Upstate News

January 31, 2005
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate president provides health advice in Optimal Aging book

SYRACUSE, N.Y.- It’s enough to produce a good dose of anxiety: growing old and maintaining one’s health and financial well being. But advice on how to do it all well has arrived in the form of 1,193-page book written by dozens of experts from the fields of medicine, finance and law.

One such expert lending advice and knowledge on aging is SUNY Upstate Medical University President Gregory L. Eastwood, M.D., who wrote the chapter on the gastrointestinal system covering ABCs of digestive maladies, from heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux to peptic ulcer disease and pancreatic cancer.

A gastroenterologist by training, Eastwood says as the gastrointestinal system is like all the other body systems in that as you age “the likelihood that you will experience a problem with some aspect of your digestive system increases.”

Much digestive trouble can be linked to diet, he notes. “As we age, our diet changes,” Eastwood says. “We may not have the energy to go through the mechanics of shopping and preparing food for a meal. Ill-fitting dentures can make eating difficult and depression can curb our appetite, too.” he said. “All of this can lead to bowel irregularities and general feeling of being unwell.”

The digestive system’s most notorious disease is colon cancer, which in some way affects everyone as we age. “It is likely that you either have colon cancer now, will get it in the future, or have a close relative or friend with colon cancer,” Eastwood writes.

Despite colon cancer’s killer instinct-it ranks behind lung cancer for men and breast and lung cancer for women as a cause of death-it is still a topic that receives scant attention compared to breast and lung cancer. “People are still uncomfortable talking about one’s rectum or colon,” Eastwood says.

Some people, fearing the discomfort of a colonoscopy of sigmoidoscopy, fail to get screened for colon cancer, which hinders early detection of the disease. As with any cancer, early detection of colon cancer greatly increases one’s survival rate. However, anxiety over colon cancer screenings may soon ease. Eastwood notes that advances, such as a virtual colonoscopy in which CT scans are taken, are becoming more available and do not have such a high level of discomfort for the patient.

Genetics plays a large part in determining who will eventually be diagnosed with colon cancer, but Eastwood notes that recent clinical trials and laboratory studies have identified several agents that may prevent colon cancer. They include aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-infammatory drugs, vitamins A, C and E, calcium, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids and postmenopausal replacement. Eastwood says further study, however, is needed to be able make more substantial claims on the benefits of these agents.

In addition to highlighting the impact aging has on the body systems, the Optimal Aging Manual addresses special health concerns for the aging population, including pain, sleep and exercise, elder abuse and end of life care. Financial planning and legal issues are covered, too.

“Today’s seniors are more active and more aware of how to maintain good health, than they were years ago,” Eastwood said. “The medical portion of this book will help them develop a better understanding of what happens to their bodies as they age and how they can maintain good health and vitality.”

Eastwood said the book can also serve as a resource for those caring for aging parents, as it will help them understand an array of issues related to the aging population.

The book, with a foreword by Art Linkletter, was edited by geriatrician Kevin O’Neil, M.D., and attorney Renno Peterson. It sells for $59.95 and is available for sale at

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