I think we can all agree that our health care system is out of control and unsustainable. While there have been incredible medical advances during the past 60-70 years the cost has spun out of control, quality is inconsistent, and the patient experience is in need of repair. We need a new approach if we are going to rebuild a system that works for all of us.

The healthcare system must take every opportunity to work with people to prevent the preventable and manage the manageable. This means helping us all improve our understanding of the underlying causes of disease and helping us to take control of our own health. Often, our health care system relies on covering up our symptoms with medications rather than getting to the cause of the problem. The traditional model of us being well, then ill, then treated, then better, is increasingly outdated.

A big question I’d like to propose is where are you on what I’ll call the Illness/Wellness continuum? Visualize a line numbered from one to one hundred. On your left is one that represents being in the ICU hooked up to lots of tubes and at 100 you are at the top of your game; physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually, etc. Life is great, and you feel great!

The question you should be asking yourself is “where do you fall on this spectrum? Are you above or below 50, the mid-way point, and how do you know?” Being “well” doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t sick. Cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many other chronic conditions have a way of creeping up on you and being ignored until there are detectable symptoms. Often, signs appear much earlier that can be addressed with lifestyle changes but are ignored or not detectable with conventional diagnostic tools.

Our medical system is changing slowly but in general it is still a reactive process. We need and deserve a preventive process and a good place to start is understanding your personal genetics. Genetic tests are used to identify increased risks of health problems, to choose treatments, or to assess responses to treatments. I’d like to focus on identifying increased risk in this article because that is part of what a Wellness Program is about. Knowing the obstacles that you may encounter earlier in your life can help you avoid them as you age.

Collectively we now call all our DNA our genome while specific parts of our DNA are called genes. Gene tests are a small but very important part of setting a baseline for a solid Wellness Program. Most chronic health disorders have multiple causes, both genomic and lifestyle, requiring careful disentanglement with both simple solutions and complex treatments. In the early days of genetics, it was proposed that there might be a single gene for a wide range of specific characteristics. That idea grew to become the concept of a genetic blueprint, like a set of blueprints to build a house or a machine. That metaphor, used often by the media, has created a mental image that we are flawed beings that are victims of bad genetics. The reality is that many of the chronic diseases that are creating most of our health care costs today are both genetic and cultural yet definitely preventable. The phrase that should guide all our lives is: Counter the Culture with Education and Personal Action!

Most diseases do not appear overnight. Our genome can already be mutated but it’s the environment that acts like a light switch, which turns the genes on or off, causing us to get sick. We are all born with small mutations and can acquire more DNA damage as we age. Predictive and pre-symptomatic genetic tests are used to find gene variations that increase a person’s likelihood of developing specific medically actionable conditions. The results of these tests provide you with information about your risk of developing a specific disease and can be used in making positive decisions about lifestyle habits you’ll need to cultivate. A good genomic-based Wellness Program focuses on disease prevention, prediction and lifestyle intervention rather than reaction.

If you look at the whole person, including genetic testing, disease risks can be identified long before they would be detected by conventional means. From a Wellness Program perspective, prevention is the answer to our healthcare problem. Prevention, however, requires a baseline health analysis allowing providers to recognize trends so that vital information can be shared with clients and/or healthcare providers in a user-friendly format. Clients taking charge with the guidance of healthcare professionals at their sides is the essence of a science-based Wellness program.

While the Wellness program that IRIS offers to clients emphasizes prevention, they also work with your healthcare provider, offering comprehensive services that include analysis of your DNA, gene expression, functional microbiome, systemic metabolites, lifestyle, environment, and family history to uncover the most effective treatment when you are ill.

In the age of personalized medicine, the Iris Wellness program is not just about sending employees to the gym or encouraging them to quit smoking and lose weight. It is an in-depth medical analysis using state of the art testing to move clients past that magical 50-point mark into the arena of true wellness, getting them as close to 100 as possible.

Written by Bill Schaser, Director of Education