Ageing, with special reference to Menopause.
A two part analysis of physical emotional and societal aspects of
aging, of interest to men and women, with an emphasis on health,
on all levels.
Part One social and psychological aspects.
We‟re all getting older! How are we managing the process? In the
bloom of youth? perfect skin, supple limbs, sound lungs, good
muscles teeth and eyesight. Taking it all for granted? Burning the
candle at both ends? Sometimes careless about regular food and
Or In one‟s prime? Downplaying the odd niggle, because you‟re
physically strong and active, creative and productive, attractive
and beautiful (both genders). Maybe some concerns about the
future, finances, job security, Overworking maybe, and still
careless about eating and sleeping at times, but have invested in a
juicer and a blender, even use them quite a lot?
Or have reached official state-registered crumbly status, or well
beyond it, and still productive, creative, though a bit stiffer, and
wearing specs, maybe a few crowns or root canals? And looking
back, wish that we‟d set a few different priorities in youth and
middle years, and wondering how to change the balance now,
maybe regain some ground?
Believe me I know all these stages, am now in my eighth decade,
and have got quite a lot of it right sometimes. I‟ve also become
aware how much better I could have done. This piece is to help
you to plan for the smoothest transition through the stages,
wherever you are now, looking ahead to the healthiest and most
productive later years you can achieve. Let‟s ban here and now
that horrible phrase “old age”, with all its connotations of has-been,
socially insignificant, powerless, unattractive, third class citizen.
And that‟s where one of the most annoying and difficult-to-combat
social perceptions has an effect. For some people it even has the
power to make them feel unhappy with themselves and turns them
from independent beings into evaluating themselves in these
degrading and insulting terms. Unfairly, this is more so for women
than men. We‟re a very long way from real gender equality yet,
and maybe the raw community, with an emphasis on health and
creativity, rather than on merely youthful beauty, could be a strong
voice in getting nearer to that.
We are all aware there is a very unequal situation in social
perspectives on the aging process. We see this in the media
particularly on screen where lined and elderly, even short
tempered! men are seen as attractive powerful interesting and
creative. At the same age or earlier, women either drop out of sight
or are dismissed as some kind of second or third class citizen. It is
not the same in medicine, law, teaching or nursing, plumbing or
engineering. Anywhere you can do a good job you can get a good
job! What the screen, magazine and some newspapers‟
inequalities both reflect and influence is a very deep seated social
perspective, which has its roots in the view of female as being at
the service of the male. I won‟t attempt to summarise the feminist
perspectives and the continuing struggle around this issue. But I
do want to say especially to younger readers, that although there
are a few more social freedoms for women now, these are
probably more down to good contraception than the willing and
conscious intentions of our society! We have some token equality
of opportunity legislation, but the employment and career statistics
tell the real story, and in this country we see some extreme results
of this view, in the position of some of our Asian or Middle Eastern
residents. As I heard Germaine Greer say very recently, the
“battle for gender equality is only just beginning”. I believe it is
down to young men and women to tackle it together.
It is this very powerful social perspective which can make life
rather hard for women as they grow older. I suspect that this is a
very live issue for many people who follow a high percentage raw
and living foods dietary. Looking back a few years in our
comparatively new specialised literature, I‟m conscious that a lot of
it started out purely talking of health benefits. The word
rejuvenation was used in the context of detoxing and renourishing
the body to prevent disease and preserve vitality and energy.
Gradually, that word, rejuvenate, has taken massive hold of the
mainstream beauty industry, to include surgery and wrinkle creams
and drugs like HRT. Disappointingly, some of that perspective has
crept into “our” literature and makes me wonder if some of the
motivation for going raw now comes from a desire to delay the
aging process, not just for health but also for youth and social
acceptance „beauty reasons‟ also. Can I say, as firmly as I can
that Dr. Ann Wigmore‟s original Living Foods Programme, was
about regaining lost health, and improving and prolonging
excellent health. Words like vitality, energy, and clear thinking,
sprinkled the books. Nowhere did you read about youthful beauty
standards, weight loss for its own sake or reducing wrinkles. Nor
will you find such concepts in the most reputable Living Foods
Centres around the world today. If our so called “Raw Movement”
is to stand out from the rest of the also ran health and beauty
industry, we need firmly to underline and restore that former
In any case let‟s look at some exceptions to this image of older
people being past it.
I think that we all know examples of elderly people in their 90‟s
having always smoked two packets of cigarettes a day and eaten
all kinds of foods but still have a healthy, in the sense of energetic
and comparatively disease free life, late into their tenth decade.
Other people much more obviously look and feel weary and go
down with many minor and major problems from their fifth decade
onwards and this is certainly not limited to women.
Is this down to genes? To a happy and contented outlook? Do they
eat less than the rest of the population?.
There have been several studies on calorie restriction and how this
seems to affect the aging process (slows it down) done with mice;
reducing their calories by half and finding that the disease resistant
genes seem to switch on and they get up to 30% more life. Good
quality life that is fertile, energetic, disease free. Other studies
have monitored restrictive calorie diets in humans, cutting intake
by 30%. There was a study done 15 or so years ago where
people had to be very, very hungry before they ate and they
weren‟t allowed any cakes or biscuits. They had lots of greens,
grated cheese, etc. They also had to limit their exercise. They
found they had no aches or pains, however such experiments
seem to lead to the conclusion that it isn‟t simply what you do with
your diet, but it is also a matter of your genetic inheritance.
Scientists have experimented with the theory that the important
process is basically how efficiently we use or “burn” food. This is
an idea going back to the 1950‟s/60‟s that a leading cause of aging
was related to a faster heart beat and that the need for oxygen for
all energy generation was crucial. However they found that the
conversion of energy into oxygen actually causes the free radicals.
In experiments done with different kinds of mice bred to withstand
oxidative stress, they found the results were unexpected and after
10 years of this experimentation they finally came down against
the oxidative stress theory. That doesn‟t mean that we don‟t need
exercise by the way! We still need to get good oxygen around the
Later a so called longevity gene was discovered which led to the
design of a very expensive pill by a researcher who is currently
trialling this on himself and his family, at vast expense. At the time
of writing the results are still out. We don‟t know whether there will
be side effects, whether it might cause cancerous overgrowth for
example. However there are a few people out there apparently
taking the risk along with some very expensive anti aging pills.
The tips of our chromosomes, which we need for regeneration of
the cells, get shorter as they divide and that means that eventually
no more cell division can happen and at that point you have death.
There is an enzyme timolerese which combats this chromosome
shortening when it is inside the cells. This is actually produced in
the body by the reproductive cells which in fact don‟t age the way
that other cells in body do. There‟s a hopeful scientist in Nevada,
aiming to live 500 years, who is taking an enzyme (called TA65 if
you have $25.000 dollars a year to spare). This produces
timorelese to go into the cells, and presumably allow cell division
for very much longer.
Yet another theory is that aging is caused by an abnormal protein
which occurs in the cell, owing to mutation, and the damage
caused is less easily repaired in older people, though it is not
known why. This doesn‟t mean that we can ignore the fact of
chromosome shortening however, as this is an established
process, and once the chromosomes are too short for cell division
then that‟s it, there isn‟t any more leeway left.
So much for some recent research into cell behaviour, but are we
all entirely happy with this approach?
Is there anything in all this rather futuristic research which we can
use to understand our own longevity health status? Not really.
Lets look instead at our here and now health status and work to
maintain and improve it naturally. How much do we need to look
at our exercise and sleep and relaxation and rest and work and
thought patterns in order to maximise out own individual potential
health and longevity? And how much can that be aided by a
superb diet and what is a superb diet? Does it mean 100% raw or
living foods for some people, for all people? Maybe not?
Maybe the first thing to look at is our parents. What sort of
illnesses do they have? What are their joints like? What are their
hands like? Their knees? Apparently, at the moment 1 in 10,000
people live to the age of 100. But when you look at very specific
population groups, some people live much longer, active lives. . we
are all familiar with the old studies of population of the Hunzas in
looking at their mineral intake and the whole of their lifestyle to see
how it was that most of the 80 year old men could happily live in a
mountain climate where westerners couldn‟t get enough oxygen,
and can run about with big packs on their backs or play football for
recreation and so on. A complete contrast to what‟s going on in
the rest of Western Europe.
A newer study is one looking at a group of 100 year old Ashkenazi
Jews. The point about that was that there was a genetic pool in
common but they were not health obsessed. 30% were actually
obese. Quite a lot of them smoked. Not many were vegetarians
and they certainly didn‟t eat loads of yogurt and they didn‟t
exercise spectacularly either.
The generally accepted idea is that your health and longevity is
about 80% down to life style and environment and about 20%
down to the genes. However, when you study groups of
centenarians in this way they seem to be able to do as they wish
during their life time and they still live to 100. So it looks as though
there are some genes which are specific to longevity and there are
obviously more of those found in people who live to 100 plus.
There is a small experiment which was done with a few volunteer
Alzheimers patients. For one week they had to live as if it were 20
years in their past. They had no carers, they had to live a 1950‟s
environment speaking in the present tense. They watched 1950s
films and ate 1950‟s food etc. In short, they lived in the
environment they had actually lived in 20 years earlier.and they
had to cope with it. The question was would they actually become
younger on the assumption that they were…. The interesting thing
about this little study of Alzheimer‟s patients is that two days into
the trial they all became actively involved in their daily tasks as
autonomous individuals. Their physical activity and their cognitive
ability improved, they added weight, they had increased IQ
readings, better vision and hearing.
This is an experiment we can use! The message being “act young
and competent” and you will become young and competent. And
the overall message coming out of several studies is that we
probably will live as long as we think we should. Now we are
approaching an understanding of aging that goes far beyond
tinkering with the cells. If thinking old or thinking young is so
powerful it is even more important not to subscribe to superficial
fashion and media perspectives on youth and age.
If we do, as we all age we will measure ourselves against
destructive attitudes which devalue us as individuals.
I would just like to mention some amazing role models. Think
about that beautiful tomboy Bridget Bardot and the photogenic
Sophia Loren. Bardot was famous for untouched and relaxed and
informal photographs, appearing in shorts in publicity photographs
and casually dressed in public. And Sophia Loren was 72 when
she posed for a Pirelli calendar not so long ago, 2006. In the
music sphere Shirley Bassey keeps on recording and Cleo Laine
recently gave a performance in her late 70‟s, immediately after the
death of her husband John Dankworth.
So we have plenty of role models from football playing 80 year old
Hunzas to amazing Africans, Georgians and even a few examples
in our comparatively degenerate western European tradition. So
what are we going to do to cope with the social and emotional
pressures of the signs of aging?
We definitely need to look at overall lifestyle because you can
wear yourself out faster than you need to. You can over tax the
digestive system and the whole of the physical organism and on
the plus side you can certainly switch off from negative social
perceptions of aging especially for women. One day they‟re wolf
whistling from the scaffolding, and seemingly the next day you are
invisible. What do you do? Not turn to cosmetic remedies and
concentrate on how you look, I hope. Rather take stock of your
health and fitness, check your diet and exercise are the best for
you, and review the balance of work and play, the richness of
friendships and interests. If you have got into a rut, get out of it or
at least start looking over the edge. What is the more important
thing about you, your looks or your inner life and the creative and
productive social life that you lead? By all means get a new haircut
and a gym subscription, not to please the onlookers, but because
they make you feel good in yourself. They have an effect on your
self regard and therefore help your emotional and mental outlook
just as much as the healthy diet and lifestyles. The truth is that
feeling comfortable in your skin starts at an early age, so start now
to value yourself for who you are, not how you look. I am speaking
specifically to women here. If the first half of your life depends on
your relationships with men with women trading on their looks and
their attractiveness then adjustment is going to be very much more
To be a successful and happy social being, it‟s really important to
keep up with your friends, cherish their differences, differences
between each other and from you, and if you have moved away
and lost touch or find that after a few years you seem to only know
your partners social circle, then carve out a new section for
It is true that older women and men can become an essential part.
the family Not as unpaid, unseen, unappreciated helpers and
carers, but also as a very valued and popular element of social
contact with the third generation down. This is what age should
be, passing on a relaxed and easy way of communicating and in
the loosest possible sense of the word, educating and teaching
young people. Simply by being around them and swapping ideas,
I find that grandchildren as they grow become much more
appreciative of interested and interesting older relatives.
. Men also will have a lot less energy, less muscle power as they
age and drugs are no more an answer for men than face lifts and
drugs are for women.
Women however experience specific discomforts and symptoms
with menopause itself. I will deal with all the things we can do
about this physically next time. This time however, I believe it is
more important to emphasise the psychological and emotional
shifts we experience with aging; without a balanced response to
these, any amount of rejuvenating techniques, clever drugs or
surgery, can possibly deliver a serene outlook, allied to a lively
sense of self value, and an eternal curiosity to learn about the
world and other people instead of oneself.
From personal experience I can tell you that yes, life does begin at
50. It renews again at 60 and yes, it opens out again, differently,
at 70. I‟ll let you know what it‟s like at 80 when I get there.
Next time I will look at the specific things women can do before
and during menopause for a smoother hormonal transition, and
measures for both men and women for maintaining general health
throughout a long life.
Interestingly, this may not be by eating 100% raw for everyone!
However if you are not using a juicer daily for a green juice, and a
blender also daily for a power packed energy soup/smoothie, I
suggest starting there. Summer is the easiest season to step up
your good eating habits.
Meantime stay out of the midday sun, but get enough for your
vitamin D. Smoking and coffee do far more wrinkle damage than
moderate sun exposure, as do late nights and poor sleep..
A shortened version of this article “Aging Gratefully” appeared in
Fresh Magazine summer 2010