From a cup of caffeine to the exact shade of your vegetable, from how much and what kind of exercise you should do to whether broccoli is doing you more harm than good, the era of personalized food, fitness, and medicine is here.
“That’s the greatest thing that can happen and is a solution that will ultimately help people to live long,” says Sajeev Nair, the Co-founder and Chairman of Vieroots Wellness Solutions.
Founded in 2019 by Sajeev and Co-founder Adityanarayan, Bengaluru-based healthtech startupWellness Solutions has pioneered the Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered and ‘Personalized Epigenetic Lifestyle Modifications’ (EPLIMO) mobile app.
“Our goal is to healthfully transform the lives of one crore people through EPLIMO by 2025,” Sajeev says.
“As COVID-19 made people realize that they need to take charge of their own health, they started searching for tools and processes to do it. EPLIMO was on time in the market as a solution to their search,” he adds.
“EPLIMO makes it convenient for users to access genetic and metabolic reports, and personalized lifestyle modifications suggested by our platform’s genetic and medical experts along with online counseling,” he says.
With the option to store healthcare records for quick reference and locate nearby practitioners, EPLIMO puts everything at its users’ fingertips.
As COVID-19 altered the dynamics of health and healthcare, bringing several technological interventions in its wake, the pandemic also induced a long-term shift in consumer behavior and attitudes, redefining relationships with the body and the mind.
The earlier approach of “reactionary medicine”, as Sajeev calls it —visiting a doctor only in times of sickness — has been steadily changing owing to a quick shift towards slow and sustainable living, and a holistic transformation in lifestyle choices.
The shift is towards long-term solutions and as Sajeev calls it, an early adoption of “preventive medicine / preventative healthcare”.
In fact, according to Indian market research firm, Numb Research, India’s 443 million millennials spend an average of Rs 4,000 per month on health and wellness services and products.
This is validated by the 5,000+ active user base of EPLIMO, a “steadily growing” tribe.
More than 200 lifestyle coaches and 500+ wellness consultants are on board with Vieroots.
The journey from DNA to metabolic assessment
“At one point in time, I used to consume a lot of nutritional supplements and exercise a lot, but I soon learnt that not everything is for everyone. I learnt that some of these supplements can do more harm than good, while some of the exercises can actually kill you. And, that was a big revelation, ”Sajeev recalls.
“In 2005, when I had gone to the US I came across a concept called nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics, the term is broadly used to define the relationship between nutrients, diet and gene expression), which is to primarily decode nutritional aspects based on genomics, ”he says.
In 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed.
Sajeev soon learnt that one would be able to decode the diverse nutritional requirements of the body based on the DNA.
Hailing from Kerala, serial entrepreneur Sajeev, a well-known wellness evangelist and one of India’s first biohackers, was already working on his wellness business at that time.
The author of The Making of a Superhuman, Sajeev experimented on himself some of the DIY ‘biohacks’ or personalized lifestyle modifications that he came to understand through his research.
“Around 2016-17, I started getting more interested in a space called human longevity and peak performance, especially because I’m myself a peak performance coach. So, maximizing human performance or enhancing human potential enhancement has always been my passion, ”he shares.
As he started cultivating the space of “long healthy fulfilling lives”, he soon discovered how it was intrinsically connected with personalized health.
Personalized health manual for life
Typically, a customer is delivered a kit enabling them to take 2 ml of their saliva, and the sample is reverse-picked and dispatched to the genomic lab. The lab then decodes one’s DNA and assesses it across the metrics of 250 different health conditions.
The DNA report card lets a user receive a host of information: from their risk to lifestyle diseases like diabetes as well as autoimmune diseases to how minerals and vitamins are getting absorbed in their cells and their musculoskeletal structure generativity.
However, Vieroots soon realized that it was not enough.
Imagine when you visit a good doctor for a certain condition or any illness. They sometimes ask seemingly unrelated questions regarding sleep cycle etc. To a lay person, it might seem unrelated, but Sajeev explains that these are deeper questions directly related to one’s body and health. For example, whether one is getting good sleep or not is also a determinant of their digestive function.
Vieroots curated a questionnaire of 70 metabolism-related questions, pre-loaded onto their mobile app, EPLIMO. When a user visits the website they are directed to the app, and when they download the app, the user is directed to answer these questions.
The questionnaire is designed to generate data and information about 250 health conditions, and is correlated with DNA data obtained from the genomic assessment.
Sajeev gives an example: Suppose if you look at a genomic report, an individual might genetically have a higher risk for lactose intolerance. To address the issue of lactose intolerance, the suggested recommendation must be in the nature of ‘don’t use dairy products’. However, once you go read through the report further, maybe, you will find a higher risk for lower concentrations of calcium, and the stated recommendation would be ‘consume more of calcium-rich foods like milk’.
The correlation is missing; the report is only based on condition-to-condition parameters. EPLIMO claims to provide a “highly accurate” recommendation by correlating the various conditions using the power of ML and AI.
Sajeev describes the personalized health bulletin as an “operating manual for the rest of your life” as genomic data never changes.
The tribe of wellness consumers
“The good thing is that our target group is very defined; they are health-conscious people. We are only targeting people who are already health-conscious, but making mistakes. For example, people who need to make informed choices, be it in exercise or diet, ”Sajeev explains.
So far, the number of app downloads stands at 5,500 with Tier I comprising 70-80% and the Northeast comprising up to 20%. The average age profile of the user base is between 25 and 55 years.
The entire EPLIMO process, including the counseling and coaching, costs Rs 30,000 plus taxes.
Vieroots has trained wellness or ‘lifestyle coaches’ with a background in life sciences. Some of them are dieticians, and professionals who have pursued biotechnology courses. All work on a commission basis for generating and supporting sales.
The ‘lifestyle coaches’ undergo a two-month course, for which Vieroots has affiliated with the Indian Association for Functional Medicine.
The entire process takes about four weeks to six weeks, starting from the delivery of the genomic kit through to the counseling session. The final virtual counseling session takes place in addition to the PDF-format epigenetic personalized lifestyle recommendation manual that the user receives on the app.
“The aim is to empower people to take charge of their own health,” Sajeev says.
Talking about the challenges, Sajeev explains, “The first name that comes to a user’s mind when we talk about healthcare is the doctor. And, yet, you normally visit a doctor when you are sick. Also, most doctors do not have the time or bandwidth to look into preventive healthcare, because they are too busy working on diseases. ”
“In the case of autoimmune diseases, the only medicine available is immunosuppressants. Some genomic report findings have revealed that for some people, ‘nightshade vegetables’, the likes of tomatoes and potatoes, have an adverse effect. And interestingly, it was observed that when such people stopped consuming them, their autoimmune disease, for which they have been suffering for years, also subsided, ”he adds.
Sajeev says that there are no direct competitors or services like EPLIMO. However, he names some of the top players in the “personal genomics market” in India: MayMyGenome, Genebox, and Medgenome.
The bootstrapped startup follows the direct-to-customer revenue model.
“We completed a full financial year this year on March 22, and locked in Rs 14.8 crore with a narrow profitability. We have two revenue streams: one is a service, and the second is our nutritional supplements, ”Sajeev states.