What would you give to know the secret elixir for life, to splash in the elusive fountain of youth? These are the questions that mankind have pursued for centuries.
As a freelance journalist for the professional wellness community, I was lucky enough to attend the 16th annual Global Wellness Summit hosted in Tel-Aviv; the Israeli innovation scene which was my bucket list backdrop for this exclusive international event. Three days of 20 minute style TED talks by leading luminaries from the wellness, medical, scientific, tech, academic and investment sectors giving us snapshots into what lies ahead for longevity, wellness and preventative health.
One of the themes that captured my attention is the research and strides being made in the areas of epigenetics. The harsh reality is that 70% of all deaths each year are a result of completely preventable diseases potentially costing the global economy $47 trillion by the year 2030. Only around 5% of diseases are rare genetic diseases outside our control, meaning the remaining 95% are completely preventable! Imagine? “Your genes are not your destiny. It’s the expression of those genes that changes everything in your body. How you express genes is completely within your control.” Explains Naveem Jain, CEO for Viome; an innovation company that measures gene expression in your microbiome and cells to help identify what you need to support the key regulators of your health. The innovations around personalisation in the tech arena are proving to be a real game changer.
But forget supplements or medical interventions for a moment. We learn that a mere seven minutes of high intensity exercise daily can add ten years to a lifespan, fifteen minutes can equal an extra two decades. Even praying before you eat, the simple act of gratitude extends life expectancy. Mindfulness, belief systems and positivity are no longer esoteric concepts but all lead to parasympathetic physiology which significantly impact our genes.
“Your genes are not your destiny. How you express your genes is within you control.”
Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the US and now Chief of Health Innovation for Canyon Ranch continues the case for epigenetics demonstrating how our genes work. Simply put, how our behaviours and environment affect the way our genes are expressed. He reminds us that, “only 20% of us come from our parents. Epigenetic inputs include food, exercise and mindfulness.” Meaning we recode our genes by the behavioural actions we take every day. Give good inputs and genes code in a way that is positive for you. Macro concepts of environment, sleep, relationships, diet, exercise, stress and even business are the essential elements in the pursuit of optimising our well-being. Dr Carmona’s aim is to democratise health to create a well world for all, “We now need to rescue our future by preserving the social practices of our past that have been set aside in favour of expediency, speed and business.”
“.. we recode our genes by the behavioural
actions we take every day.”
Dr Michael Roizen, Emeritus Chief Wellness Officer for the Cleveland Clinic gets our attention quickly by claiming (with 80% probability) that within our lifetimes 90 will be seen as the new 40! He demonstrated how a 55-year-old woman today was given a life expectancy of just 74 when she was born. Today it’s now 82. Until now life expectancy has extended two and a half years every ten years since 1890. This has mainly been due to sanitation, infant mortality and more recently the management of chronic diseases. So given the interventions in science and tech, a 55 year old woman today will most likely live to be 115 (shut the front door!). In the next ten years he suggests we should expect a whopping 30 year expansion on top of this. It’s important to note that by the time you are 18, already 80% of the genes which are turned on or off in your body is determined by your lifestyle choices.
“In the next 10 years we are going to be able
to make 90 the new 40!”
There are fourteen areas of research into the mechanism of ageing which have rebooted the quest around gene expression and epigenetics. Some of these include senolytics which is the harvesting of old cells that make neighbours old, stem cell and telomere regeneration, and gene editing with immunomodulation.
Old age homes may one day become Longevity Centres
This kind of research focussing on longevity is challenging the medical community to think differently about resources for the elderly. Dr Tzipora Strauss, head of Neonatology at Sheba Medical Centre in Israel is pioneering the first Longevity Centre to address the issue of healthy ageing. Multidisciplinary experts from internal medicine, endocrinology, gynaecology, geriatrics, and brain science will constitute the centre’s advisory board. This centre will focus on cognitive aspects, sleep, frailty, and menopause. “We found these four aspects are really connected to longevity,” explains Dr. Strauss, “and if you treat all of them you can really influence the way you age.”
Eating like the world’s longest lived in the Blue Zones
Dan Buettner, explorer, journalist, author and founder of Blue Zones, US dives into the lifestyles of the world’s longest lived. The message is simple; Dan urges us to return to simpler times to sustain our future. He explores the diets of longevity from the five known blue zones, Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Loma Linda (Ca, USA) where people live statistically longer and there is the lowest rate of middle age mortality. It turns out there are nine common denominators for ageing well and these are highlighted by giving meaning to purpose and belonging.
“Loneliness is as bad for you as a smoking habit.
Three healthy friends, who truly care about you,
can add up 8 years to your life expectancy.”
Ironically, none of these communities are ‘trying’ to extend their longevity. As a western culture we are obsessed about ageing, but in the ‘Blue Zones’ there are no gyms, supplements or special diets. Dan uncovers what seems to be going on, “These centenarians don’t exercise but walking and incidental exercise is woven into their day and around meals. They have sacred daily rituals, like prayer and taking a nap. They have vocabulary for ‘purpose’ (which adds about eight extra years life expectancy). They drink in moderation and eat a wholefood plant based diet. They keep the family first and keep ageing parents nearby. And importantly, they are surrounded by people who reinforce the right behaviours.”
So it seems you can eat your way to longevity with a Blue Zone diet of at least 90% whole plant based food with no snacking between meals topped with a serving of communing closely with friends and family, a tonne of incidental exercise and a day punctuated by prayers and expressions of gratitude. Well Amen!
So why not just reverse the ageing process?
Dr Shai Efrati, MD, Professor for Sackler School of Medicine & Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv introduces us to the game changing science of hyperbaric medicine. As a scientist and a doctor, he translates wellness into the measurable metric of performance. That is, the combination of not just the physical capability and brain function of our youth, but also the life experience and knowledge gained as we age. We are the only species that continues to live a significant amount of time after our reproductive period, yet this final life stage is riddled with degradation and serious loss of both performance and regeneration.
Dr Efrati’s ground breaking research recognises that incredibly, neurons can be regenerated! In order to regenerate or repair tissue there are four crucial elements that are required: energy in the form of oxygen, a trigger, stem cells and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels). Stem cells are cells that can proliferate into different tissues in our body. The amount and quality of stem cells decline as we age. And while we understand that we cannot change our chronological age, our biological age (that is the sum of the physiological age and the genomic age) is another story altogether.
“We can actually take biology back in time.”
The most powerful trigger in our bodies for regeneration or stem cell proliferation is hypoxia. Dr Efrati has created an innovative hyperbaric treatment that tricks the body into hypoxia while still supplying the oxygen needed to proliferate stem cells and improve damage from neurodegeneration. This is known as the hyperoxic-hypoxic paradox and the therapy while still in its infancy is generating incredible results changing our fundamental biology including reversing the damage from Alzheimer’s. This is about regeneration not just slowing decline and is a space worth closely watching!
We heard over 200 speakers in three days and the take-aways were clear. Technology and innovation are converging to blur the lines between health (our current Western model) and wellness (the power of prevention). And it seems that despite all the technology and content around wellness, the anchors around health seem to be the systems of community, common belief and faith. The power of mindfulness, and arcane systems of spirituality and gratitude seemed to underpin the power of wellness. The momentum and personal passion leading to entrepreneurship in this sector is driven by personal exposure and the empirical need to serve each other creating a more robust and equitable solution around wellness for us and our planet.
About the Global Wellness Summit: The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) is an invitation-only international gathering that brings together leaders and visionaries to positively shape the future of the $4.4 trillion global wellness economy. Held in a different location each year, Summits have taken place in the U.S., Switzerland, Turkey, Bali, India, Morocco, Mexico and Austria. The 2023 Summit will be held in Doha, Qatar.