January 2024 - Dr. Dr. med. Anna Erat

Goals House Roundtable, World Economic Forum, Davos

Beyond Treating Symptoms: The Path to Longevity through Preventive Healthcare. Discover how targeting the root causes of diseases with a longevity approach can significantly improve well-being and extend life spans, as discussed with Dr. Anna Erat in Davos.

Longevity is the Future of Medicine

Key Points

A longevity approach to medicine – that which involves targeting health at the cellular and molecular level- can revolutionise both healthcare and our lives. For instance, in the 2020 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, researchers found that although people are living longer, they are doing so in much poorer health than ever before, particularly when it comes to chronic, progressive conditions. For instance, since 1990, the incidence of diabetes has increased by 148%, depressive disorders by 61%, lung cancer by 69% and chronic kidney disease by 93%, amongst many others. Hence, it is evident that as the burden of chronic diseases continues to escalate, it is vital for health systems to address underlying pathologies rather than focus on managing late-stage diseases. In so doing, we can minimise the risk of overwhelming healthcare systems and – more importantly- improve people's quality of life and well-being.  

 

Hence, we must move from reactive sick care to holistic health care. To do that, medical institutions worldwide must adopt a preventative and longevity-focused approach that makes tangible space for the interrelated nature of our mind and body. 

 

What is Preventative Care? 

 

Preventative care encompasses lifestyle interventions, regular health check-ups, and early screenings to detect potential health risks. It is a holistic treatment modality that focuses on treating the root cause (rather than the symptoms) and recognising the interplay between one's physical, psychological, and social health. As such, preventative health care is a comprehensive approach that aims to identify risk factors, foster social connections, and promote mental well-being through holistic interventions and support networks.

 

For instance, it has long been known that chronic loneliness is associated with Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, and many other chronic conditions. As such, in a preventative healthcare model, if someone is struggling with chronic isolation and issues such as depression or diabetes, they might be encouraged to undergo early screenings, psychoeducation, social support initiatives, cognitive-behavioural therapy, lifestyle adjustments, technology-based solutions and numerous other forms of integrated care. 

 

Incorporating these practices into healthcare strategies can significantly reduce the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. By adopting a proactive stance, individuals can take charge of their health, leading to a higher quality of life and increased longevity.

 

What is Longevity?

 

Longevity treatment is a new and cutting-edge branch of personalised preventive medicine. In other words, it is a targeted and tailored treatment that focuses on customising healthcare plans for patients to minimise their risk of developing common killers like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. 

 

Longevity medicine stands apart from traditional care due to its incorporation of state-of-the-art research and recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. For instance, longevity medicine approaches ageing – which was once seen as inevitable, as something that can be slowed down and significantly addressed, i.e. people can live a lot longer than we think they can.   

 

The field encompasses many rapidly evolving areas, including biogerontology, functional medicine, the science of ageing, geroscience and many others. However, at its core, longevity medicine aims to ensure that people can maintain optimal health and, in so doing, extend the human lifespan. 

 

Preventative Healthcare is Mental Health Care.

 

In tandem with the shift towards holistic healthcare, there is a growing recognition of mental health's critical role in overall well-being. Mental health is not merely the absence of illness but encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. We intuitively know this – as we have all experienced how our modern world - characterised by high-stress levels, constant connectivity, and information overload- impacts our sense of well-being. 

 

As Dr Thilo Beck reminded us during our roundtable, we lose 8 million people each year to mental health issues, while excessive workplace stress has been shown to account for over 120,000 deaths each year. In addition, 15% of working-age adults live with a mental health condition globally, with depression and anxiety costing the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Other studies show how those of us with mental health conditions are at a significantly higher risk of developing chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Conversely, research shows that you are also much more likely to create a mental health condition if you already have a chronic health disease, emphasising once again the interrelated nature of health and well-being. 

 

For instance – one of the primary causes of both chronic kidney disease and lung cancer is substance abuse. A preventative model for healthcare would focus on ensuring that those of us struggling with substance abuse issues receive treatment before developing chronic and (often) deadly diseases. That treatment might involve therapeutic assistance, psychoeducation, and harm-reduction measures (e.g. increased check-ups for high-risk areas of concern). 

 

But more than that, we must prioritise resilience and longevity in every corner of our modern world, from the workplace to our home to our institutions. 

 

Incentivising Politicians for a Preventive Agenda

 

The transition to a holistic healthcare system requires individual efforts and systemic changes, with politicians playing a pivotal role in shaping healthcare policies. It is crucial to incentivise politicians to prioritise preventive measures over-reactive interventions. Prevention improves public health and reduces the economic burden associated with treating chronic diseases.

 

In other words, there must be a collective effort to raise awareness about the long-term benefits of preventive healthcare. Engaging in public discourse, conducting educational campaigns, and collaborating with healthcare professionals are all imperative to create these much-needed changes to our global healthcare systems.

Longevity Expert

Author:

Dr. Anna Erat MD/PhD studied and conducted research at Harvard Medical School for many years before taking up her role as a medical director in the Hirslanden Klinik and as a consultant in Paracelsus Recovery and in our Paracelsus Longevity programme.

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