Your Health: A Guide to Feeling Great
The Top Doctors
Meet Boston's top docs, chosen by the patients who know them best.
By Cheryl Alkon
Who did Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling consult when he injured a tendon in his ankle during the American League Division Series? Does skier Nikki Stone's orthopedist deserve credit for her gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics? Who does Mayor Tom Menino see to treat his Crohn's disease? We asked high-profile Bostonians to name their favorite physicians and tell us what makes these docs the best at what they do.
We asked: Stacy Madison, cofounder of Stacy's Pita Chip Company, single mom to one-year-old twins. Her pick: Dr. Sandra Dayaratna, “, “OB/GYN, Beth Israel Deaconess, Braintree (also affiliated with the hospital's Boston and Needham locations), 781-843-2434. A dedicated career woman overseeing a $24 million healthy-snack-food company, Madison started feeling baby pangs in her late thirties and decided she didn't want to wait until she was in a relationship to become a mom. “I was just blown away by [Dayaratna] and her staff,” says Madison, who underwent intrauterine insemination and gave birth to twins at age 38. “They were completely nonjudgmental” about her status as an older, single mother, she says. “Now I'm hers for life.”
We asked: “, “Melanie Atkins, first soloist for the Boston Ballet. Her pick: Dr. Mika Tapanainen , Michaud Chiropractic Center, Newton, 617-969-2225. “Muscle work tends to be very hands-on, and Dr. Tapanainen is sensitive and comfortable to be around,” says Atkins, whose job requires her to perform arabesques, pirouette en pointe, and leap across a stage with ease and grace eight months a year. “He's worked with a lot of athletes and is incredibly knowledgeable about the human body. To him, it's like a big puzzle. He loves finding the cause [of pain] and then solving the problem.”
We asked: Kathy Delaney-Smith, women's basketball coach at Harvard University. Her pick : Â Dr. Jay Harris, “, “radiation oncology chair, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, 617-632-2291; Dr. Lawrence N. Shulman, “, “chief medical officer, Dana-Farber, 617-632-2277. Five years ago, shortly after scoring her 250th victory in 18 seasons of coaching, Delaney-Smith — the winningest Ivy League coach of all time — faced a new opponent: breast cancer. “When I was diagnosed, I [felt] lucky to be in Boston,” says Delaney-Smith, who had a lumpectomy in her right breast that year, followed by radiation, chemotherapy, and a five-year tamoxifen regimen. She sees Shulman, a former college athlete himself, every few months for follow-up care and appreciates his efficiency. “I've never had to wait.”
We asked: Melissa Gibeley Finch, nurse, mother, and one of 13 siblings. Her pick: Dr. Thomas M. Seman, North Shore Pediatrics, Beverly, 978-921-2917. With 12 brothers and sisters, 18 nieces and nephews, and a son of her own, Finch (daughter of Robert Gibeley, owner of Giblees clothing store in Danvers) knows pediatricians. “Dr. Seman is patient, has a great sense of humor, and is very approachable,” she says. Three of her siblings also take their kids to Seman. “He's not stuffy, and the kids pick up on that,” says Finch, who says her son cries with every doctor except Seman.
We asked : Nikki Stone, America's first female aerial skiing Olympic champion. Her pick: Dr. James Rainville, chief of spine physiatry, New England Baptist Hospital Bone and Joint Institute, Boston, 617-754-5246. After being told by 10 doctors that she would never jump again because of a debilitating back injury, Stone, who is from Westborough, found a miracle in Rainville. “He understands that athletes are willing to push themselves and take risks,” she says. After four months of physical therapy supervised by Rainville, Stone was back on the slopes and won the gold at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
We asked: Lisa Hughes, CBS-4 news anchor. Her pick: Dr. Jeffrey M. Sobell, SkinCare Physicians of Chestnut Hill, 617-731-1600. Hughes — whose face is watched by thousands every day — knows the value of good skin. “I got a thousand sunburns when I was young, and I never wore sunscreen,” she admits. Now “I have to keep up a good skincare regimen because I'm on TV.” With a history of skin cancer in her family, Hughes has Sobell check for suspicious moles. He doesn't candy-coat anything, says Hughes, and his straightforward manner makes his patients feel comfortable. “When you're sitting there in your cotton robe and underwear, waiting for a skin scan, you have to feel comfortable with someone,” she says.
Orthopedic Surgeon (Wrist/Hand)
We asked : Robert Zelnick, former ABC News reporter, chairman of Boston University's journalism department. His pick: Dr. Jesse Bernard Jupiter, director, Orthopedic Hand Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, 617-726-8530. The author of four books and a regular contributor to national newspapers and scholarly journals, Zelnick spends most of his day in front of a computer. A couple of years ago, he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. “I had the feeling that you get when you sleep on your hand — pins and needles,” he says. About a week after Jupiter operated on him, Zelnick was symptom free. “Today,” he says, “I would have to guess if you asked me which hand was the problem.”
Orthopedic Surgeon (Foot/Ankle)
We asked : Curt Schilling, Red Sox pitcher. His pick: Dr. William Morgan, orthopedic surgery chair, Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, Brighton, 617-254-9991, and Dr. George Theodore, foot and ankle service chief, orthopedic surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, 617-726-1344. Can you say Reverse the Curse? Schilling credits this duo for fixing several problems in his shaky right ankle — a move that kept him pitching strongly against the Yankees and, later, the Cardinals and helped the Red Sox finally bring home baseball's highest honor. “These guys are premier in their fields,” says Schilling, who underwent four surgeries before, during, and after the series. “And I never took a step without being fully informed of the potential issues at hand.”
We asked : Sanford Sylvan, baritone and internationally acclaimed opera singer. His pick: Dr. Robert Stern, “, “chief of otolaryngology, Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, Brighton, 617-787-9877. “Singers know when something isn't right — if the voice isn't flexible, if the range is impaired,” says Sylvan. “The audience might not [detect it], but singers do.” For a year and a half, Sylvan battled a misdiagnosed sinus infection that affected his work. Then some colleagues recommended Stern, who put Sylvan on the right antibiotic. “He was absolutely brilliant,” says Sylvan. “There are thousands of dollars hanging in the balance if my voice doesn't work the way it should.”
We asked: Paul Foster, vice president of community and government relations, Reebok. His pick: Dr. Igor Palacios, director of the Knight Catheterization Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, 617-726-8424. After suffering a heart attack one year ago, Foster was rushed to the hospital, where Palacios inserted a stent to break up an arterial blockage. “He took care of me right away,” says Foster, who has seen the doctor every six months since for monitoring and gushes about Palacios's style: “He is extremely frank about the necessity of watching your diet and cholesterol and about exercising.”
We asked: Paul Levy, president and CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. His pick: Dr. Amy N. Ship, “, “Beth Israel Deaconess, Boston, 617-667-9600. “This is awkward because I'm responsible for 1,200 doctors, but Dr. Ship is the best doctor in the world,” says Levy. He praises Ship for her empathy and her sensible answers to medical problems, like recommending a switch in a nasal hayfever medication after Levy kept getting nosebleeds. Yet some things are beyond an internist's realm: “I'm lucky enough not to have any serious problems, except for the mental problems that come with running a hospital,” Levy jokes. “But she doesn't have to deal with those.”
We asked: Hal Gill, defenseman, Boston Bruins. His pick: Dr. Edwin Riley III and his son, Dr. Edwin Riley IV, 10 Hawthorne Place, Ste. 102, Boston, 617-723-4032. “I've been fortunate — I've only had one tooth knocked out in seven years of playing with the Bruins,” says Gill, whose left front tooth was bonded by the father-and-son duo. He praises the Rileys for their relaxed manner during games, which they attend. “They are very calm when there are close calls on the ice,” said Gill. “It's not the easiest job to look into someone's mouth when they want to get back [into the game]. I hope I've never yelled at them.”
We asked: Mayor Tom Menino. His pick: Dr. John Saltzman, associate director of endoscopy, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, 617-732-6389. After noshing on peanuts and Cracker Jack at a Red Sox game last summer, the mayor suffered an intestinal flare-up and was admitted to the hospital two days later. When he called his gastroenterologist, Saltzman “left a Red Sox game to see me,” says Menino, who had been previously diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a condition that causes painful intestinal blockages. “I told him, 'I'm not going to die — you don't have to leave the game,' but that's how committed he is to his patients.”
Additional research by Marisa Iallonardo and Lesley Savage
Miracles of Science
Boston doctors and researchers wow the world with life-changing breakthroughs.
By Erin Byers
The first organ transplant took place in Boston. So did the first successful reattachment of a human limb and countless other medical breakthroughs. We expect great things from this research mecca. And rightly so: The city's 13 teaching hospitals and three medical schools share a staggering $1.5 billion a year in federal research funding. Here's how doctors are using it to help us beat infertility, survive cancer, and fight disease. And that's just for starters.
Genetic testing: Fifty-nine-year-old Dr. Paul Hardy of Hardy Healthcare Associates in Hingham is likely to contract Alzheimer's disease. He knows this because a predictive genetic test he conducted on himself told him so. But instead of submitting to destiny, he has started taking vitamin supplements, cut almost all fat from his diet, and changed his lifestyle. He's also one of a handful of Massachusetts doctors administering predictive genetic testing on their patients, reading genomes (genetic material in human chromosomes) to determine whether they're susceptible to diseases like high blood pressure or hypercholesterolemia. The next step is pharmacogenomics: tailoring drugs to a person's unique genetic profile. Hardy works with two companies to conduct the tests, which require either a cell culture from the mouth or a blood sample. 781-740-8300, www.hardyhealthcare.com.
Fertility: Only women devastated by infertility — who must endure the torturous daily routine of mixing, measuring, and injecting vials of ovulation-inducing solution into their thighs — can fully grasp the significance of the Follistim Pen. It looks like an oversize ballpoint, but it's actually a convenient and discreet way for women to inject themselves with a premixed solution, taking several steps (and some of the pain) out of a time-consuming in vitro fertilization process that can last for months and even years. The principal investigator of the pen, which was approved by the FDA last March, is Dr. Samuel Pang, associate medical director of the Reproductive Science Center, a nationally ranked in vitro fertilization clinic with locations throughout New England. 800-858-4832, www.rscnewengland.com.
Childhood obesity: What if your child came home from school with not only a report card for his grades but also for his height, weight, and body-mass index? That's a reality for 5,000 students in Cambridge, the first public school system in America to institute such a system. “I noticed a number of students could not pass our fitness test,” says Dr. Robert McGowan, physical education director for the Cambridge Public Schools. “It was clear that the number of resources for an overweight child was limited.” So school administrators approached the Cambridge Health Alliance to help start the program, which notifies parents where their children fall within the Center for Disease Control's guidelines for obesity. About 80 percent of overweight children aged 10 to 15 become obese adults, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Cancer survivors: Months of chemotherapy. Years of popping pills. Side effects. Exhaustion. A cancer patient may beat his ailment, but that doesn't mean he's out of the woods. Cancer survivors face other risk factors including emotional distress, heart disease, infertility, osteoporosis — even different types of cancer. And primary-care physicians may not always take the time to tend to these survivors' needs. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute last month opened the Lance Armstrong Foundation Adult Survivorship Clinic, one of the first of its kind in the country, which will offer psychiatric and emotional screening, and provide valuable one-on-one time between medical providers and survivors. 617-632-5100, www.dana-farber.org/pat/surviving .
Regrown tissue: When an industrial worker lost part of his thumb in the late 1990s, tissue engineering expert Dr. Charles Vacanti regrew the man's thumb bone with the help of some biodegradable scaffolding and cell tissue harvested from the patient's body. Vacanti, of Brigham and Women's, next plans to regrow lung tissue. Though this procedure is still at least 10 years away from being used in humans, it could cure emphysema and lung cancer and eventually provide a substitute for major organ transplants. 617-732-8211, www.brighamandwomens.org .
The Dirt on Detox
For total-body purification, Here's the rub.
Edited by Julie Suratt
With all the processed foods, saturated fats, additives, sodium, and refined sugars we eat every day, our bodies need a break once in a while — a chance to expel the toxins that accumulate over years of gorging on burgers, fries, and shakes. Endless numbers of detox programs — from ear candling to raw juice fasts to colon hydrotherapy — claim to aid digestion, improve mental clarity, increase energy levels, and lower the risk of infection. Ever the skeptics, we tried out a few to see which cleanse your body and which simply clean out your wallet.
Green tea-ginger body wrap
How it works: “, “Treatment begins with a grape-seed exfoliation to remove dead skin cells, followed by a total-body application of green-tea-and-ginger mud to detoxify the skin. How it works: “, “It's very soothing, and your skin will feel silky smooth and soft. The jury's still out on the detox benefits. Where to go: “, “Splash at the Sports Club/LA, 4 Avery St., Boston, 617-375-8580. Cost : $143. Cleansing rating: B
How it works: Prepare for a 90-minute series of strenuous yoga poses in a room heated to nearly 100 degrees. Not only will your body release toxins along with buckets of sweat, you'll clear your mind of all worries. How it works: You'll leave floating on air. Where to go : Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga studios: 2000 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-9642; 139 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-423-9642, www.baronbaptiste.com. Cost : $12. Cleansing rating: “, “A
How it works : The aesthetician applies a glycolic treatment made from sugar cane to gently slough off the top layer of skin. After applying a facial steam bath, she squeezes the pores to remove oil and other nasty impurities. Then she applies a ginseng-tea-tree-oil-and-lavender mask to soothe the skin. How it works : Your skin will literally glow afterward, but blotchiness from the extractions may keep you at home for a day. Where to go : Daryl Christopher Salon & Day Spa, 37 Newbury St., Boston, 617-424-0250, www.dchristopher.com. Cost : $135 for 90 minutes. Cleansing rating : A-
How it works : A cone-shaped candle creates a vacuum that ever so gently pulls years' worth of amber-colored gunk from the ear canal. How it works : Very relaxing, like listening for ocean sounds in a conch shell. Some say the benefits include better hearing and sense of smell. We didn't experience this, but enjoyed the treatment. Where to go : Ãâ€ï¿½tant, 524 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-5040, www.etant.com. Cost : $50. Cleansing rating : A
How it works: “, “A disposable two-inch plastic tube is inserted into your rectum as you lay on a padded table. Water is flushed through the large intestine, loosening toxic material and peeling off layers of mucoid plaque and residue (which exits through a second, larger waste tube). The technician massages your lower abdomen to aid in the softening of fecal impactions. How it works: “, “Okay, so it's a little awkward, but strangely relaxing. You'll feel energetic and have a spring in your step afterward. (Our test subject lost three pounds.) Where to go: “, “Isis, 1652 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-734-4708. Cost: $115, initial visit ($80 colonic plus a consultation). Cleansing rating: “, “A
24-hour raw juice fast
How it works: “, “Subsist on unpasteurized organic juices, teas, and optional grains and broth for anywhere from one day to two weeks. The fast aims to rest the digestive system, clean the liver and other organs, sharpen mental functions, and increase vitality. How it works: In spite of a growing hunger, slight haziness, and a dull headache, there's a sense that your body's really digging it. For true benefits, however, we recommend a supervised three-day fast. Where to go: “, “Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health offers a three-day juice fast, 2/24-2/27. West Street, Rte. 183, Lenox, 413-448-3400, www.kripalu.org. Cost: “, “$360 (the priciest juice you'll ever drink). Cleansing rating: “, “B
How it works: Chat with the old-timers in the steam room at this 120-year-old bathhouse. Then, when your muscles are suitably poached, move to the hot sauna room where an elderly naked gentleman gives male visitors a full-body massage (platza) with an oak-leaf broom. How it works: “, “A little ferocious for beginners (again, the priciest bath you'll ever take), but there's a reason these guys live so long. Where to go: “, “Dillon's Russian Steam Bath, 77 Chestnut St., Chelsea, 617-884-9434, www.dillonsbaths.com. Cost: “, “$17 (admission), $11 (platza); Ladies' Night: Monday, 4-9 p.m., $15 (admission), $11 (platza). Cleansing rating : B+
Paging Dr. Amazing
Need a specialist, stat?
By Cheryl Alkon
Boston is home to some of the best doctors in the country — even the world. Which ones rank at the top? Read on.
Dr. Martin Abrahamson, acting chief medical officer, Joslin clinic, Boston, 617-732-2400 // Abrahamson, head of the Joslin Clinic — part of the world's largest institution dedicated to the treatment and study of diabetes — still sees patients in between teaching at Harvard Medical School, serving on boards, and making presentations abroad. With diagnosis of type 2 diabetes rising at an alarming rate and 18 million Americans living with the disease (a third of whom don't even know they've got it), Abrahamson oversees the treatment of 15,000 people a year and gives each of his own patients individualized attention. One, Jay Fialkow, says, “I [feel like] I'm the single most important person in the world to him.”
Dr. George D. Demetri, director of the center for sarcoma and bone oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, 617-632-3985 // Until just a few years ago, patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumors, an extremely rare type of stomach cancer, didn't have much hope. That is, until Demetri, the director of an international drug trial for an oral medication called Gleevec, demonstrated that the drug could target specific cancer growth cells in the tumors and, for the first time, prolong the lives of patients. “I went to Dr. Demetri because he was a great doctor, but I stayed because he's a great man,” says one of Demetri's patients, Ken Garabadian, whose cancer went into remission within four weeks of taking Gleevec. “He gave me hope.”
Dr. Ralph de la Torre, chief of cardiac surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, 617-632-8374 // “Heart surgery — it's not so hard,” says de la Torre, who worked as an engineer for a catheter company before becoming a doctor. Recently, this modest cardiac surgeon helped develop a minimally invasive procedure, called a keyhole technique, to repair or replace mitral valves in the heart through a miniscule opening near the armpit, minimizing the pain and extensive scarring typically associated with open-heart surgery. His expertise draws patients from as far away as the United Arab Emirates, and he's slated to become the first doctor in Boston to do a transplant of an Abiomed artificial heart. Â
Dr. Andrew L. Warshaw, chief of surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, 617-726-8254 // It wasn't long ago that the pancreas was “one of the most feared organs,” says Massachusetts General Physicians Organization CEO Dr. David Torchiana, who worked with Warshaw, a world-renowned pancreatic specialist, in the early 1980s. “It's unforgiving when things go wrong.” Torchiana hails Warshaw as a pioneer back in a time when little was known about pancreatic disease. “When he started training, CT scans and MRIs didn't exist,” he says. Warshaw's research on how to diagnose and treat disorders of the pancreas has helped “refine pancreatic surgery so it can be done with very low risk on complex patients,” says Torchiana.
Dr. Nawal Nour, director and founder of the African Women's Health Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, 617-732-4740 // A Sudan native who went to Brown, Nour sees about 900 patients a year who have undergone ritual female circumcision — the partial or total removal of the external genitalia — in their African homeland. “My message is to spread the word” about her opposition to the practice — which can cause scarring and pain during menstruation, urination, intercourse, and childbirth — and about her medical services, which include reconstructive surgery, she says. “I love taking care of women from this area of the world,” says Nour, who won a MacArthur Fellowship for her pioneering work and hopes to use the $500,000 prize and the interest to offer similar services in Sudan.
Wholesome options for dieting diners.
By Annie B. Copps
These days, it's hard to keep track of whether we should be avoiding carbs, gorging on protein, or getting our 40-30-30. The magic bullet for health and longevity one day turns out to be the culprit behind extra pounds and high cholesterol the next. So if we're watching what we eat, do we have to avoid restaurants altogether, or is it possible to find a healthy meal at one — and even enjoy it? We plucked a few dishes — ones they say are healthy — from local restaurants and asked registered and licensed dietician Deanna Conte, director of nutrition at Bosse Sports in Sudbury, to give us the low-down on how good for you they are.
Place: The Bristol Lounge , 200 Boylston St., Boston, 617-338-4400.
Dish Cedar plank-roasted king salmon; warm spinach, radicchio, and onion salad; apple balsamic jus
Chef: “It's healthy because salmon is so incredibly good for us with all those omega-3 fatty acids,” says chef David Blessing.
Nutritionist: Salmon is extremely healthy and is known for antiaging properties. Combined with spinach (iron) and radicchio (vitamin K), this dish is an excellent choice.
Taste: The richness of the salmon is beautifully matched with the tart, and slightly bitter, warm salad.
Place: Legal Sea Foods , Locations throughout the state, www.legalseafoods.com .
Dish Mysore rasam soup
Chef: “It's an Ayuverdic-influenced recipe inspired by southern Indian cuisine that's tomato-based and includes good sources of protein (shrimp, scallops, and cod) and spices,” says chef Richard Vellante.
Nutritionist: Filled with electrolytes and potassium, which offer restorative effects, and lycopene, a great antioxidant linked to heart health and anticancer benefits.
Taste: The balance of sweet Â to sour gives this a rich but satisfying lightness. The seafood makes it substantial, but not heavy.
Place: Lucy's, 242 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-5829.
Dish Ostrich stroganoff
Chef: “Enjoy the flavors of this classic dish without feeling weighted down,” says executive chef Eric Bogardus. “We don't add butter or sour cream to the dish — instead we use eggplant bordelaise.”
Nutritionist: Anything called “stroganoff” is usually a warning sign — but overall, this dish is extraordinarily healthy and impressive.
Taste: Surprisingly, as tasteful as any traditional rendition of the recipe.
Place:B.Good, Â 131 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-424-5252.
Dish Cousin Oliver burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles, served on a whole-wheat bun
Chef: “It's the basic burger that we all know and love, but we put a healthy spin on it by grinding chuck tenders to ensure that it's 93 percent lean beef,” says co-owner Jon Olinto.
Nutritionist: Healthy fast food seems like an oxymoron, but these guys have pulled it off.
Taste: The meat is just a little dry, but the pickles, onion, and tomato do their best to help moisten the sandwich.
Place: 33 Restaurant & Lounge, Â 33 Stanhope St., Boston, 617-572-3311.
Dish Crispy ahi tuna with soybeans and yuzu-soy syrup
Chef: “It's healthy because no butter [has been added], and the accompaniments are all soy: soybeans, tempeh, tofu,” says executive chef Anthony Dawodu.
Nutritionist: Crispy usually means extra calories, but this is very heart-healthy. The chef uses an extremely lean protein coupled with soybeans, maximizing all the benefits of flavor and taste.
Taste: This good-sized, six-ounce serving of tuna has plenty of clean flavors without a lot of weight — refreshing and fully satisfying.
Place: Radius, Â 8 High St., Boston, Â 617-426-1234.
Dish Pork Ã la Apicius with fennel, figs, curry, and cashews
Chef: “My cooking style is healthy by technique, not because I am anti-cream or butter,” says chef Michael Schlow. “I'm pro-flavor, and I've found that butter and heavy dairy mask the flavor of the ingredients.”
Nutritionist: He chose an exceptionally lean piece of pork in an appropriately sized portion and substituted flavor for fat — outstanding.
Taste: The flavors are terrific, but the best part is the abundance of texture — crunch and silky smoothness. All of the senses get involved.
How to live forever.
By Susan Abbattista
If local researchers have their way, we may live to see our great-grandchildren graduate from college.
Something almost magical happens when Della de Filippi speaks. Time slows. Each thought, each phrase, and each memory hangs suspended in air. At 100, she is poised, articulate, gracious — and squarely in the now. Every word, and every moment, counts.
Inside her tidy one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, de Filippi sits surrounded by photos of loved ones, memories of a life well lived. Since her birth on August 14, 1904, she has taken life by storm. She studied violin at Juilliard, performed and taught music, and raised her family.
Through it all, she committed herself to staying healthy. “We were very health conscious,” she says. “I made wonderful dishes with vegetables.” But she doesn't care one iota about living forever. “Everyone asks me, 'How did you get to be 100?' And I tell them, 'Well, if you sit around long enough, you'll get to be 100.'” She laughs.
Graying hair, aching joints, worry lines, sags of gravity, failing organs. The Stones had it right: It is a drag getting old. But while the rest of us are squinting at our reflections in the mirror, experts on aging are staring death in the face — trying to figure out why some people, centenarian de Filippi among them, age better than others. Their goal? To slow the aging process — or even stop it, as MIT alumnus Ray Kurzweil is attempting to do.
A self-described “age warrior,” Kurzweil says the hardships of growing old will one day be alleviated by advances in technology. And if anyone understands what's possible, it's him. The lauded Wellesley-based technology pioneer, businessman, and “futurist” has so many inventions to his credit — including the flatbed scanner and speech-recognition technology — he was awarded the 1999 National Medal of Technology. “There is no such thing as aging gracefully,” he says. “Aging is a tragedy.”
In Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, Kurzweil and coauthor Terry Grossman claim that based on the rate at which technology is progressing, within 20 or 25 years scientists will be able to stop and reverse the aging process. So all of us — especially aging baby boomers — should do everything we can to stay healthy now. Kurzweil himself — diagnosed more than 20 years ago with type 2 diabetes — follows a strict diet that eliminates sugar and most fats. He also exercises, manages his stress, and takes a staggering 250 nutritional supplements a day. Since making these changes, he says, his diabetes has come fully under control.
In his book, Kurzweil outlines a “longevity program” that mirrors his own daily regimen: diet modifications, nutritional supplements, exercise, and genetic testing. By following the guidelines, Kurzweil and Grossman assert, people can “reprogram” their biochemistry and live long enough to take advantage of bio- and nanotechnological advances.
By the 2020s, Kurzweil says, “we'll be able to send millions, or even billions, of nanobots” — blood-cell-sized robots — “into our bloodstream, and they'll be able to keep us healthy from within.” The strategy will provide radical life extension, and it dangles an unabashed promise of immortality. At least for those who live long enough to see it.
Aging experts say we can learn a lot from the histories and habits of vibrant seniors like Della de Filippi. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at Boston Medical Center, has devoted his career to it. Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study, or NECS, has been studying centenarians and their families since 1994, searching for clues to explain why some people age more slowly than others. Today NECS has 1,600 subjects, among them is de Filippi.
The first findings, published in Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age, underscore what many of us with stubborn vices would prefer to ignore: Clean living pays off. Indeed, many centenarians have made long-term lifestyle choices that have a back-to-basics simplicity: eating healthy foods, not smoking, maintaining strong relationships, using optimism to overcome adversity, and exercising regularly for the mind and body.
For scientists, though, “, “the secrets of long life are locked up in the genes. And indeed, as the NECS data show, extreme longevity tends to run in families. In Cambridge, at Elixir Pharmaceuticals, scientists are untangling the complex connections between so-called longevity genes and their control over the “pathways” of aging — that is, the enzymes and proteins that regulate the rate at which a person ages. By understanding what happens at the molecular level, Elixir can intervene with drugs that slow the processes of disease and aging. “Elixir's goal is to develop drugs that will trick the body into going into this long-lived, disease-resistant state so that you will live longer,” says CEO William Heiden. Though the company plans to debut new drugs to treat metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity in just a few years, says Heiden, the availability of a “long-life pill” is at least a few decades away.
For many people, like de Filippi, aging the old-fashioned way may be a drag, but it's part of the natural order of the universe. “There's a time to come,” as she puts it. “And a time to go.”
The Health Survey
How do we stack up against our neighbors?
We pay more for doctors' visits than the the average American, our life expectancy is about a year less than the national average, and nearly half of us are overweight. Is there any good news to report? You bet. Massachusetts is the sixth-healthiest state and has the nation's second-highest physician-to-patient ratio. Plus, according to our exclusive health and sex survey, our marriages are happier, we're having sex regularly, and many of us get our exercise by walking to work every day.
How long we live: The life expectancy of Bostonians is 76.4 years. The national average is “, “77.2.
What we die of: Our top three causes of death are cancer (lung cancer is number one), heart disease, “, “and stroke.
How fat we are: About half of us are overweight, and 17.4 percent are obese, compared to the national average of 20.9 percent.
How we get around: “, “About 16 percent of us bike or walk to work (as compared to 5.7 percent nationally).
Where we sweat it out: Massachusetts is ranked fourth in the nation in health club membership at 18.1 percent. “, “Twelve percent of us exercise daily, and 63 percent work out more than once a week.
When we don't feel well: Eighty-eight percent of us legitimately call in sick one to three days a year.
What's wrong with us: About 86 percent of us have at least one cold a year.
When it's time to call the doctor: “, “Â There are 923 physicians “, “for every 100,000 people in Boston, more than triple the number in an average U.S. city. About 85 percent of us visit the doctor at least once a year. We pay an average of $86 per visit — about $20 more than the typical American.
We're (not) smokin': Only 19.7 percent of us smoke (compared to 23.4 nationally).
How stressed we are: “, “Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, Boston is the 77th most stressed-out. New York ranks fifth.
How unstable are we: More than half of us have seen a therapist.
How committed we are: Massachusetts has the nation's lowest divorce rate: 2.4 per 1,000 people. (Nevada has the highest, with 6.8 per 1,000.)
How sad we are: Three percent of adults report that they were depressed for 30 of the last 30 days — about the same as the national average.
When blue skies are the only cure for what ails us: The sun shines on Boston about 205 days a year.
When we need guidance from a higher power: There are about 370 houses of worship, but only 23 percent of us go at least once a month.
What we breathe: Air quality in Boston gets a grade of 26 out of 100, compared to the national average of 33 for major cities.
What we drink: “, “Water quality here gets a failing grade of 1 out of 100. (New York gets a 42.)
Where we go to be one with nature : There are 2,220 acres of public green space.
What we do between the sheets: 51 percent of us have sex at least once a week.
What we suffer from sexually: The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases increased 22.5 percent from 1999 to 2002, with 758 new cases per 100,000 people. Some 4,920 people in Boston proper are known to have HIV or AIDS.
How many pregnancies we've had: “, “There were more than 130,000 “, “pregnancies “, “in the state in 2000.
How many abortions are performed: “, “More than 30,000 abortions were performed in Massachusetts in 2000.
Reporting by Marisa Iallonardo