Health and Disease. Aging and Death. Huzzah!
(October 10, 2017)
Chinese medicine is a fascinating subject. It is fun to learn, especially if you were originally trained in medicine from the Western viewpoint. All the talk of energy and balance can easily persuade you into thinking that you are being inducted into some kind of mystical brotherhood. Some of your more excitable types end up thinking that they are indeed studying religion and as a result go off onto some very weird tangents with it.
But there is nothing religious about it. Once you gird your mental loins and actually learn its principles and how to apply them (no easy task), you find that Chinese medicine is awe-inspiring as a science and very effective in its application. Plus, since it is based on observation, it has few (if any) actual disagreements with the best Western medicine.
And most helpfully, Chinese medicine (maybe just because it has been around as a discipline for umpteen hundreds of years) is very often way ahead of Western medicine in its thought and practice. As with today’s case in point -- the subject of aging, a topic which is fairly well settled in traditional Chinese medicine but with which Western medicine is currently struggling mightily.
As anyone who is still able to raise their eyes from their phone for any amount of time is able to see, aging is definitely a Thing. It is all around us, maybe even in the mirror if we dare to look. You can glance at a stranger and tell instantly if s/he is aged or not. There are a number of changes in the body that come with aging, and we all know what they are. So what’s to argue about?
Well, Western medicine is struggling over whether aging should be considered an illness in itself. If that sounds like philosophical hairsplitting to you, let me point out that there is a LOT of grant money riding on this argument. Whoever wins it has a nice payday coming. Plus the winner will get to push research in the direction THEY want, at least for a while. That makes it meaningful to all of us.
Despite frequent lip service to the contrary, the Western medical viewpoint on health and disease is this -- health is the absence of disease, period. You can go to the doctor, be given a clean bill of health, then drop dead of a heart attack walking your dog a week later (which is what happened to my mother’s older brother). Missing something here, are they not?
Calling anything that doesn’t fit into a disease classification ”healthy” is the Achilles heel of Western medicine. It is the reason that alternative medicine (much of which dedicated to helping people with problems that Western medicine doesn’t consider to be important enough for insurance to cover) even exists. It is why there is a whole new area of practice in medicine -- "pre disease", using drugs and surgery on health issues that are not yet really problematic. And the absence of that logical schizophrenia in its conception of health and disease is one area where Chinese medicine has it all over Western medicine.
In the specific case of aging, here’s the principle, short and sweet -- everyone is born with a certain amount of fundamental energy. When that’s used up, you die. If you can slow down the burning of that energy, you’ll live longer, although not forever. But if you live your life in the fast lane, in such a way that your body needs to keep burning its reserves to keep going, you will die prematurely.
So how quickly you burn up your fundamental endowment of life force determines how long you live (and how well you feel while you’re doing it). That’s the reason for practices like Tai Chi and Qi Gong, the continual herb taking, the careful attention to diet and even how food is cooked. All those little bits of practice and thought that make the East so alluring to the West, at least partly because it’s the exact opposite of what WE do.
Translating that concept of fundamental energy into Western terminology -- your maximum lifespan is determined by your genes. Under ideal circumstances of lifestyle and environment you will live as long as your genes are programmed to permit, your ultimate age determined by your genetic inheritance.
From this perspective, whether or not aging is really an illness is just semantics. In practical terms, your age – and your health -- is the end result of how you choose to live. And in spite of any shortcuts or tricks the money boys might be able to come up with, I daresay it always will be.
How to live, then, in order to live longer? I hope to go there next time.
--dr. diane holmes
Copyright © 2017