PERSONALISED HEALTHCARE AT SA’ S FIRST DNA CLINIC
THE SCIENTIST: Dr Yael Joffe, adjunct professor of nutrigenomics at Rutgers University, dietician and founder of 3X4 Clinics
Joffe started out as a dietician but became disillusioned by her education. “I felt that it really hadn’t given me the answers that I was hoping for,” she says. She wanted to know how to prevent disease and how nutrition could prevent cancer. “And then I discovered genetics,” she says. It was the year 2000 and Joffe was living in the UK, working for a company that operated in the field. “They had this idea that nutrition and genetics work together. I thought they were a bit crazy and I didn’t really understand it, but it sounded amazing.” In 2004, she decided to explore it further at UCT, where she had to create her own degree using a group of supervisors in the fields of nutrition, genetics and medicine. “I was the first in South Africa to get a PhD in this particular area called nutrigenomics – nutrition and genetics,” she says. For the past 18 years, the dietician- turned-nutrigeneticist has studied the interaction between food and genes and helped to develop tests that can read that genetic data. Now, Joffe’s launched a gene-based clinic, 3X4 Clinics. They take a cheek swab, analyse your DNA and use it to create a genebased nutrition plan that aligns your health goals. It’s still brand new, but Joffe believes this kind of testing will be standard in the not-too-distant future. Here are some of the things you could find in your DNA.
Knowing the health of your DNA gets down to the building blocks of everything else in your body. “We’re constantly exposed to free radicals that cause damage to our DNA,” says Joffe. “They make what I call potholes in our DNA, but enzymes come in and fill in the potholes so that our DNA is healthy, strong and robust.” Genetic testing can identify the genes that are susceptible to these potholes and a tailored diet plan can provide the nutrients that would boost their ability to repair quickly.
We’re talking way deeper than a threeday cleanse. There are genes that create detoxing enzymes, but not everyone makes them as efficiently. “Imagine someone’s smoking next to you,” says Joffe. “How those particles of smoke are metabolised will differ between you and me.” The good news: there are changes you can make to your diet to boost the function of detox genes. One way? Eating cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and kale. “There’s a compound in those vegetables called glucosinolates that’s able to boost detoxification.”
Part of what makes DNA testing so powerful is its cancerpredicting powers. “We’re seeing more breast cancer than we’ve ever seen before,” says Joffe, who believes it’s because we’re exposed to higher levels of oestrogen. It’s in the Pill, which we take for 20, 30 years, she says. Then there’s oestrogen entering our bodies from plastic, meat and dairy. Part of what genetic testing can do is tell you if your genes are efficient at clearing excess oestrogen. If not, it can give you clues to help you boost your body’s ability to regulate it.