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Commentary: Getting past disease to the science of wellness

Leroy Hood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

From our four-year observational studies, we found that people in their 80s with less microbiome change were four times more likely to die than those with markedly changed microbiomes. Four times!

Why healthy microbiomes for the elderly differ from healthy microbiomes for the young is a fascinating research question. Answering it will increase our understanding of the aging process and lead to powerful new strategies for promoting lifelong health.

This is how we need big data and scientific wellness to work together. Starting in 2014, my organization has sequenced genomes and cataloged health measures of 5,000 patients over five years.

We were able to elevate individual wellness and extend its duration by data-driven individual analyses from the genome, blood and lifestyle reports, which led to actionable possibilities.

For example, 91% of a population we studied had very low vitamin D levels (low levels probably increase susceptibility to cancer, Alzheimer's, COVID-19 and other diseases). We found that some individuals were brought back to normal by a daily dose of just 1,000 international units of vitamin D, but many others were not. Many of those who were unresponsive had one to several gene variants that blocked the uptake of vitamin D. They often required mega doses, up to 15,000 units per day, to return to normal.

This integration of two data types (genome variants and blood vitamin D level) was necessary for this actionable possibility. This is the essence of personalized medicine — treating each individual according to that person's unique traits.

We have found striking blood signals long before disease symptoms can traditionally be diagnosed. That transformational research offers exciting opportunities to pursue interventions that delay or prevent the onset of disease.

 

Imagine the data-based insights gained by studying the genomes and health measures of a million people. That is our goal. With that depth and breadth of understanding, we can significantly extend the lifespan and enhance the quality of life of every person living today.

In a health care system focused on wellness, physicians would spend as much or more time helping patients achieve healthy lifestyles as they currently spend treating patients for preventable or manageable diseases. Using a scientific or quantitative approach to wellness, medical providers will be able to develop tailored interventions based on each patient's unique genome, blood, gut microbe, diet and digital physiology.

By identifying transitionary states best described as "pre-pre-disease," wellness-oriented physicians could prescribe treatments that reverse and heal adverse health conditions before they become pathologic. Through wellness-focused medicine, individual health spans could extend well into the 90s and beyond.

COVID-19 has wrought a year of sickness and death. We cannot change what has already happened, but we can commit our energy and resources to combating the ongoing pandemic of chronic illness and diminished health.

In a world in which predictive, preventive and personalized care is standard practice, people would not only live longer but also be able to lead more satisfying, productive and active lives. No breakthrough drug or treatment could compete with that. And that's a world within reach today.

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