Haven’t seen a gynecologist since 2006? says a horrified Dr. Bettina von Seefried. I’m at her clinic in Zurich and she can’t believe I’m 64 and have never had a mammogram or pap smear. There is no cancer in my family. I’m vegan. I’ve never smoked. A former anorexic, I didn’t actually go through puberty (too underweight) and barely noticed menopause. She asks me to remove my bra. “Ah, you’ve had a breast reduction,” she blurted out. “The surgeon did a good job!”
I’m in the world’s most comprehensive and expensive review program: Paracelsus Recovery, founded in 2012 by Jan Gerber, 42, a former management consultant. It is the first clinic to treat mental and physical ailments: as he says, the two are intertwined. For example, the vagus nerve runs from the brain to the colon. Over the course of three days, I will have a suite of high-tech tests designed to identify and prevent the top ten killers.
The expenses? £90,000. Clients are super rich: CEOs, royalty, pop singers. Movie stars are particularly damaged, says Gerber: “Being in the public eye, being away from home, being admired for something that’s not the real you; imposter syndrome.
“I’d say 80 to 90 percent of the rich and famous have some sort of addiction,” he explains. Wealth can make a person more likely to abuse alcohol, and narcissistic personality disorder is common among patients. Studies show that the more wealth a person acquires, the more morally ambiguous they can become.
Home for the next few days is a penthouse with a view of the lake, a grand piano, a terrace and personal chef Juliet. I meet Sandra Liu, who will accompany me to meetings. I am the only patient in the clinic. There’s always just one – it’s super private, just the way high net worth people like it.
Blood samples are taken to test my liver, kidneys, thyroid and hormones; my body composition is scanned to measure fat and protein (my BMI is 20; average for a woman my age is 28). Genetic testing will show me my emotional and mental state and possible Alzheimer’s predisposition; I can’t wait to find out if I was born anxious or learned to be. I have an EKG to monitor my heart. For markers of indigestion and leaky gut, they take a stool sample, then do a microbiological test (gut biology). I also have epigenetic tests to find out from my DNA how stressed I am.
I sleep with Sleepiz: a data recording device attached to my index finger to detect if I have sleep apnea syndrome. I have to swab my mouth three times a day to monitor my cortisol or stress levels. I provide urine and stool samples. Dermatologist Dr. Valerie Enderlin examines my skin with what looks like a microscope. No cancerous moles, although she says the skin under my eyes is thin, the skin on my legs is dry. I’ve had worse reviews. Thank God the only family holidays I was taken on were to Frinton and Sidmouth. She says we should never go out without factor 50. What about vitamin D? “You can go outside without sunscreen for a few minutes before 8 a.m..” Early morning light is linked to regulating your circadian rhythm. You’ll generally sleep better.
The Liz Lowdown
Weight: 56 kg
Height: 5 ft. 7½ ins
Body fat mass: 15 kg, or 27% (24-33% is normal for women in my age group)
Muscle mass: 22 kg (low)
Body mass index: My BMI is 20 (a healthy score is between 18.5 and 24.9, but the average woman aged 65 to 74 has a BMI of 28)
Bone density: Osteoporosis found in the spine due to poor nutrition, previous anorexia and aging
Body fat percentage: 27.1% (bordering on low)
Disadvantages: Proteins, omega 3, vitamins D and B12
Waist to hip ratio: 0.85 (this is good; belly fat is as dangerous as smoking)
Body type: C, which means a slightly lower level of muscle compared to fat. No premature loss of muscle mass
Cardiologist Dr. Anna Ostant attaches monitors and puts me on a bike. I can watch my heart beat. I realize that I have wasted my life focusing only on fear.
I also realize that I am just a collection of cells that I have abused: too many hours of work, too little good food. My heart is “well preserved” and “imperceptible”. Even when I pedal hard, my blood pressure and heart rate barely change.
All those dog walks mean I must have been doing something right.
My day will end with a massage, but first I have an appointment with world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Thilo Beck. Now I understand the transference: when you fall in love with your therapist. He is so kind and wise. I tell him I’ve slipped into borderline agoraphobia, caused in part by isolation (Gerber tells me there’s a mental health time bomb looming among high-flyers because of WFH). Dr. Beck practices ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The clinic also offers dialectical behavior therapy: talk therapy for high-risk, suicidal patients, those with substance abuse, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders. It aims to replace all-or-nothing thinking with a more balanced approach to emotions through mindfulness, crisis survival skills and communication.
He agrees that I have complex PTSD and low self-esteem. I should say “I feel anxious” instead of “I’m anxious.” I have to think about my tombstone: what should the inscription be? “It’s not exciting to be anxious. It’s a waste of time.’ I have to imagine that I am driving the bus of life and these feelings are passengers. “Be nice to them. Say “Welcome to my bus”. He says that my self-critical attitude has “made you excel at your work, for that very reason.” Think of anxiety as a parrot on your shoulder,” he tells me. “You are loud today! Down!”
I tell Dr. Beck that I was too scared to take my antidepressant, citalopram. He suggests I try meditation. I went on a week’s quiet retreat, I say, but my thoughts continued to spiral. His only answer is: practice.
The next day I meet with the neurologist Dr. Nikolina Burchina. I have an EEG (electroencephalogram), which measures electrical activity in the brain, and many tests: how is my memory? I tell her
Two years ago I suffered from vertigo due to an ear infection. I am profoundly deaf which makes me more nervous.
The most informative session is with nutrition scientist Priscilla Sanchez, a vegan from Ecuador. I’m learning that I’m deficient in vitamins B12 and D, as well as omega 3, and I’m not eating enough protein. She prescribes supplements: B-complex, omega 3, vitamin D3 and red yeast rice, a natural statin, suggesting adding hemp seed to my morning porridge. My B12 is so low they put me on an IV.
On my last night, Gerber took me to the Alex restaurant, which has windows overlooking the water. To my surprise he said I could have a glass of champagne. In between treatments, many of his clients like to try something new, like hang gliding. Every whim is satisfied: a movie star brought five dogs.
I have to meet my team from Switzerland in a few weeks for the latest results, which take time in the lab: my DNA, gut health, stress levels, sleep patterns, pap test result. At the Langham Hotel in London, I’m shaking in my shoes. The team flew in from Zurich to tell me the results. My gut health is good: I don’t have colon cancer, although I have an intolerance to mushrooms and, hell, wine. My DNA? They found no markers of Alzheimer’s or addiction. Surprisingly, none for arthritis, which afflicts all the women in my family.
“But was I born terrible?” I ask Sanchez.
My HRV (heart rate variability), which was measured over a 24 hour period, confirms how anxious I am. During the day my BPM (beats per minute) is 73. During sleep it is 67. A reduction of 30 percent is optimal; my reduction is 2.9 percent. I barely rest. The reason? “Your anxiety is due to poor nutrition,” Sanchez tells me. “We’ve studied your cells, we’ve studied your genetics – everything points to poor nutrient intake.”
Eating too little can be just as harmful as eating too much and has been linked to depression. Worryingly, the bone density analysis found osteoporosis in my spine. This can be traced back to my anorexia from the age of 11. Damn you, Vogue – for the one thing
I used since 1977. I believed I had to be thin to be beautiful for men to want me. Turns out it could cripple me.
The good news? The damage is reversible. Lie hands me a bag of supplements. I will be reassessed in a year. Most important is calcium for my bones, magnesium for stress relief and probiotics for increasing serotonin levels. I was given a list of foods to eat, little and often: eight servings of fruits and vegetables, five nuts and seeds, four proteins, and five grains and starches each day.
I was told I needed to learn to breathe and given a device called the Oxa (which costs around £300): it’s a sensor strapped to my chest and monitored by an app that tells me how to breathe to reduce stress. Laughter will also help. The team says I should start feeling less anxious in just a few weeks. Here is hope.
As they leave, Gerber gives me a gift: a limited edition Montblanc ballpoint pen. “Everyone gets a personalized gift with meaning behind it.”
I will keep it as a reminder every time I use it to be kind to myself. We all deserve a long and happy life.
For more details, visit paracelsus-recovery.com