In the experience of Lois Nahirney, president and CEO of Vancouver company dnaPower, the key to a longer, healthier life is written in our genes.
Five years ago, the then-corporate executive suffered from a number of debilitating medical conditions. The mother of two struggled to take a full breath, was afflicted by restless-leg syndrome, and grappled with anaemia. Dealing with circumstances that, at their worst, landed her in the hospital for blood transfusions, doctors were baffled by what was causing her pain.
It was then that a friend suggested that she get her DNA tested.
“There was this new thing about diet and fitness testing,” she tells the Georgia Straight on the line from her North Vancouver office. “I ended up finding out through my genetics something that helped me solve four years of serious health issues. I was shuttled from doctor to doctor, year after year, had test after test, and then when I got my DNA results I discovered that I had genetics that have serious variations around my Vitamin B. I learned that all I had to be doing was regularly taking special Vitamin B supplements, and my health issues went away.”
Nahirney’s experience led her to become an advocate for DNA testing. A person’s genetic code contains more than three billion letters, which determine individual characteristics when combined together. Of those letters, 99.8 percent are the same for everyone, with the remaining 0.2 determining what makes a person unique. Inspired by the discovery that nutrition—and the roles that her genes played in it—was at the root of her issues, Nahirney decided to relay that knowledge to others. She took the reins of the company that had given her the genetic report, and re-founded the organization in 2015 as dnaPower.
“What we do is help you to learn about the diet and fitness that’s right for your body, based on your personal genetics,” she says. “We each have a body that, through our ancestry, developed differently in terms of the foods that are right for us. Through genetic testing you can get a sense of what those foods are for you, which can keep your body moving and help prevent chronic disease.”
The company provides testing for four specific areas. DietPower, its flagship product, examines over 100 genetic markers to determine food sensitivities. As well as looking for the likelihood that individuals might be predisposed to intolerances such as gluten, the test aims to make sense of why some people eat poorly and never gain weight, while others struggle to shake off the pounds despite denying themselves food. Its next product, fitPower, shows how best to train and exercise to maximize results, while totalPower takes a comprehensive look at areas such as inflammation and hormones. Its final offering, SkinDNA, shows how a person might focus their attention when fighting the signs of aging.
“There’s a lot of scientific research that’s gone on for decades around what genes do in our body,” Nahirney says. “There might be one gene that has a very specific function around fat, or around lactose. And so we know that if the gene has a different letter there from what there normally is, it can result in something different. What we do is we take all of this scientific research. On our report, green means good, red means bad, and if a section is red, go read those pages, because those are the areas that you might need some suggestions for what you can do differently.”
The company’s bestselling offering, dietPower, has been an important factor in helping a number of individuals lose weight, Nahirney says. Telling the story of two women in their mid-40s who both had their genes sequenced at the same time, she believes that the reports generated by the company showed them how to align their eating habits with their genetic predispositions.
“One woman was brought up in the low-fat era, and the other one was brought up thinking that low carbs was the way to lose weight. When we got their DNA we discovered that it exactly wrong for both of them. The person who was on a low-fat diet had perfect fat genes, and terrible carb genes. We put healthy fats into her diet, and got her to be careful with her carbs, and then we did the reverse diet for the other woman—a higher carb, low fat diet. Each of them dropped 30 pounds in three months on opposite diets, with opposite DNA, and different cultural beliefs about what the right thing was to do.”
Working on the cutting edge of medical technology, Nahirney hopes that, in the future, everyone will have their genes on file. She believes that knowledge will help people understand what health and wellness issues they may encounter, and how to prevent them.
“We’ve develop the most comprehensive test that we’ve seen on the market globally for diet and fitness, where we test for 250 genes” she says. “We’re very careful that we can back that by the science.”
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays