Boston Women’s Journal - August/September 2003
What is Natural Aging?
We are all seeking the fountain of youth. When I speak with people in my medical intuitive practice or in energy healing work many of them are trying to regain the strength and vigor of a younger person. Can I look twenty-five? Do anti-oxidants work? Will I regain my former level of health and recover from this chronic condition? Is arthritis an inevitable part of “normal aging?” What is normal aging?
We think of mid-life as fifty, but how many of us will live to twice that age? Is attaining the age of 100 years old desirable or even possible? What about the issue of the degree of quality of a life? Would I wish to continue to live at any cost or will I stay vigorous and strong until near the time of my death?
When speaking with people about these questions I often think of my grandmother Gwen. She immigrated to this country as a thirteen year old girl knowing no English and without a formal education. One week after arrival she began her lifetime career of working in the garment district of New York in a sweatshop. She married a man selected for her by her family, bore three live children and miscarried several more, cooked and cleaned the home after a fourteen hour workday, and still had time to play canasta with friends, host large family dinners each week, and impart wisdom to her grandchildren.
She also consumed three packs of Raleigh cigarettes a day, and drank wine more than we would consider prudent in this day and age, and had a Scotch and milk each night before bed. She lived to 98, and only died then due to an infection in what should have been a minor knee surgery. Even more astonishing, her sister is thriving at 104, living at home with her younger husband of 97.
Grandma Gwen claimed said that she was 38 years old until her children were 38 years old. She then said she ws 58 years old, and from looking at her it was credible. After all of her children passed that age mark she remained there saying that she refused to age further. She was stopping right there. Often I would hear her say when passing a mirror, “I feel like an 18 year old girl, when I look into mirror I think, ‘Who is that old woman?’” Indeed.
What was her secret? Why was she strong and healthy until her death? Why did she recover several times from life threatening illnesses? She was kind, and gave to charity, but didn’t see herself as altruistic. She was unhappily married for most of her life. She certainly did not eat what we would consider a healthy diet. Her daily consumption of fat was astronomical. She grew up with coal heat. In fact when she asked her doctor at eighty two if she should quit smoking he said “Hell no Gwen, it would probably kill you”.
We all would like to have a story like my grandmother’s, perhaps while avoiding the unhappy marriage but what is possible? What we need to consider is what is the quality of life that we wish to have and is it likely? Are there things we can do that really affect how well and long we live? Gwen was ruled by genetics. Nothing else can explain how she managed a life so difficult and demanding. She came from a long line of centenarians. She didn’t eat properly, she smoked, she drank and never took a vitamin in her life. I would love to take this story and say “ok then, back to cigarettes, let’s have a drink and no worries.” But I can’t. I for one am not counting on those genes to see me through. My father, her son, had a debilitating stroke at 54. His sister died of emphysema at 60, and his brother died of Alzheimer’s at 68.
Genetics is a large part of the aging process, and we should use the information provided to us by our families to gain insight into possible areas of weakness in ourselves. Knowing our bodies and how they are likely to break down is key.
I often see several generations of a family in my practice. It is fascinating to see how common it is that families with, say, gastrointestinal illness, tend to have children with similar problems. Heredity is not destiny but it sure is a great help in learning where possible danger signs are.
You can start on the road to wellness at any age by doing a genealogy of the health issues in your family. This will not only help you personally, but be a record for generations to follow on the path to health as well. Genetics are a strong road marker, but are not necessarily a determinant of destiny.
Ok, how do I begin a history? This is a simple process. Start with your parents, aunts uncles, grandparents and so on; ask them about their parents and grandparents and see how far you can go back. Draw a family tree and put in as much information about the health history of each person as you can. Childhood illnesses are important. Were they generally healthy, did they always have colds? Questions should be not only centered around final illnesses, but what problems they had over their lifetime. Factor in things like smoking and drinking, butkeep the information regardless. It is all relevant.
If someone had shingles, a very painful skin and nerve disease, for example, that usually indicates that there is a weakness in the nervous system that may manifest in different ways. Useful information that may point to problems of a similar type for you.
What to do with all of this information? Bring it to doctors, nutritionists, a medical intuitive, whomever you use as a primary care person and this will help to plan a course of action for creating the best possible chances of living a healthy life. Holistic medicine in particular is very tuned in to this area. I work extensively with family histories in planning a path to health.
Regular checkups with a doctor are always a good idea. Armed with a history you can be an advocate for your own well being. If you know that your grandmother had Type Two diabetes for example, you can ask to be tested with a simple blood test each year for the disease. With the medical system continually cutting costs and reducing the number of standard tests, a family history can help you to catch problems at an early stage by asking for the correct diagnostic tools.
Lifestyle changes may be indicated. We are now quite sure that a sedentary life is a shorter life. Regular exercise, even if it is just walking 20 minutes twice a week, can really reduce many problems. Staying away from prepared foods high in additives, salt and sugar is always advisable.
Many believe in carefully researching all drugs for possible long term side effects that may shorten later life. Something that may be used to cure a current problem may effect organs like the liver or kidneys and cause severe problems in one’s 50’s or 60’s or later. Supplements may be a good idea, but again caution is needed. Miracle drugs for the fountain of youth are still many steps away. Beware of those claiming otherwise. A good holistic practitioner can recommend supplements that will improve your chances of aging better, and some that even reverse the ravages of age.
Specific eating patterns may be helpful; again knowing a family history is important. High cardiac risk indicates a different diet than colon concerns.
It would be shortsighted to omit the important longevity research being done in genetics and with specific disease research. There are most likely cures in the near future for many cancers and vaccines possible for diseases we think of now as inevitable. I expect to see many of these in my lifetime.
I wish you all good life and good health.