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Prevention is the Real Anti-Aging

By Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc

In a way, the word "anti-aging" seems inappropriate. The process through which we are living is aging, not anti-aging. We are getting older; we are finite. However, anti-aging medicine is quite a large movement.
One reason for the growth in the anti-aging business is that life span has increased. In the Middle Ages, the average life span was 40 years. Now it's 75 years at birth and if you live past the first year, it's more like 85 years.
Extending the life span is big business, and sales of anti-aging supplements are on the rise. Many of these supplements are what are called anti-oxidants and are a reaction to the popularity of Harman's free radical theory of aging and books like Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach by Pearson and Shaw. They claimed to know six main causes of aging and how to slow down five of those. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to watch Dr. Kedar Prasad while he was developing an anti-oxidant multivitamin. He had discovered that certain combinations of common vitamin ingredients cause free radicals in the body rather than reduce them. Advice based on his scientific studies can be found in Fight Cancer with Vitamins and Supplements. Current research seems to suggest that the aging process can be manipulated. We move through birth, growth, development, degeneration and death. Degeneration is the stage of the aging process that seems to hold the most interest for research. Studies examine biological processes that can be impacted by drugs, procedures, hormone treatment, diet, supplements, stem cell therapy and more. Billions of dollars are spent each year on trying to feel better, look younger and live longer.
It seems that we have overlooked that the aging process for a healthy active person is a natural progression to death. The goal would be to have a healthy and graceful progression through that process. You can't start when you're old and decrepit and expect to extend that process. However, this is the pattern of people in the West and it is the reason why hardly anyone in the West dies from what we call "old age." We just wait too long to care for the body; it is already unhealthy by the time we present ourselves to our physicians for care. This brings us to the true anti-aging medicine: preventive medicine. The truth of the matter is that Chinese medicine is the true preventive medicine, which makes it the true anti-aging medicine. Remember, preventive medicine refers to taking measures to prevent disease rather than treating symptoms after they have started.

There is an old Chinese saying: "It is better to build a well before you are thirsty." That means that beginning treatments as a young person, before symptoms develop, is the best anti-aging medicine that one can have. The use of a combination of Chinese medicine therapies can be our best way to age gracefully and naturally. Acupuncture, herbs, meditation techniques like qi gong and tai chi, and nutritional advice according to the principals of TCM are very effective ways to enhance our immune systems and protect our general health. Maintaining good health and quality of life is largely the result of beginning to protect our kidney qi and essence as early as possible.

One of the ways that we can do that is through proper use of food when taken according to the principals of TCM. Alfalfa, amaranth, asparagus, barley, celery, citrus, endive, lettuce, millet, quinoa, rye, soy sauce and seaweed are all foods that support kidney/water energy because they are bitter or salty. One of our preventive tools is our herbal medicine. Studies have shown that Chinese herbal formulas can help prevent diabetes. For example, Tang Kang Yin has been shown effective on its own when compared to combining it with lifestyle changes. Another way in which herbs can be used for prevention is to build our immunity. One of the properties of huang qi (astragalus) is to boost wei qi. It is one herb of choice to give patients who are receiving radiation or chemotherapy to help their immune system recover. Some of the studies that are being done with HIV/AIDS patients are suggesting that huang qi has "age slowing" properties that work at the cellular level. Ban lan gen (isatis root), da qing ye (isatis leaf), and huang qin (baical skull cap root) are known for anti-viral properties. Lian qiao (forsythis fruit) enhances the immune system with its anti-viral and antibacterial properties. We are all familiar with the formula Yu Ping Feng Wan (Jade Wind Screen) to help enhance the immune system's ability to resist infections. We can educate our patients about how the use of herbs and certain foods will enhance their general health and immunity.

Another tool in our medicine is qi gong. One of the real beauties of qi gong is that it is non-invasive and drugless. Many people are opposed to what they consider invasive procedures and some are afraid to take Chinese herbal prescriptions or even single herbs. That makes qi gong a perfect alternative. Naturally, the use of qi gong has been studied as an adjunct to other treatments for conditions like hypertension, to relieve the negative side effects of some medical treatments and to help drug addicts through withdrawal. It has also been looked at for its preventive powers. Regular qi gong practice has been shown to lower blood pressure quickly and the results last a long time. This makes real sense when you think about one of the basic tenets of TCM which is that imbalances are the underlying cause of the disease process and/or symptoms. Therefore, if you use a balancing technique like qi gong, it is possible to ward off disease and premature aging.

The First World Conference on Medical Qi Gong and the Qi Gong Institute remind us about ancient books that put forth the anti-aging powers of qi gong. The authors of these ancient texts believed that qi gong practice can regulate all of our body's organs and functions. If meridian flow is clear then illness will not develop. If blockages occur, it is possible to restore balance and qi flow through the practice of qi gong exercises, which will allow the body to heal faster. I give all of my patients a qi gong CD that I made years ago to introduce them to the idea of self-care. The body has an amazing ability to regulate and heal itself; we should encourage it.

The issue: living in a world dominated by modern medicine has taught people to only go to the doctor when they don't feel well or have a symptom like pain. Modern medicine is symptom-based while Chinese medicine is prophylactic in nature, intended to prevent disease. However, that can be a hard sell when people are only used to seeing a medical practitioner when they have a symptom. We can help people be healthier from the start when we educate them about the importance of starting life in a balanced state.