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Turning Back The Clock

Anti-aging medicine says it can bring back our salad days, but other experts offer a different recipe for staying young.

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In Defense of the Wisdom Years

Susun Weed, herbalist and director of the Wise Woman Center in Saugerties, has been writing and speaking about aging—particularly women's aging—since before 1992, when she wrote New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way (Ash Tree Publishing). Her teachings are all about staying fit, hale, and healthy at every stage of life, but she is not anti-aging. She's pro. "If you eat well and have vigorous exercise in your life, you will live longer, and if you live longer, you will get old," says Weed. "Getting old is the reward. I think what we need is different adjectives. Excitingly old. Deliciously old. Stunningly old. Sexily old." Naturalists like Weed don't agree that rubbing on a transdermal cream, taking a sublingual pill, or injecting a hormone are the right ways to intervene in the body's sunset years. For menopausal women, she offers a gardenful of herbal remedies—such as motherwort tincture, nettle and oat straw infusions, and vitex tincture—to counteract the hot flashes, brain fog, and other difficult symptoms. "I've been telling women for over 20 years that bio-identical hormones are even worse than synthetic hormones," says Weed. "These are experiments on women, and no one is tabulating the results."

Yet it's not about sitting back and doing nothing while you slowly grow decrepit. It's about being proactive. "I think it's wise for us to not want to be senile or debilitated," says Weed. "There are preventive things that we can all do to help us be vigorously healthy at any age. You can take steps—and when I say steps, I literally mean steps." Weed, who is nearing 70, loves her Fitbit—a pedometer that runs on Wii technology. Her goal is 6,000 steps a day. Weed is also an outspoken proponent of herbal infusions made with plants like nettle and red clover, lavish with vitamins and minerals; she claims that drinking a quart a day can not only prevent many age-related diseases but also even reverse longstanding conditions like diabetes and osteoporosis. Without any clinical data to support this, she points to an online community, the Wise Woman Forum, for anecdotal evidence. But perhaps her juiciest advice centers around sexual health: "Did you know that the clitoris is the only part of the human body that never ages? So if you're looking for anti-aging, it is literally at your fingertips, ladies." Weed prescribes seven orgasms a week for all women. "You do that, and your body will make all the hormones it needs. You are never too old for this therapy, and it's free!"

Meanwhile, the anti-agers hold fast to their bio-identicals. Gold, who has been doing BHT for the last seven years, is evangelical about its benefits: better memory, great energy, healthy skin and hair, a flat stomach—the list goes on. And Gill walks his talk: He says that he, too, takes the hormones he believes in and prescribes. But you don't have to balance your biochemistry, boil herbs, or buy a vibrator to agree with the preventive bottom line: To thrive through aging, we need to be more active, and more nourished.

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