Get in game to make your patients’ later years truly “golden”
For many years, people associated the idea of anti-aging with the eradication of wrinkles and sagging skin.
These days, however, the idea of slowing the aging clock goes further than skin deep, and chiropractors are in a perfect position to help their patients grow old gracefully. The following are several approaches to helping patients retain—and maintain— their health well into their golden years.
The fight against inflammation
David Seaman, DC, a teacher of nutrition and evaluation management, attributes all unhealthy aging (including the expression of chronic diseases later in life) to “inflame-aging.”
According to Seaman, what chronic diseases and conditions that cause unhealthy aging have in common is a molecular signature of inflammation that becomes more robust—and measurable—as time goes on. “And this signature of inflammation is correlated with disease expression, including the onset of chronic pain,” he says.
Also the author of the book Clinical Nutrition for Pain, Inflammation, and Tissue Healing, Seaman says that those who “inflame-age” put themselves at higher risk for a wide array of chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.1
“The goal is to blunt the uncontrolled chronic inflammation of aging and serve as a method to promote good health and longevity,” Seaman says. “You can either be anti-inflame- aging, or you can be a pro-inflame-ager. If you anti-inflame-age, you have a much reduced potential for inappropriate disease expression.”
Fundamentally, the net effect of reducing inflammation is aging gracefully by eluding the aforementioned problems. “The activities of healthy eating, good sleep, exercise, and stress management are all anti- inflammatory, and the right supplements can support this process,” Seaman says.
Since 2002, he has also been a consultant for California- and Colorado- based Anabolic Laboratories, a 90-plus- year-old company that sells nutritional supplements directly to healthcare professionals. The company manufactures nutritional supplements under pharmaceutical manufacturing controls to ensure that what is on the label is in the supplement, he explains. The company mostly works with chiropractors who are interested in providing a well-rounded, lifestyle- oriented approach to healthy aging to their patients.
“Chiropractors should be interested in this whole idea of anti-inflame- aging because patients who are pro- inflame-aging—those who are obese, on a lot of medicines, or have chronic disease—tend not to respond well to manipulation and exercise as compared “I say it like this: If you ate some donuts recently, I call those events drive-by self-shootings,” Seaman says. “The human brain’s response in terms of the neuroendocrine response to sugar and flour is less robust, but identical, to crack. And if you are a dietary crackhead, you need to stop.”
The science of stress
Corey Schuler, DC, sees stress as a key component to unhealthy aging and the disabilities and pains that go along with it. An adjunct assistant professor at the School of Applied Clinical Nutrition at New York Chiropractic College, Schuler also serves on the medical advisory board at Integrative Therapeutics and is a medical writer and scientific consultant to the nutrition industry.
“We pay attention to the stress response,” he says. “People who are in high-stress jobs may have stress-related disabilities that we can help with. We put together a hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis optimization program that can help chiropractors support customers dealing with stress.” Schuler’s approach includes behavior-change counseling, because counseling patients on health-related issues is within the chiropractor’s scope of practice. “We are talking about the strength (or lack thereof) of the body’s ability to handle stress,” he says.
Schuler notes that the right nutritional and herbal supplements can help reverse HPA axis dysfunction, and that chiropractors can be educated in categorizing this damaging process in their patients as either early, middle, or late stage.
“Lifestyle stresses and changes should not be over-the-top for a lot of our patients, yet they are, and chiropractors can help them with this journey,” Schuler says.
According to Schuler, chiropractors are in an excellent position to educate patients about stress management and healthy, disability-free aging.
“We are much less prescriptive than other healthcare providers,” he says. “We don’t say, ‘You need to do yoga.’ We say, ‘Have you tried a daily walk or meditation?’” Recently, Schuler was working with a client who wanted to learn more about meditation. Instead of referring the patient to a book, he suggested a smartphone app that provides meditation exercises.
“We’ve put together a GI restoration program that addresses the many digestive problems that people who are under stress suffer from,” he says. “These are problems that a traditional gastroenterologist will not pay attention to, yet they are very important factors in the effort to achieve and maintain quality of life in our patients.” In his experience, most patients want a complete “reboot,” and will prefer a plan that includes changes in diet and exercise rather than focusing on a single aspect of wellness.
Schuler does see an ongoing opportunity for chiropractors in the cosmetic anti-aging arena, but he is mindful of the different demands these particular patients have when they visit their healthcare provider and ask for advice.
“There is a true cognitive dissonance between someone who wants to be healthy and someone who just wants to look good,” he says. “As a chiropractor, you can provide services to the cosmetically oriented patient, but you have to accommodate very different needs.”
In other words, you can’t necessarily offer both cosmetic rejuvenation therapies as well as big-picture nutritional and behavior-change counseling. These require different practice modalities and styles of marketing.
As for entering either anti-aging realm, the prospect for chiropractors is tangible, Schuler says.
“The opportunity is monetary, and there are a lot of people who want to age gracefully,” Schuler says. “Sixty is the new 40, and these patients are looking for answers. They know how to demand things from their healthcare providers, and conventional medicine does not know how to respond.
“The great thing about chiropractors is that we have always responded to customer demand, and we have been on the leading edge of the healthy aging movement,” he adds. “So we’re there. All it takes is some education to know how to effectively provide this service to our patients.”
Chris Leatherman, DC, is chief sales officer at Onnit Labs. The key to healthy aging is addressing all aspects of health, not just exercise or eating healthy alone, he says.
“It’s about taking care of yourself not only physically but also mentally and spiritually,” he says. Only then can patients begin to strive for optimal wellness and increase their chance of enjoying a healthy life well into later decades.
Leatherman says that one of the main reasons he joined Onnit was to introduce the company’s unique nutritional supplements and foods to chiropractors.
“I have found over the 11 years I practiced as a chiropractor, and in those I continue to see today, that a large number of people are making the effort to take better care of themselves, but the fast-paced environment in which we live makes it difficult to do this successfully,” Leatherman says. Specifically, he points to time limitations that cause people to eat convenience foods rather than cook fresh foods at home.
And even when people do cook their own meals, “The fruits, vegetables, and grains of today don’t have the nutritional value they did 60 years ago,” he adds. “I believe that’s why so many Americans turn to supplements. Sometimes, doing all you can do to promote a healthy lifestyle still isn’t enough.”
According to Leatherman, the key areas on which to focus when considering a supplemental diet plan involve cognitive and digestive health.
“There’s a strong correlation between how the gut and brain interact with each other,” he says. Since the brain controls everything in the body through the nervous system—and since chiropractors deal directly with the nervous system—cognitive health function is an area to focus on heavily. “Without this function, quality of life may decline. If you can focus better and process things cognitively faster, that all lends itself to supporting a healthier aging process.”
The adjustment is the most important component in the chiropractor’s toolkit, Leatherman adds, but it must work hand-in-hand with an array of resources that promote healthy aging.
“Chiropractors, by nature of what they do, should be educating their patients on what’s happening and why the treatment plan is what it is, and the thing that complements this educational process is education about exercise, supplementation, and good eating habits,” Leatherman says.
He tells chiropractors to look at the makeup of their practice and the things they are learning from their patients, then focus on a few of the things patients need. “This could mean adding a few supplements that augment digestive and cognitive health to your practice, but not investing in an entire range of nutritional supplements that may overwhelm both staff and patients alike.” Leatherman says that three plant- based ingredients have shown promise in supporting optimized cognitive health. These are L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC), Huperzia Serrata, and Bacopa monnieri. He also stresses the importance of older, tried-and-true supplements such as amino acids and fatty acids.
As far as practices’ potential for offering supplements to their patients, Leatherman says the time has never been better.
“I tell chiropractors that probably 80 percent or more of your patients are taking some sort of supplement,” he says. “And more than likely they’re- buying them somewhere without any education or explanation of what they do, and the quality may be questionable.” Because you are a healthcare provider, it makes sense for you to provide this service to them.
“Chiropractors develop deep relationships with their patients,” Leatherman adds. “Why not do everything you can to take the best care possible of your patients? It is a perfect blend of what chiropractors are already doing really well, and it’s helping their patients maximize their health.”
Having it all
These three approaches to better aging and longevity aren’t exclusive to one another; rather, they are complementary. Inflammation, stress, and nutrition are intimately related, and a sound clinical approach to wellness aging will arguably involve them all.
An unhealthy lifestyle is usually a prime culprit when it comes to chronic illness, as it causes problems that add up over time. Conversely, a wellness lifestyle works the other way, enacting small gains and improvements that aren’t readily apparent but aggregate.
The payoff to the patient is in the problems that won’t occur later in life. As anyone who is aging well can tell you, the commitment is absolutely worth it.
Amy Stankiewicz is a freelance writer based in cleveland. She has written for trade publications for more than 15 years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Seaman DR. (1998). Clinical Nutrition for Pain, Inflammation, and Tissue Healing. Santa Barbara: NutrAnalysis, Inc.