Companies are increasingly seeking alternative healthcare initiatives, with health tech high on the agenda. DNA and epigenetics are prime examples of these. DNA testing has become increasingly popular with the desire to know our heritage and ancestry. Until recently though, the only employees who had access to DNA tests were C-suite executives, but now they are becoming more accessible to the wider workforce.
Epigenetics goes beyond the standard DNA test and controls how your genes behave. You are born with your genetic make-up but you can affect your epigenetics through your lifestyle. How you live can cause genes to be turned off or on, affecting health and fitness and influencing disease and illness prevention. In 2013, experts in epigenetics were nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.
To date, epigenetics has primarily been used for cancer diagnostics and with elite athletes. It is now publicly available and is being used to tackle a vast range of health issues including stress, high blood pressure, inflammation and the common cold.
Epigenetic tracking provides employees with their unique genetic expression and actively monitors the effect that their diet, exercise and environment has on their genes’ expression and health. Take inflammation: epigenetics will identify whether an individual is more genetically prone to having heightened inflammation. Being aware of this and knowing how best to manage your inflammatory response, both in terms of exercise duration and frequency as well as diet, provides employees with the information and know-how to improve their general health dramatically.
Stress is one of the most prevalent issues affecting employee wellbeing. Epigenetics detects whether an individual is more genetically prone to stress, has an increased genetic risk of stress causing physical symptoms, and whether caffeine may increase anxiety and stress given their genetic profile. This hyper-personalised information means that the employee is fully informed and understands why they respond to stress the way they do. Crucially, it also gives them the power to do something about it.
High blood pressure affects more than one in four adults in the UK. There are a panel of blood pressure regulation genes that can result in increased vasoconstriction and high blood pressure. Every individual will have differing variants of each gene, with some of us having extremely beneficial markers and seemingly no issues even when we smoke, drink, or step on every health landmine. Others will have a blood pressure reading off the chart by just looking at their doctor’s white coat! Epigenetics identifies which category individuals fall into and will recommend changes to diet such as introducing more ginger and sweet potato and lifestyle tips to reduce and help manage employees' blood pressure.
Epigenetics provides companies with an alternative care pathway to help all staff. It helps reduce the need to claim on health insurance and can complement existing healthcare benefits. It is a preventive route that educates employees and inspires them to adopt long-term healthy habits. Having the most personalised health advice is critical for employees to make the right decisions about their health, diet and lifestyle, with the information being unique to each individual.
It is no secret that companies need to build sustainable healthy businesses of the future. Prevention is better and cheaper than cure and inspiring employees to develop healthy long-term habits is a winning situation for all. So when it comes to employee healthcare, companies need to think individual.
Nathan Berkley is CEO of epigenetics science company Muhdo