Not by Birch Tea Alone

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By: Mary Kelly Sutton, M.D.

Aging brings a shift of life forces away from the physical body to­wards the finer structures of the human makeup. Sensibilities, wisdom, character and judgment all can grow richer, gifted with decades of experience, as this shift occurs. In ancient Rome one had to be sixty to be considered for the Senate. A British lady I knew said every woman should return to university at menopause since new mental capacities open up at this time of life.

These are important things to con­sider, given our cultural fixation on youth. We must know that age has value to human development, and that the lesser physical strength or skin tone one experiences with passing decades is not an overall decline but a shift of focus—for good reason.

How then, practically speaking, can we support our physical temple, slightly vacated by the life forces at this time of life? How can new spiritual strengths, developed with the years, remain inte­grated with the physical body?

Rudolf Steiner spoke of the value of birch leaf tea, two cups per day, to ev­eryone over 35 years of age. The ten­dency with age is to harden physically, to deposit minerals in ordinarily flexible places—joints and blood vessels, degen­erative arthritis (osteoarthritis) and hard­ening of the arteries (arteriosclerotic vas­cular disease). Birch tea gives people the capacity to maintain flexibility in these areas, and therefore has 'anti-ag­ing' properties. The leaves of the white birch can be harvested when 1/2-1" in diameter, or it is available from Weleda (800-241-1030) and Raphael (916-962­1099) pharmacies. Taken in larger amounts than two cups per day, birch leaf tea can relieve mild arthritic pain. Note: it is bitter if brewed too long.

While arteries and joints tend to harden, bones often lose calcium, espe­cially in women in the first two years af­ter menopause. Living calcium sources in the diet include greens, fermented dairy products (yogurt, kefir, quark, cot­tage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, buttermilk). Each serving of either group supplies about 300 mg. of calcium, so 3­-5 servings per day is a good target.

Exercise promotes sound bones, good circulation and flexible joints. It raises metabolism slightly for several hours after the exercise. Using the body is a wonderful way to keep it vital, espe­cially if exercise is enjoyable and brings us into the beauties of nature.

Digestion is not always as vital with age. If hydrochloric acid is lacking in the stomach, nutrients are not available no matter what one eats! Lactic acid foods (fermented dairy products, sauerkraut and sourdough bread or pancakes) sup­port stomach digestion, and the good bac­teria of the colon. Lactic acid also feeds the liver, whose basic health is fundamen­tal at all ages. Sauerkraut juice, 1-2 ounces just before the meal is excellent. Other acid sources, though not as highly recommended, are 1/2 tsp. of vinegar in a little water, or HCl-Pepsin tablets from the health food store.

Bitters (Gentian tonic or Amara drops) enliven the entire digestive pro­cess, both the acid and enzyme produc­tion, and are ideally taken thirty minutes before the meal. Weleda and Raphael pharmacies have these items, and health food stores are likely to have bitters by other names.

Remember: heavy food (protein and fats) early in the day, and light food at supper is a sound habit for promoting good digestion and sound sleep.

Digestive disturbances not remedied by such simple methods, as well as any symptom of ill health, require a visit with the doctor. A general physical exam and lab work to know if any risk factors exist, such as elevated cholesterol or low thy­roid, are worthwhile. Anthroposophic treatments address such abnormalities gently, ordinarily without side effects, and are of value.

Warmth is a sign of a strong immune system. It is common to see adults with lower than normal (98.6 degrees) body temperature. Protect the warmth your body does generate with adequate cloth­ing in layers, recognizing the value of wool as good insulation that still lets the body breathe. Catalogues such as Sierra Trad­ing Post (800-713-4534) and Lill-ing (800-747-WOOL) are resources for woolen underwear, as are sportsmens' catalogues. Put the hot water bottle to use on the feet at night, or wherever a touch of comfort is needed. Use warming herbs in cooking, such as cayenne and ginger.

Dr. Michaela Gloeckler has said that, as we face the lesser capacities of the physical body, we should seek a new ide­alism to bring to expression. This too is warmth—but on the emotional/will/spiri­tual level—bringing what life has taught us outward to the world. Clear vision de­veloped from years of living, combined with caring for the future, is the applica­tion of ourselves that warms the harden­ing tendencies of the physical body. It keeps us supple, healthy and vital in the second half of life. The senators of an­cient Rome and the Ph.D. students in their 50's are our companions in reshaping the world, with eyes and hearts of wisdom, and in so doing giving health to ourselves.

Kelly Sutton has a family practice in New Hampshire and is active in the AURUM Foun­dation.

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