Do you think you are healthy? Can you prove that to yourself? Can you measure whether changes to your lifestyle improve or degrade your healthspan?
Those were the questions asked in Part 1 of Setting Your Health Baseline.
Ten years ago, getting comprehensive body testing was not recommended. The dangers of the tests and risks of false-positives outweighed medical sciences ability to cure what was found or prescribe preventative measures.
Today, that concern still exists within mainstream medical practice. However, the advances in technology are such that the dangers of the exams such as radiation exposure have diminished to safe levels. The detail which advanced equipment can see the body has dramatically reduced the risk of false positives. The biggest remaining modern issue is whether you want to know if you have a serious, undiagnosed medical or genetic condition, that may or may not be treatable.
If you want to know or are curious about the experience, read on as we review the Human Longevity Institute’s comprehensive body analysis.
Setting Your Health Baseline Part 2: The Human Longevity Institute's Health Nucleus Experience
Craig Venter is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century, in particular for his work in sequencing the human genome. In pursuing his passion for human life extension, he co-founded the Human Longevity Institute (HLI). HLI provides proactive healthcare through comprehensive advanced full body screening and genetic analysis which they’ve branded as their Health Nucleus.
The Health Nucleus has been performed for over 1,000 clients and discovered clinically significant results in 40% of those with 14.4% requiring near-term or immediate follow-up. January 2020 study results included many actionable findings.
The Health Nucleus goes way beyond the mainstream annual physical and tests for:
- Neurologic diseases and brain disorders
- Proper cardiac structure and function
- Heart monitoring with Zio iRhythm
- Cardiac calcium
- Proper organ structure and function (kidney, liver, prostate, etc.)
- Metabolic diseases in partnership with Metabolon
- Core blood analysis through LabCorp
- Body composition analysis with InBody 770
- Balance testing
- Medical history
- Genetic issues (whole genome sequencing)
- Microbiome issues (add-on / extra)
They do not check for skin, breast and cancers of the GI tract. Those can be covered by a primary care as part of an annual physical and colonoscopy.
HLI partners with GE and Siemens to develop and deliver the latest technology including:
- the GE Discovery MR750 MRI machine which is 5x more powerful for image quality than normal hospital machines and costs over one million dollars. MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures. MRI does not use ionizing radiation (x-rays). At HLI, you get to listen to Pandora while the machine beeps and whirs. Select your music wisely so they blend together harmoniously.
- the Computed Tomography (CT) test using GE Revolution CT equipment is a diagnostic imaging test used to create detailed images of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels. The cross-sectional images generated during a CT scan can be reformatted in multiple planes, and can even generate three-dimensional images. CT scanning is often the best method for detecting many different cancers since the images allow your doctor to confirm the presence of a tumor and determine its size and location. CT is fast, painless, noninvasive and accurate. Radiation exposure is the equivalent of what you receive on a round-trip cross-country flight.
- Human Longevity’s Health Nucleus program originally provided full testing for $25,000. In 2018, they reduced the cost to $5,000. The information gathered is kept private and you own it, but they do use your depersonalized data for their research study. They have a location in San Diego and are expanding nationally with recent partnerships in Los Angeles and Naples, Florida. You can choose to share selective data with your primary care physician as you like.
So what does it feel like to go for an HLI Health Nucleus exam?
A few hours before your visit, it is normal to feel nervous, in part from the pre-visit fast, plus any time change from traveling to the West Coast. Your stomach may be jittery from hunger.
It is likely you will be wondering what flaws will be found. Given the comprehensive nature of the test, it would be surprising if nothing is uncovered. If issues are found, you hope there are modern treatments that are safe and worth doing. Although it might be upsetting to think about, if there are genetic issues, you wonder whether you will share those with family and relatives.
Writing notes on the experience is helpful to calm your thoughts and you will be very much looking forward to your next meal.
The visit requires advance scheduling and lasts 3-4 hours. Once there, the Human Longevity Institute building and staff make you feel comfortable. The building and the rooms are reminiscent of a luxury hotel. The HLI staff appear healthy and take good care of themselves.
Each patient gets their own room with snacks which can be eaten after the blood draw is completed. Surprisingly, not all of the snacks have healthy ingredients!
You go through a cycle of the various tests, each with a different medical specialist. Their stories on why they work there are fascinating. One would not likely be alive otherwise.
At the end of the visit, you view some of your results. For example, you get to see your brain, heart, liver, kidneys and other internal organs. If you see things you don’t like such as cardiac calcium in your heart and a high body fat percentile, you have strong motivators to change your diet.
The Full Results:
After 3-4 weeks, results for imaging, lab work, balance tests and body composition were provided via a blandly designed secure portal from partner Nextgen Healthcare Information Systems. The poor user interface looks like it is from the 1990’s.
Emails with attachments were provided in the portal. Those results showed up before the first results call with the HLI doctor and some of the results appeared scary and alarming. However, after review with the doctor, they were things that were common and benign. HLI could do a better job by indicating this on the electronic reports.
After 8-10 weeks, results for genetics and microbiome are delivered in a portal document combined with a friendly video conference call. The genetic results were fascinating. They come with a ~100 page report which covers ancestral history, medically significant findings and a review of genes which respond to medications. For example, there can be a genetic risk to taking Warfarin (Coumadin) for those with the VKORC1 gene. There is an appropriate amount of explanation and detail. Not too much. Not too little. It is not surprising to have medically significant findings given ~20,000 protein-coding genes and ~1,600 known possible genetic diseases. There are only fifty genetic defects which are considered medically actionable. There are 4.0 to 4.3 million genetics variants per person.
Chapter 3 focuses on health traits and risks. It turns out that lifestyle is much more a risk than genetics. More people need to know this. In discussions about lifespan and healthspan, the refrain is, “I’m relying on my genetics.” Unfortunately, life usually doesn’t work that way.
The Health Nucleus exam exceeded expectations and is highly recommended. The pleasantly surprising result is knowing what conditions you do not have. Finding out things like you don’t have cancer and you didn’t seriously damage your liver in college (or at least it has fully repaired itself) are reassuring. There is comfort in peace of mind.
Seeing conditions you do have, like cardiac calcium, makes your personal health science real. It gives strong motivation to make changes such as following the American Heart Association’s dietary and lifestyle recommendations for preventing heart disease, the cause of 1 out of 3 deaths in the United States.
Also, knowing your genetic interaction with common medicines is important. They are useful to share with your primary care physician.
In Keep Health’s opinion, the likelihood of benefiting from extended healthspan and lifespan is worth more than the time and cost.