Data will help medicine get past focus on disease to science of wellness, by Leroy Hood | Columnists | #elderly | #seniors | #execrise
The health care system is great at fighting disease retroactively, but it’s dismal at keeping people healthy proactively. Waiting to treat disease after it emerges is not the answer. Once heart disease sets in, cancer spreads or Alzheimer’s takes root, it’s too late. Shorter lifespans and diminished quality of life are the result.
In contrast, wellness is the absence of disease in the body, and the most powerful force in human health. While “preventive medicine” seeks earlier detection of already established disease, scientific wellness gives medical providers a new way of treating patients based on a data-informed understanding of their personal health.
Each person’s genome, or genetic makeup, is unique. Other factors — including our epigenomes, blood analytes, microbiomes, environmental toxins, diet and lifestyle — contribute in complex but interrelated ways to disease susceptibility and overall health.
As an example, consider the gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of bacteria of multiple species that live in the gut. When functioning well, these bacteria regulate metabolism, bolster immune responsiveness and even promote cognitive health. Their diversity is essential to human health.
My research organization, the Institute for Systems Biology, did an experiment recently where we studied the gut microbiomes of 9,000 individuals across the entire adult human lifespan. We demonstrated that gut microbiomes in healthy people change markedly as they age. These healthy gut biomes individualize in unique ways, maintaining species diversity while deleting major bacterial species common in young people. These were surprising results.