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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Aging Deception

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We have all been told that we are doomed to suffer the negative effects of aging, to struggle with painful arthritis and other degenerative processes that are supposedly inevitable. But must the aging process be so difficult? Absolutely not.

The answer to aging gracefully seems to be pretty simple. If you only remember one thing about aging, remember this: age equals inflammation. Inflammation is the cause of nearly all degenerative processes, from diabetes to arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

So if you can reduce inflammation, then you will slow down the aging process—plus, you’ll feel better as you get older. That seems simple enough—but as we all know, life is complicated. Almost every one of us can be called the “walking wounded.” We’ve got aches and pains; bad backs and sore knees; stiff necks and joints that crackle and pop. Many times, these problems are the result of old trauma that caused structural changes that were never addressed. Sure, after being injured you may have taken a muscle relaxer, applied heat or ice, or took it easy for a little while. You probably felt better in a few days or weeks. But how will that injury manifest in 10 to 15 years?

If your joint “heals” in the wrong position, it’s unable to function properly. Over time, the uneven wear and tear caused by the loss of proper range of motion creates arthritic changes. People do not develop arthritis because they age. People develop arthritis because the older you are, the more likely you have accumulated trauma, toxins and even negative thoughts over time.

Think about it this way. What happens if you leave a pitcher of lemonade out overnight? The solvent (sugar) falls out of the solution (water) by the next morning and settles to the bottom of the pitcher. This same process occurs with chronic inflammation in a joint space, when blood or fluid accumulates due to an injury. The solution (blood) transports salt, in particular calcium, which falls out of the solution if the blood becomes stagnant over time. As the salt crystallizes, it is similar to having shards of glass inside the joint. That, of course, aggravates the soft tissue. And that causes even more inflammation.

However, this process isn’t inevitable. Not surprisingly, given the numbers of people who suffer from joint pain, pharmaceutical companies introduced antiinflammatory drugs such as Vioxx and Celebrex. But these COX-2 inhibitors may have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths—another example of the dangers of synthetic medication.

Fortunately, there’s another solution. Inflammation is a two-way street. Inflammation can be encouraged out of the joint space and new blood or fluid can replenish the joint. Exercise encourages circulation. There are also several specific joint-mobilization techniques utilized by practitioners of the healing arts.

Chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists and acupuncturists all employ techniques that aim to reduce inflammation and help slow down the aging process. Consult one of these practitioners if you are looking for a way to feel better as you get older.

In our May 15 column, we’ll look at how nutrition can slow down aging.

Ty Wade, D.C., has a private practice in Saukville that focuses on holistic family care. David Wade teaches at Blue Sky School of therapeutic massage. They can be contacted at wellness@shepex.com.