Vancouver naturopathic practitioner Larry Chan routinely recommends aerobics and weight training for patients concerned about the effects of aging. Chan, cofounder of a holistic health clinic called Integrative Healing Arts, told the Georgia Straight in his office that aerobics improves circulation. Lifting weights boosts hormone levels and builds strength. However, he placed a particular emphasis on the value of tai chi, a Chinese system of calisthenics involving slow, controlled movements.
“It’s good for circulation,” Chan said. “It’s good for balance, but it’s also good for calming your spirit.”
Chan explained that stress leads to the release of harmful hormones, such as cortisol, that break down the body. Anxiety also interferes with the production of beneficial hormones, which are already in decline as people reach their mid-40s. Tai chi counteracts this by calming the mind, slowing the release of stress-related hormones.
“Tai chi is like high-class meditation—in the sense that you’re doing walking meditation, in some ways,” he said.
This is just one element of Chan’s multifaceted, East-West approach to helping his patients cope with the ravages of aging. Chan, who is also a chiropractor and an acupuncturist, and Kim Liew, a medical doctor, are key players in a comprehensive age-management program at Integrative Healing Arts. “It’s not about living longer,” Chan said. “It’s about living healthier.”
The program, which costs approximately $3,000, looks at health from a broad standpoint. At the outset, a patient undergoes several tests, including an examination of the amount of toxicity in the body. This creates base lines for such things as exposure to pesticides or the effects of mercury fillings. Chan pointed out that the body becomes more acidic with age, so this is also measured.
In addition, Liew and Chan examine the degree of glycation. This term refers to sugar molecules binding to protein or fat molecules. Chan noted that the process of glycation creates a “soup” that corrodes the body’s cells, accelerating the aging process.
Then there are tests for such hormones as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and others. Human growth hormone isn’t measured directly because it’s too transient in the body. However, Chan said that levels can be determined by assessing the concentration of an indicator called IGI-1, which is an insulinlike substance.
Chan described hormones as a “repair kit” for the body. But he emphasized that these levels fall sharply as people move into midlife.
“You start breaking down, and your body starts aging,” Chan said. “If we can slow that and increase the repair kit, your body will break down less quickly—and you have better longevity and better health.”
Aging can be addressed through hormone treatments, which Liew prescribes. In addition, patients can enhance hormone levels by taking nutritional supplements, improving their diet, taking appropriate steps to remove toxins from their body. “We can nourish the genes by giving you the right nutrition, the right diet, for your body,” Chan said.
To address stress, a patient might be referred to an in-house counsellor, who can help decrease anxiety levels. Chan said that patients are also referred to a personal trainer, who will teach exercises that boost hormone levels.
Chan acknowledged that there’s a new dimension to age management, spurred on by research into harmful chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the production of hormones. Hormone treatments won’t achieve a patient’s goal if toxic substances block their effectiveness. He suggested that an improved diet and intravenous work can “chelate the materials” out of the body. “One of the classic endocrine disruptors is heavy metal,” Chan said.
To control blood-sugar conversion, he might recommend antiglycation supplements. He noted that selenium or rezveratrol or certain coenzymes can help address the problem. “What we try to do is create packages to help people do it simply,” Chan emphasized. “Otherwise, it’s overwhelming.”
Chan, who is 55, said he became interested in age-management treatments about 10 years ago. He noted that one of the biggest breakthroughs in this field came when Wisconsin endocrinologist Daniel Rudman—who died in 1994—demonstrated that injections of human growth hormone could reverse some of the visible signs of aging.
“That was the watershed moment in this kind of medicine,” Chan said.
Rudman was the lead author on a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1990. It looked at the effects of human-growth-hormone treatments on 21 healthy men between the ages of 60 and 81. Within this group, 12 received regular doses over a six-month period. The other nine were part of a control group and were not given any hormone injections.
Those who received treatment experienced significant changes. These included an average 8.8–percent increase in lean-body mass, a 14.4–percent decrease in adipose-tissue mass (fatty body tissue), and a 1.6–percent increase in lumbar vertebral bone density. Skin thickness increased in the experimental group by 0.1 percent.
The control group experienced no changes in any of these areas.
Rudman’s team reported that “structural changes”—such as a decrease in bone density and an increase in fatty tissue—had previously been considered “unavoidable results” of the aging process.
“These findings suggest that the atrophy of the lean body mass and its component organs and the enlargement of the mass of adipose tissue that are characteristic of the elderly result at least in part from diminished secretion of growth hormone,” they reported. “If so, the age-related changes in body composition should be correctable in part by the administration of human growth hormone, now readily available as a biosynthetic product.”
North Vancouver resident Max Fleming told the Straight in a phone interview that he has been a patient of Chan’s for 15 years. When he first sought help, Fleming was suffering from the side effects of drugs he was prescribed following knee surgery. Later, Fleming relied on Chan for age-management treatment. “He’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known in my life,” Fleming said.
Fleming, 72, claimed that most medical doctors don’t like naturopaths, but Chan is so respected that he receives a huge number of referrals from physicians. “You’re getting both western and eastern medicine from him,” Fleming said.
Laurie O’Neill, a 50-year-old Prince George businesswoman, told the Straight in a phone interview that the age-management program at Integrated Healing Arts is a very natural way to assist women in midlife who want to maintain their strength and vitality and avoid the symptoms of menopause.
“If you are someone my age, you’re under a fair amount of pressure not to show your age,” O’Neill said. “I don’t look at being 50 as a bad thing, and I don’t like to be treated like that.”
She pointed out that Chan has a “strong foundation” in the sciences but that he also helps patients learn to listen to their bodies. She is learning from him that there is joy in living a balanced and harmonious life through all of its stages. “He’s a very good example of how to move through life successfully at any age,” she said.
When the Straight pointed out to Chan that he looks young for his age, he chuckled with just a trace of self-consciousness. “You’ve got to practise what you preach,” he said only half-jokingly. “Otherwise, you’re in trouble.”
In case you’re wondering, despite his busy schedule, Chan sets aside time every day to do tai chi in the back yard of his home in Deep Cove.