Preventative health simply means measures or interventions taken to prevent disease or ageing. Health, disease, and disability are dynamic processes in an individual’s life and therefore preventative healthcare must be as equally dynamic and adaptable to the changes that occur.
Preventative health is not traditionally a recognised specialty in many health authorities and doctors, like me, who dedicate their career to this specialty are few on the ground and fighting against a very conventional model of medicine.
Reactive vs Preventative Healthcare
Reactive healthcare describes treatment that is given in response to a visible symptom, such as prescribing a medicine for depression or newly diagnosed diabetes.
Preventative healthcare focuses on applying the science to prevent symptoms of disease occurring before the symptoms arise. Of course, this can still be applicable for those with disease and symptoms already.
In this instance, preventative healthcare is more focused around preventing symptom and disease progression. This, in turn, supports regenerative medicine, another important area of healthcare that is emerging.
Standard medical practice, around the world, overwhelmingly favours a reactive model. Research and development in medicine is largely based around the reactive approach. In the UK, for example, it is estimated that only 5% of the NHS’s budget is spent on measures considered preventative.
The different areas of focus
Primal prevention is the area of preventative medicine that intervenes at a foetal level. With epigenetics being biology’s most exciting field, vast amounts of knowledge have arisen, to allow medical professionals to correctly advise and intervene potential parents at the earliest stages of life, or perhaps even before.
Epigenetic influences, such as stress, diet and environment all play a role on the next generations genome. Interventions under guidance can alleviate negative lifestyle situations at these early stages of conception and foetal development to steer the health of the baby in a positive direction.
Primordial interventions aim to prevent the occurrence of the risk factors involved in a specific condition. Risk factors are usually well established for many diseases and primordial prevention focuses on avoiding these.
Through education, often best at an early age, primordial prevention occurs by ensuring the individual does not gain weight as they have been educated on how to eat well, or they don’t take up smoking as they are aware of the dangers. Therefore, the risk factor is avoided.
Primary prevention focuses on the areas of health promotion, screening and vaccination. Health education across the world is generally quite poor.
We still are waiting for strong health education curriculum’s to be built into mainstream learning within school education systems. Medical education is one of the most important pillars of preventative health.
Screening programmes are well established in most countries now. However, there are limitations, as they often aren’t available to everyone.
People should be aware that they have the option of screening and surveillance. A shift is happening and if people take the opportunity to have their bloods taken regularly throughout the year, and not just in reaction to a symptom, diseases and other symptoms could be caught earlier resulting in a more positive prognosis.
Vaccination is another great example of an effective way of preventing infectious disease. Most nations offer excellent vaccination programmes, often in the early years of life.
Non-routine vaccination can help protect health during travel, in certain occupations and in higher risk exposure.
Unfortunately, as a preventive health specialist doctor this is what I practice the most because of the lack of focus on disease prevention. Secondary prevention refers to actions and interventions to stop already established diseases from progressing any further.
Screening crosses over the boundary here a little as some screening interventions aim to catch disease early. To be officially classified as a secondary prevention intervention, the disease needs to be considered reversible.
However, there are many diseases, deemed irreversible, where secondary prevention is still vital, in my opinion. Interventions can often help to control symptoms, slow progression and improve the patient’s quality of life in many situations.
When a disease is classified as irreversible then interventions used with this group of individuals are deemed tertiary prevention.
These interventions can often help to control symptoms, slow progression and improve the patient’s quality of life in many situations.
Making the shift
In my opinion preventative strategies need to improve around the world. With increasing chemical environments, poor lifestyle choices and food lacking in nutrition, health is deteriorating, and obesity rates are increasing.
REVIV, and myself, believe strongly that genomics is by far the best way of looking into and after your own health, that’s why we have invested in genetics to be able to offer different testing based on the concern. REVIV starter genetic test MyCore helps to build a full picture of your health and can guide you in what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
Looking after ourselves is the key to a healthier future.
DR Michael Barnish