I hate to burst your bubble, but “anti-aging” — it’s a misnomer. No matter how badly we may want to, there is no way to stop time from marching on. While mainstream cosmetic procedures like Botox, acid peels, face-lifts, nose jobs, and liposuction may promise to smooth away wrinkles and unsightly lines, in many ways they are merely Band-Aids. In a month or a year, there’ll be another line, another spot, another creak or crack.
But proponents of holistic medicine — a health-care system which addresses the whole person, body, mind and spirit — believe that a comprehensive approach to wellness can restore vitality not just to your skin, but to your organs, teeth, bones, and muscles. In fact, most holistic anti-aging treatments aim not only to make you look younger, but to feel younger, too.
In some ways, this should come as no surprise: after all, as your mother always told you, beauty is more than skin deep. “Taking care of ourselves internally reflects externally,” says Cassandra Currie, a psychotherapist, certified Ayurvedic nutritionist, and holistic health counselor based in Kingston. “Accepting where you are in your life and not holding onto negativity helps loosen things that will bring you down.” Stress, like cigarette smoking, accelerates the aging process, and can manifest itself physically as illness and decreased vitality.
Incorporating some form of stress relief into your weekly routine can encourage peace of mind and better sleep, both of which will help you feel a lot younger. Getting a massage, meditating, or practicing tai chi (a Chinese martial art that brings about mental calm and clarity) can all help relieve stress. Reiki (a spiritual healing practice that promotes homeostatic balance and well-being) and craniosacral therapy (which improves the functioning of the central nervous system by releasing restrictions in the skull and spinal cord) are also gaining in popularity.
Homeopathy is another form of holistic medicine. Originating in Germany in the late 1700s, homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s defense mechanisms to prevent or treat illness. “A visit usually involves getting information from the patient on the illness and how it affects their emotional, mental, and physical well-being,” explains Dr. Ronald Whitmont, a homeopathic physician with offices in Rhinebeck and New York City. “Then I prescribe a homeopathic medicine; but not one med for the skin and another for the stomach,” he says. “I look at how these [symptoms] are connected, and prescribe something that can deal with both.”
Dr. Whitmont points out that homeopathic medicines are not the same as herbal supplements; they are produced in a pharmacy and regulated by the FDA. The medicines, made from natural substances, are based on the law of similarities: If you have a headache, you take a medicine that will replicate the headache. Infinitesimal doses of the substance then push your immune system to eradicate the ailment. “They appear to become more powerful the more you dilute them,” says Dr. Whitmont, adding that no one knows exactly why this happens. Naturally, this less-is-more approach appeals to many health-conscious consumers who fear toxicity from antibiotics and other powerful medications. Dr. Whitmont recently treated a patient who was basically bedridden with Lyme disease. “She must have been on 10-15 different antibiotics — including intravenous antibiotics, antimalarial agents, and antidepressants — from all the side effects,” he says. “Antibiotics are given out like candy. I stopped all her medications, looked at all her symptoms, prescribed a single homeopathic medicine she took daily for a couple of months, and little by little she improved gradually until she felt perfectly fine.”
There is even a homeopathic version of the controversial human growth hormone (HGH), which homeopathic doctors claim has broad therapeutic potential in promoting anti-aging without some of the troubling side-effects of synthetic HGH. Of course, some in the mainstream medical community sneer at homeopathic solutions. “There’s no contradiction between conventional medical sciences and the homeopathic view of the body,” says Dr. Whitmont, who has a medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. But he does find that homeopathy delves deeper. “It’s sort of like comparing tic-tac-toe to chess,” he says.
Homeopathy isn’t alone in helping us beat the clock; for centuries, various holistic practices have been used to heal and encourage lifestyles that promote longevity. Here are a few of holistic medicine’s “anti-aging” alternative treatments, all of which address the body on the inside, on the outside, and in between. Keep in mind that a combination of a good diet, regular exercise, relaxation and recreation, and pampering beauty treatments offer the best chance of combating those persistent hands of time.
Ayurveda, the “science of life,” originated in India over 5,000 years ago. A complete holistic medical system in and of itself, Ayurvedic practitioners assess an individual’s psychological, physical, and functional tendencies to determine their “dosha balance”: the unique proportion of the five elements of ether, air, water, earth, and fire. Your dosha determines physical characteristics like skin and body type, bone structure, personality traits, and even your thought patterns. Lasting beauty is achieved by living in harmony with your dosha. “The root of everything I do is rejuvenating, stress-relieving, and therefore anti-aging,” explains Renee Auriemma, LMT, an Ayurvedic practitioner and owner of Mountain Massage in Woodstock. At her studio, Auriemma offers several rejuvenating treatments, including the Ayurvedic four-handed massage called Abhyanga (which literally means “to rub oil into the skin”). Performed by two massage therapists, the treatment delivers the balancing power of essential oils to the deepest layers of the skin in less than a minute. “I’m different than most holistic doctors because I’m working externally to internally. I’m touching the skin — the body’s largest organ — all the time,” says Auriemma. She also offers a rejuvenating face-lift massage that combats wrinkles by first cleansing, then exercising and lifting the facial muscles through upwards massage strokes, draining the lymphatic system to prevent puffiness and pushing toxins out by improving circulation.
Crow’s-feet, begone! If the wrinkles around your eyes and mouth make a needle to the face sound appealing, try cosmetic acupuncture before you call Dr. Botox Beverly Hills. “While the mechanism isn’t completely understood, the reason acupuncture works is due to the body’s natural physiological reaction to the lesion created by the tiny needle. The body must treat it as a micro-wound, responding with inflammation and increased blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients, creating new cells where things weren’t moving, and ultimately creating a better environment for cells to function,” explains William Weinstein, L.Ac., from Mid-Hudson Acupuncture in New Paltz.
This means big things for tired faces. As we age, our skin’s internal scaffolding — elastin and collagen — begins to loosen, causing the skin to droop and sag. Through strategic needling, acupuncture can stimulate the growth of these proteins in the face, restoring elasticity. “This [procedure] is great for someone in their 30s to get a leg up on the aging process,” says Weinstein.
“Acupuncture works best in a system that’s vital,” he continues. “Sleep, core strengthening, nutrition, herbs, and water — to keep things moving in and out — are all encouraged.” In addition to restoring smooth skin, cosmetic acupuncture can treat eczema, acne, and even psoriasis, although that is “more complicated,” says Weinstein, who adds that all patients receive a minimum of 10 treatments.
Whether you call it your own personal summer or your own personal hell, menopause and the slew of symptoms associated with it can really put a damper on your day. The hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and loss of libido that come to take Aunt Flo’s place are all inspired by the hormonal imbalance created when the ovaries, a major producer of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, begin shutting down. Traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) relies on the use of prescriptions of synthetic, nonhuman estrogens and progesterone analogues to artificially boost hormone levels and ease the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.
While traditional HRT has been proven to help prevent dementia, cardiovascular disease, and postmenopausal osteoporosis and muscle loss, the hormones used are approximations (mostly sourced from the urine of pregnant horses), and as such are highly potent and can produce negative side effects. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), also referred to as natural hormone therapy, uses three of the body’s own naturally occurring estrogens — estradiol, estrone, and estriol — along with testosterone and DHEA, a natural steroid hormone precursor. While bioidentical replacement hormones also are technically synthetic, they are plant-derived and administered in tailored doses based on an individual’s hormone deficiencies, making them more efficient and less intrusive to the system. Since the hormones are naturally occurring, the body can metabolize them with ease, minimizing side effects and further stress on the system.
Before prescribing BHRT, which is not technically a holistic treatment, a doctor may suggest some dietary and lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and endocrine support. It has been reported that these subtle changes have reduced menopause symptoms in 85 percent of women.
Whether you’re considering acupuncture, homeopathy, or Ayurveda, most holistic practitioners agree that diet and exercise are the cornerstones to increased vitality and looking and feeling younger. A well-rounded diet low in calories and saturated fat promotes a healthy digestive system, healthy hair, nails, skin, and bones, not to mention weight maintenance. Dr. Whitmont recommends a predominately vegetarian diet, with increased exposure to fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grains. “Focus on recognizable foods from nature,” he urges. “You should be able to look at your food and say, ‘this grew.’ ”
Regular exercise not only helps maintain a healthy weight, but increases self-confidence and vitality, which will keep you feeling like a spring chicken well into the winter of your life. While aerobic exercise is always recommended to keep your ticker in tiptop shape, gentle practices like yoga or Pilates can be a fantastic way to balance your mind and body, and minimize the effects of aging related ailments like arthritis, osteoporosis, and loss of balance. So you can stretch and tone visions of canes and walkers right out of your head.