For her 50th birthday, Lizzie Sullivan wanted to treat herself to something special. She decided the greatest gift of all would be investing in her health.
Specifically, she wanted to invest in comprehensive testing, including looking at her genetic traits.
“But I didn’t know anyone who did it,” Sullivan said.
When the West University resident discovered the concierge Sydenham Clinic between Upper Kirby and River Oaks, which offered genomic testing, hormonal analysis and a nutritional evaluation, she signed up for a membership.
“To have this in my own backyard was a great opportunity,” she said. “I decided this would be my 50,000-mile check-up.”
While genetic reports are offered through 23andMe and Ancestry, Sullivan wanted to go a step further.
“This is like that, but on steroids,” Sullivan said. “They can tell you what might be in your genes, but it doesn’t give you a really robust, comprehensive and in-depth analysis.”
She also wanted to pair any information about her DNA with a doctor who could help her analyze the results, as well as offer follow-up tests.
Medical director Dr. Terry Rice guided her through the evaluations.
“It’s very technical, but she describes what everything means,” said Sullivan.
While the information that can be gleaned from these tests — like whether someone has a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease — can be dautning to some, Sullivan found it empowering.
“Not everyone wants to know that information,” she said. “But there are things you can do from a health perspective to stave it off. You can learn what you are prone to develop and what you can do to combat it.”
Sullivan learned that she is more susceptible to a blood clot. “I started taking baby aspirin every day,” she said. “It was something simple.”
The information also helped her also identify the type of supplements to can take.
“If you have this in your back pocket, it cuts out some of the guesswork,” Sullivan said. “They can measure what’s going to work best for you.”
Dr. Rice was drawn to a practice that included genomic and hormonal analysis, and joined the Sydenham Clinic when it opened in June, 2020.
“Especially as you age, you go through changes,” she said. “And ‘this is the way it’s going to be’ is not a good enough answer. It inspired me to learn more.”
Rice is often asked what the difference is between genetics and genomics. While genetics is the study of the transfer of different traits in DNA, she said, “genomics looks at the entire genetic code and how your genes interact with each other and the environment.”
Rice looks at 33 categories and 700 minor genetic variations, studying how they affect cognition, osteoporosis, mood, food sensitivities and the absorption of supplements, among other things.
Heart disease is a common concern among patients, she explained.
“It’s fine to know you’re at a higher risk, because there’s a family history,” she said. “You can see the physician, and they will say, eat right, exercise, try to get your cholesterol down or take a statin.”
But with genomic testing, she can examine 15 different minor variations in a patient’s cardiac panel to learn the root cause of heart problems. Perhaps there’s an increased risk in blood clotting or a pre-disposition in building up calcium in the veins. Maybe there’s an issue with white blood cells or nitric oxide, which enables blood vessels to dilate.
Knowing the exact issue makes it easier to create a plan. For example: A patient with a propensity for calcium build-up would be advised to take vitamin K12.
There are a number of ways to alter lifestyle, nutrition and supplements to respond to information from the genomic test results, Rice explained.
“It’s an individualized process,” she said. “When you make an informed decision, you can make a better decision.”
At Sydenham Clinic, doctors call it “biohacking,” looking at all the data possible and responding in ways that can make a difference. The medial team utilizes several tools, including Oura Rings, a sleep tracker, to show heart rate, temperature and quality of sleep.
Rice said the practice allows her to spend more time with patients – and see how everything from DNA and hormones to diet and sleep affect their health, in addition to the usual medical tests and treatments.
“We can do a multi-pronged approach,” she said.
The clinic offers an evaluation package, Omnia, which lasts a year to allow follow-up exams. The cost is about $10,000.
The concierge service includes Omnia, as well emergency coordination and basic primary care including any CAT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and labs, for $15,000.
Individual evaluations, such as the genomics program, can run about $5,000 each.
“It’s a luxury,” Sullivan admitted.
But it’s paid off for her.
“I’m exercising more; I’m taking supplements,” she said.
In addition, the clinic helped her develop a meal plan with the staff dietitian, which helped her lose the COVID-15-pounds that she gained.
Joining the concierge program also helps her take charge of her health. Instead of being afraid to go the doctor, she looks forward to it now.
“It does not feel clinical,” she said. “It feels like you’re going to a spa.”
And now Sullivan is armed with the knowledge that comes with all of the testing and evaluation she has done since her 50th birthday.
“I do think genomic testing will be the future,” she said. “Now I feel like I’m on the right path. I think everyone should invest in their health.”
COVID-19 has also driven home the importance of maintaining optimal health, Sullivan added.
“Health isn’t something to be scared of – it’s something to understand,” she said.
More than a year has passed since she gave herself this birthday gift; Sullivan turned 51 in October.
“My birthday was a catalyst for going in this direction,” Sullivan said. “Now it’s coming full circle, and I’m going to keep it going. It’s already proven so valuable. I can’t give it up.”
Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.