I paid a visit last week to my acupuncturist, who now specializes in a mysterious diagnostic art called Nutrition Response Testing (NRT). This requires that I lie on a table with my left arm raised at about a 60-degree angle and resist the downward pressure she applies to my arm while placing small jars of nutritional supplements on my belly and checking various points on my body with her other hand.
She’s very good at this. I think.
The entire diagnostic process takes less than a half hour, after which she delivers her verdict: My kidneys have recovered from their stress of last month, my adrenals and pancreas are both strong. I just need to do a little work on my liver. She dispenses a couple jars of nutritional supplements and sends me on my way.
I always feel great when I leave her office. That could be because she always tells me how healthy I am.
This could be a trick, I suppose, to keep me from questioning what exactly it is she is doing that tells her that I’m healthy when somewhere deep inside of my body some random cell could be preparing to express itself as some virulent cancer cell that will quickly spread to my stressed liver and snuff out my once-promising life at what some really old people might regard as a tragically young age.
Or maybe what she’s telling me is true. Who knows?
One of the great quandaries we get to face as we slide into old age is whether to embrace a positive or a negative view of our health — whether to obsess over the numbers on the scale or our latest cholesterol count or choose to practice healthy behaviors as best we can and assume we’re going to be mostly OK.
For me that means declining the ritual screenings (colonoscopy, prostate, etc.), staying away from conventional doctors, and periodically visiting practitioners that employ mysterious healing techniques that leave me feeling like I’m the picture of health — at least for an old guy.
I get that this may seem a bit ludicrous, Pollyannish, even fatal, but there’s some research to back me up. A new study from the University of Geneva in Switzerland suggests that older folks who believe they’re healthy actually live longer than those who think they’re ailing.
Researchers tracked more than 6,000 middle-aged and older people for a dozen years and found that their “subjective reports” of perceived health were a significant indicator of mortality. As study author Stephen Aichele put it, “The result that psychological variables are so strongly linked to mortality risk is very surprising because much extant evidence supports the hypothesis that the strongest predictors of survival in old age are of medical or physiological nature.”
It’s obviously easier to be positive about your health as you get older if you’re feeling good most of the time, but even the healthiest geezers can obsess about small signs of trouble and feel like they’re sliding down some slippery slope toward decrepitude. And Aichele’s research suggests that these first hints of mortality may speed up that slide.
Nobody really knows how long they’re going to walk this mortal plain. It’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you. But, as I’ve learned from my NRT visits, sometimes mysteries can have salutary effects.