Settling into the new year after the holidays can always be a bit tricky and usually involves a bit of playing catch-up. In case you were as busy as we were last month, here is what you missed in January:
January plays host to a number of different National Health Observances that affect senior citizens, such as National Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Thyroid Awareness Month, and Folic Acid awareness month. The events surrounding these observances not only work to inform us about these common health issues often faced by our aging populations, but also serve to remind us of the ways in which our body’s biological functions are all intertwined. It is often best to consider a holistic approach to health and age. (Read on to see what we mean.)
Let’s look at National Glaucoma Awareness Month first. Glaucoma is defined as a group of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. Typically, it is thought that glaucoma is caused by unusually high pressure in the eye. However, there are a number of risk factors and other causes, including being over 60 years of age, suffering from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, estrogen deficiency, or sickle cell anemia. Now, let’s look at Folic Acid Awareness month, also observed in January. Folic acid is a synthetic B-vitamin supplement that is often recommended to women during pregnancy, but B- vitamins are important all the time, for everyone. It could also be argued they are especially important for aging populations. (Read on, this is where it gets interesting.) As we age our body’s biological functions slow down, which leaves us susceptible to disease that younger bodies can often stave off. Since B-vitamins are essential for our body’s cell function and work to aid in DNA repair and cell growth, they play an effective role in keeping aging populations healthy. In fact, B-vitamins are so effective in aiding cell growth and repair that it is thought they may help treat things such as heart disease and, get this, sickle cell anemia! The connection from here seems pretty obvious: although, folic acid and b- vitamins cannot prevent or cure these diseases, it can help to treat them. Both heart disease and sickle cell anemia are two of the leading causes of glaucoma, so, perhaps, by slowing down the damage caused to the body by these two conditions, we can decrease the chance of developing symptoms associated with glaucoma itself. Slowing down or warding off heart disease = potentially slowing down or warding off glaucoma too. Although folic acid (reminder: folic acid is synthetic b-vitamins) is a great way to up your intake of b-vitamins, b-vitamins are also naturally occurring in a number of vegetables such as brussel sprouts, leafy greens and broccoli. Eat those veggies everybody!
Finally, let’s take a look at the third health observance we mentioned for January: National Thyroid Awareness Month. The thyroid gland is a gland located just behind the Adam’s apple and is necessary for producing and secreting hormones responsible for growth and controlling metabolic rate. We already mentioned that B- vitamins are an important source for cell growth and repair and here, we see, so are our thyroids! See where we are going with all this? There are several types of thyroid disorders revolving around the rate of production of hormones. In some cases, the thyroid produces too much of a hormone and in others too little. For example, in a blog post on Healthful Elements, Jill Grunewald explains the way in which too much estrogen can actually prevent the thyroid from producing important thyroid hormones that regulate mood and metabolism causing hypothyroidism. Curiously, one of the treatments for hypothyroidism: more B-vitamins! In this way, thyroid health, cell growth, and folic acid and are inextricably tied to one another. To prevent the decline in cell growth associated with diseases that can cause glaucoma or thyroid disease, we need more folic acid. Hang in there, we’re almost to the main point. The theme in all of this seems to be healthy cell production. As long as our body is able to repair itself, it can regulate and stay healthy. But what happens when old age slows down our body’s ability to repair itself rapidly? If we want to stay healthy as we age we must consider the body as a functioning whole with a myriad of working parts. Sickness in one part of the body, say, the heart, can affect another part of the body, say, the eyes. The connections can be confusing and complicated, but they are there.
All of these connections create a web that reminds us that health is about balance. When we mentioned holistic health at the beginning of this post we were not necessarily talking about the kind of approach that cuts out pharmaceuticals or western medicine. What we want to emphasize instead is that health, and our bodies, work in a series of connections that are complicated. They do not necessarily all fit together cleanly, but each system depends on the other operating smoothly to carry out its own function. In realizing this, we are forced to examine the ways in which all of our behavioral choices affect our body chemistry and genetic history. We must make the best choices that we can for our own health. The best way to do this is to learn about the ways in which our environment affects our health and how our individual bodies respond to these factors. In this way, we hope that our bi-weekly blog will help to call attention to health issues faced by most of our aging population. We also hope to suggest ways to aid and fix these problems in a holistic way- taking into account the advances of modern medicine and science as well as recommending natural or ancient health remedies to improve quality of health and, in turn, life. Stay tuned for more!