TCM and Aging

There’s nothing cosmetic about TCM. It is a great facilitator of wellness and health, and can help reduce the aging process if it is part of an overall integrative program that includes diet and lifestyle modification.

By Susan Tretakis – My dining companion leaned across the table and said to me; “I have to tell you, I think your total Traditional Chinese Medicine conversion makes you very brave.”

I sat back and thought: “Brave?? Me??? How cool is that!!!!”

I believed myself to be as far from brave as one can be; in fact, if there is such a word, I would describe myself as “brave-less”.

And, just as I was getting ready to reveal this truth, he continued, “Not everyone would attempt such a dramatic weight loss at your age. Many women fear that losing that much weight would make them look older – what with flabby skin and so on. It’s refreshing to see someone comfortable in her aging.”

Two things flashed across my mental dashboard simultaneously: First, he should have stopped at sentence number one – and secondly, I DEFINITELY need new dining companions.

Self-disclosure: I am vain. I grew up during Woodstock when razors were obsolete and one used a mirror only to paint pictures on ones’ cheek, knees or wherever. I lived through the 70’s and 80’s of big hair (as compared to long hair), Twiggy eyeliner, Jane Fonda tapes and when razors became extremely necessary. I suffered through the 90’s and early 2000’s dressed in “pumps and pearls”, routinely buffed and glossed by professionals to maintain the appearance necessitated for working in an academic system. Mirrors were hung, toted around in purses and luggage, stored in desk drawers and available with and without lights and magnifications.

Now, retired, the only dress code I follow is one of comfort. Money previously spent on monthly facials, weekly massages, manicures and pedicures is now spent on dental bills – let alone homeownership maintenance. I now steadfastly avoid that aisle in department stores where “new and improved” magnifying mirrors stand ready to reveal each line and wrinkle.

I’m still vain and somewhat proud, and still enjoy the occasional beauty treat, and I would love to be told “I look good for my age”, but in this chapter of my life, TCM has made me made me see a bigger picture.

A very large “Hi Definition” picture.

In “Aging Well with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine”, Jennifer Dublowsky, L.Ac., Dip.Ac., writes, Oriental medicine has a long history of healing and rejuvenation that teaches us a great deal about aging well. Two thousand years ago, ancient Chinese scholars described the stages of aging in the Huang Di Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic). They remind us that we cannot change our genetics, but we can change how we live to extend and improve the quality of our lives.”

I always get a bit jittery when I read about or discuss genetics; when they were my age, each of my parents were in their last 3 months of hospice care. I have no living family. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a child, medical information was not as available as it is today. In some ways, that’s a bad thing – especially when attempting to complete medical intake forms. In many ways, not knowing any health history beyond my parents is a blessing; true or not, I believe I can write my own health story.

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that simple positive changes can enhance the quality of ones’ life. Dr. Dubowsky continues, “Acupuncture and Oriental medicine emphasize prevention over treatment. This makes a great deal of sense because treating an illness that has already damaged your body is much more difficult then preventing the illness from occurring in the first place. It is never too late. You can begin today.”

I LOVE those last two sentences.

In “Aging, Anti-Aging, and Longevity” Paul L. Reller, L.Ac writes, “patients that do their research find that an individually tailored program of longevity can be achieved with a pro-active approach using a TCM physician, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist. The approach in TCM to longevity focuses not on superficial aspects of aging but on the truly important issues of underlying health and optimal function. The first thing that the aging population needs to understand are the goals of longevity, the definition of longevity and objective scientific facts which remarkably support the practices of the ancient Chinese programs in Daoist TCM practice and public health.”

In short, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, anti-aging should not be the race we Westerners continue to run. We should focus more on optimal aging. Dr. Reller concludes that “Looking good and maintaining vitality in all aspects of life follows from optimal aging and health maintenance. Restoring the respect for the elders in society involves showing society that with age comes both beauty and wisdom”.

Take that, former dining companion!

To be perfectly honest, when I first began to research this article, I asked GOOGLE about “acupuncture and anti- aging.” It was somewhat unsettling how much information came back about “acupuncture facials”; detailed accounts of facial rejuvenation by beauty editors, health editors, and numerous YouTube videos. Apparently, it’s “the thing” right now – and truthfully, I don’t even know if my acupuncturist, or if the other TCM doctors at my wellness center do this. They may; they may not.

It’s just not “the thing” for me right now, as vain and proud as I am. What is paramount to me these days is the question of “What really matters?”

I suspect it is because I know – not by a mirrored reflection but by how I feel – that my acupuncturist has been busy balancing my qi so I can avoid future anxiety attacks, limiting my TMJ pain, curing my sciatica, lowering my chronic high blood pressure, stabilizing my sinus and dry-eye issues, managing my vertigo, empowering me to control my weight, and helping me keep my original, aging, arthritic knees.

Given all that he is currently doing – and given how successful his treatments have been – do I really want to ask him to interrupt his treatments that keep me “feeling well” to make me “look” younger? Right now, it’s more important to me to be able to walk across a room unassisted, sleep well at night, not be in pain and not look for answers in the refrigerator.

I can easily understand how acupuncture can be an excellent alternative for cosmetic surgery; it’s been an excellent alternative for me for everything surgical. Simply put, acupuncture considers the individual. Specific acupuncture points are selected that are appropriate for the individual at a specific moment in time.

If you’re lucky – as I am – your Acupuncturist will teach you that other factors that need to be addressed as part of any anti-aging protocol: diet, Chinese herbs, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, stress – all of which affect aging at the cellular level.

If you’re lucky – as I am – when you begin to whine about “mirror moments” and aging – your Acupuncturist – in the nicest, most compassionate way – will remind you to “get over yourself” and that aging is a gift denied to many.

If you’re lucky – as I am – you’ll let Traditional Chinese Medicine teach you that feeling well and feeling comfortable in your body is the definition of “optimal health” – at any age.

If you’re lucky – as I am – the combination of Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs and caring TCM practitioners will turn the most “brave-less” into the very brave – and empower you to write your health story – past, present and future.



  1. Dr. Landon Agoado
  2. GOOGLE/ WebMD.