How do Naturopathic Doctors Promote Healthy Aging?

Expected lifespan at birth is declining – and steadily so. The last time the United States experienced such a long and sustained decline was a century ago during World War I when an influenza pandemic crossed the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, average life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.6 years, one-tenth below the previous year. And the trend does not seem to be a global issue. Life expectancy at birth in Europe is stable, even increasing, clocking in at 81 years in 2016.

In addition to a decrease in life expectancy at birth, age-specific death rates increased in the U.S. for age groups including 25-34, 35-44, and 85+. The leading causes of death in the U.S. remained the same in a year-over-year comparison, indicating a lack of progress in treating heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

How are naturopathic doctors uniquely positioned to promote healthy aging?

Aging is a natural process. It can be accelerated or impeded depending on diet, nutrition status, and lifestyle.

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) specialize in delivering actionable information to patients by offering personalized treatment plans. 

Licensed NDs are experts in natural medicine, which may be the best way to support a healthy aging process.

Naturopathic doctors emphasize the prevention of disease, helping to cut down on health care costs later in life. In addition, licensed NDs working in the primary care setting provide a deep understanding of patient care and treat each individual for their unique concerns.

What are the biggest health concerns related to aging?

Healthy aging is negatively affected when physical ailments or lack of energy prevent an individual from being active. Some signs of aging include trouble sleeping, weight gain, especially around the middle, and loss of muscle mass. Starting at age 30, people can lose as much as five percent of muscle mass per decade of life.

Cardiovascular risk

For some patients, hypertension (high blood pressure) comes from inactivity and weight gain. A tendency for diabetes arises from poor dietary choices, stress, and inactivity. Likewise, cardiovascular disorders also arise from inactivity and stress, as well as depression.

Cognitive health

A healthy body is best accompanied by a healthy mind, and cognitive decline is also a troubling symptom that may come with aging. In 2003, experts estimated that as many as 5.1 million Americans 65 years of age or older could have Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to grow to 13.2 million by 2050. A 2012 article published in The BMJ reported that cognitive decline can begin as early as age 45. And in a 2013 article published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organizationresearchers described cognitive impairment as a chronic condition that is a “precursor to dementia” in as many as one-third of all dementia cases. Genetics may be an uncontrollable factor for cognitive decline, but taking an active role in your diet, and emphasizing prevention and natural treatment of common chronic ailments helps prevent cognitive decline. Naturopathic doctors help support patients to obtain a healthy weight and physical fitness. One important fact is that decreasing obesity lowers the risk of cognitive decline.

Bone and joint health

Losses in bone density and joint fluid are common complaints individuals experience as they age. Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease affecting at least 50 percent of all women aged 50 and older and also can pose a significant problem in aging men.

Bone density loss occurs as bones lose calcium and other important minerals. Limbs become brittle and break more easily. Diminished cartilage and calcification in joints – often the hips, knees, and fingers – is an essentially universal problem in aging adults, with most adults experiencing at least minor arthritis. Fluid loss is partially responsible for the loss of height with aging. Discs between spinal vertebrae become thinner, vertebrae lose bone density, and the spinal column compresses. In addition, foot arches may become less distinct.

Risks of multiple pharmaceuticals

At least one-third of older adults between the ages of 75 and 85 take at least five prescription medications, a phenomenon called “polypharmacy.” Many medications prescribed are given to address the side effects of other prescriptions. Older adults are paying more for their healthcare and are at a greater risk for negative side effects, dangerous drug interactions, non-adherence due to complicated medication regimens, and an overall decrease in functionality.

What are the aging differences between males and females?

Women lose muscle mass earlier than men, but women typically live longer than men and are more likely to reach the centenarian mark. Menopause causes women to experience a more rapid hormonal change versus the gradual change felt by men.

These rapid changes experienced by women are responsible for the unique symptoms of menopause which can exacerbate bone density loss with age and increase the risk of breaking bones. Varying amounts of hormone production during menopause can also lead to weight gain, moodiness or depression, sleeping problems, hot flashes, and pain during sex.

While men do not experience the rapid hormonal changes that characterize menopause, the gradual change in hormone levels men do have is associated with some health effects like reduced testicular tissue mass, gradual decrease of testosterone increased risk of erectile dysfunction enlarged prostate gland (this affects 90 percent of men older than 80 years).

What are some modifiable factors to increase bone, joint, and muscle health?

Exercise is the most important intervention to help increase the health of bones, joints, and muscles. 

Humans are meant to move. Exercise does not need to be marathon-running or competitive Olympic weightlifting. Even just three rounds of 20-second stair climbing three times per week can make a difference in cardiovascular health for untrained women. A 2017 Osteoporosis International study found that physical exercise positively influences muscle mass and muscle function in individuals 60 and older, most evidently by improving gait speed, balance, and other tests of physical performance. For people who are too frail for rigorous workouts or even walking, standing on one foot offers an alternative way to support bone health.  Even for those who exercise routinely, a few minutes on one foot helps promote core strength and balance. (Caution – as balance problems are also an important factor in the again process, standing on one foot is not recommended for those with existing balance issues, or who may be at risk of falls.)

2017 Oncotarget study found that regular physical activity is associated with longer telomere lengths. Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes, structures that package human DNA. Preserving telomere length preserves genetic information and a functional cell division process, which could reduce cellular aging and decrease the risk of age-related conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, and stress. How can we promote cognitive health in older age?

Astaxanthin is a supplement with recent research supporting muscle endurance and strength in older individuals.

Supporting a healthy body with a healthy mind

Naturopathic doctors prescribe supplements including curcumin, resveratrol, and bacopa monnieri as a way of optimizing brain health. Creating healthy sleep habits and reducing stress are also considered beneficial in the fight against cognitive decline – an essential consideration in healthy aging. Naturopathic doctors have an opportunity to help prevent degenerative conditions.

Other research supports the use of a multifactorial, individualized approach to cognitive decline which includes addressing the gut microbiome, heavy metal levels, neurotransmitters, and mitochondrial health. Understanding a patient’s genetic predisposition to particular risk factors for cognitive decline helps NDs develop a personalized approach to treatment.

NDs also support the positive role of work and community connections to prevent and address cognitive decline. Regular social activity has been shown to improve cognitive stimulation. NDs are equipped to help patients and their families identify appropriate programs to help in cases of cognitive decline and dementia.

How do dietary needs change with age?

Stomach acid levels typically decrease with age, altering digestive capacity. One result can be diminished absorption of nutrients such as B12, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Caloric needs decrease with age as a function of lower muscle mass and activity levels, but this proves detrimental to the accompanying increased need for specific nutrients. Maintaining this balance of optimal nutrition can be difficult for people as they age. Licensed naturopathic doctors can assist with targeted nutritional interventions.

As described above, menopause is often a time when bone density begins to diminish, leading to osteoporosis. One reason is the lowering of hormone levels that promote bone health. Nutritional recommendations focused on bone health is advisable. Vitamins K, C, and D along with magnesium and calcium are helpful nutrients for bone health.

By addressing genetic propensity and lifestyle factors, naturopathic doctors can help you review the kinds of health challenges you might encounter and can make recommendations about modifiable risk factors in order to prevent or slow the aging issues. Prevention is always easier than treatment and having a naturopathic doctor on your team can be a wise investment in your healthy aging.

A service for consumers from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Michelle Simon, Ph.D., ND, for her contributions to the content of this FAQ.

INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.

Founded in 1985, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is the national professional society representing licensed or licensable naturopathic physicians who are graduates of four-year, residential graduates programs.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.