress, anxiety and sleep disorders, and gastrointestinal issues. They work on women's health, treating menopausal symptoms and those with polycystic ovary syndrome using customised combinations of diet, vitamins and hormones.
The clinic also specialises in children's behavioural issues, improving learning and memory using proper nutrients and offering a more natural solution for autism and ADHD.
"Supplements and minerals are the safest thing we can give to address imbalances," Mr Rao says.
"All we are doing is trying to correct them and that's why we don't do it purely on guesswork - we run tests that will tell us exactly what is missing in a person's body. Sometimes you get dramatic results within just a few days."
This was the case for Anusha Shah, 36, who turned to XY Clinics this year to help her autistic son Rahul, 3, after a practitioner prescribed supplements that caused a full-body rash.
"Until Rahul was one and a half he was fine. Then suddenly he lost eye contact, he wasn't responding to his name and was hyperactive," Ms Shah says. "He was running around without reason and was very quiet."
The family moved to Dubai from India a year ago for the best treatment.
At XY Clinics, Rahul was diagnosed with severe inflammation in the gut, commonly suffered by autistic children, and low levels of essential minerals and vitamins.
Supplements were prescribed along with a diet plan that was modified weekly to ensure the youngster reacted well to new foods.
"Within three weeks I noticed a drastic improvement," Ms Shah says. "He was less hyper, eye contact increased and we saw the onset of language development."
Six months later, Ms Shah says her son is healthy with no issues.
"He's eating everything except wheat and milk products. His body posture is stronger, his eye contact is great and his vocabulary has increased to 200 words from nothing," Ms Shah says. "I'm starting to target regular schools for him now."
Daniela Walker, a 36-year-old mother of two boys, aged nine and five, says visiting XY Clinics offered her a long-awaited breakthrough.
The Briton was finally diagnosed with coeliac disease last year. Before this, the condition caused her health to decline, leaving her seriously underweight and so weak she could barely lift a handbag.
"When I went [to XY Clinics] we talked for more than two hours, going through my entire health history. I was happy to have someone who listened," recalls Mrs Walker.
After a series of tests the Briton, who had already adopted a gluten-free diet to relieve her symptoms, was prescribed a three-week course of supplements.
"The tests showed there was an overload of toxins in my system," she says. "Because my coeliac disease was diagnosed late, it had affected my immune system. I had no immunity in the gut. I took the supplements for about three weeks and felt a lot better. Now I can be out all day. It's amazing."
The clinic also aids weight loss, a serious issue in the UAE, helping unsuccessful dieters understand why they cannot lose weight.
"Nutrition is about metabolic pathways. You may feel you eat a healthy diet, possibly low-carb and high-protein, as is fashionable and works well for some to manage weight, but the glucose delivered from other foods is not being utilised by the cells, so you crave carbs, don't process them well and even those from vegetables and fruit go on as fat," explains Ms Karl.
She believes the clinic can help patients lose weight efficiently.
Whether we show a preference towards one food or another is key to our health, explains Mr Rao, who believes that forcing ourselves to eat things we do not like is actually detrimental to health.
"We now know each one of us is genetically unique. When we say we have genetic uniqueness what we mean is that biochemically, we are different and the kinds of foods you prefer eating indicate that biochemical individuality," Mr Rao says.
In other words, we crave certain foods because our body needs the nutrients from them.
"Why does a pregnant woman develop cravings or strong aversions to food she has eaten all her life? It is driven by the baby," Mr Rao says. "If it is biochemically different from the mother it can trigger changes in her eating habits - the mother is forced to eat things that are beneficial to the embryonic development."
It is certainly food for thought.