Aging in the West conjures up images of people in nursing homes, unable to enjoy the few remaining years in their lives and totally dependent on other people for some of the basic things in life such as eating or bathing themselves. Who wants to have a long life if this would be the eventual outcome for anyone? How many people live independently and abundantly into their senior years? How can someone make sure that they could enjoy their lives free from chronic disease or infirmities?
That’s where the concept of holistic preventive care comes in. Preventive care unfortunately, usually just involves early detection and screening in allopathic medicine. It’s the advice given to women about annual Pap’s smears and mammograms or PSA testing for men at a certain age. There’s more to prevention however than getting yearly tests. Prevention should be done on a daily basis by taking care of the body’s needs, primarily through clean food, water and air. Then, there are also important things such as sleep, exercise, stress reduction, detoxification and intake of nutritional supplements.
Our health is very closely related to that of the health of our environment. Just as clean air and water are necessary for the survival of the earth, they are also needed for our survival as a species.
There’s a concept called “internal milieu.” Dr. Louis Pasteur, on his deathbed, admitted that “the microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything.” What this means is that for instance, if several people were exposed to the same germ/pathogen, not everybody gets sick. Some people may be more resistant to illness because of genetics as well as other factors that influence their immune system (diet, presence of toxins.) If I may borrow one of my colleague’s analogies, “Our genes are like a loaded gun, our environment pulls the trigger.”
The major medical systems in the world, such as Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda, all emphasize the important role that food plays in prevention of illness as well as influencing the course of illness. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other medical systems where people are told that they can eat anything after a certain diagnoses. Ever wonder why there are fast food joints that sell deep fried or highly refined foods at major medical centers?
Anyway, in more practical terms, what are the factors that could cause premature aging?
Among the different reasons behind aging there are hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and toxicities. Just like doing maintenance work on our cars is imperative to make them work more efficiently, we need to do the same thing to our bodies. Let’s start with the basics. The food we give our bodies could be compared to the things we do to maintain our cars. Again, to borrow another analogy, carbohydrates could be compared to the fuel system, fats to the oil used to lubricate the car and protein to the actual skeleton/frame of the car. Neglect one of these and it could lead to eventual breakdown of our cars and in this case, our bodies.
Regarding food, I believe that everybody is different and therefore, have different food requirements. One of my mentors taught me that we in North America, actually don’t have a traditional diet unlike peoples from Asia, Africa or the Mediterranean. The Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat and potatoes in general doesn’t give us adequate nutrition to prevent illness. What I would recommend for one person may be different from what I recommend to another.
For instance, for Asians in general, a typical meal of fish with rice and vegetables should suffice. However, for a Caucasian, I may recommend food combining with protein and vegetables without any starches during a meal.
There are many diets available out there. These include the blood type diet, the South Beach diet, raw food diet, etc. In general, I would recommend eating organic foods. Having greater portions of vegetables and fruits in the diet and a limited amount of meat would work for most people. As far as meat is concerned, free-range chicken or grass-fed beef would be a better choice than regular chicken or beef.
Then, there’s concern about fish or seafood. The higher you go up on the food chain, the greater the chances of mercury toxicity. I would recommend smaller fish such as anchovies or sardines.
There’s the timing of meals that’s also equally important. I would recommend small, frequent meals rather than three “square meals a day.” Not eating after 6 pm ideally would be best, but if necessary, at least keeping it light at night would be advisable.
Nutrition is a very touchy subject because of the different recommendations you get from authorities. What I would recommend in general is to only eat when hungry and only eat as natural as possible. Any food adulterated by man (boxed cereal grains, “low-fat” TV dinners) could cause more problems long-term. Just a quick note, fat is what tells our satiety centers that we’re full. Thus, a low-fat meal won’t really curb someone’s appetite or help with weight loss.
- Joel Lopez, MD, CNS