Fifty Is the New 65

images 4By Lynn Stuart Parramore,



In every corner of America, millions of people are terrified of losing their jobs and falling into financial ruin. Men and women with impressive professional achievements and credentials are being let go, nudged out and pushed aside. They are pounding the pavement and scouring the job sites, but find themselves turned away even for the most basic retail jobs. Not because they aren’t competent. Not because they lack skills. But simply because they have a gray hair or two.This is not just a story of people in their 60s or 70s. Workers as young as 50 are shocked to find themselves suddenly tossed onto the employment rubbish heap, just when they felt on top of their game. They’re feeling stressed, angry and betrayed by a society which has benefited greatly from their contributions.

As the global population grows older, age discrimination is on the rise. It could be headed for you, much sooner than you think. “I Got Thrown Away”

Jan, a marketing executive from southern California, is just 51, and she has already learned the heartbreak and frustration of age-related job insecurity.
She was flying high as the head of marketing for a large financial planning firm when she was laid off in 2009 at the age of 47. The recession had done its damage, and her firm had to let some people go — mostly the youngest and oldest employees. Jan understood why the layoff happened, as sad as it was. Her firm gave her great recommendations and kept her on as a consultant for a year.But she was not prepared for what happened when she tried to find another job.

First Jan applied for positions similar to her previous employment at banks and other financial institutions. Nothing. Keeping upbeat, she widened the net, applying for all marketing and communications jobs advertised in a 40-mile radius of her home. Still nada. Finally, she started applying for retail jobs and was shocked to find that she could not even land these. Jan got an interview at Barnes & Noble, but the store didn’t call her back, and she wondered if all the young people on the floor had something to do with it. She tried a local bridal shop, thinking that she was the same age as the mothers of the brides and would be a good fit. They didn’t hire her. Even Target turned her down for a job as a store clerk. No reason was given. That’s when she started to panic.

“It’s been difficult on my family,” Jan says. “My husband was a lawyer, but he has become disabled. My daughter felt embarrassed that I couldn’t find a job, and I’ve had to explain to her why she shouldn’t be. I had to explain to her that I was not ashamed, that I was mad. I had done everything I was supposed to do. I had gone to college, then to grad school. I worked very hard and I had a lot of success. Then I got thrown away.”
In researching this article, I heard many stories like Jan’s, from Americans from all walks of life. A commercial fisherman with 30 years experience from Tucson, Arizona has sent out dozens of applications, but gets zero bites. An Ohio IT professional with over 30 years experience was let go after 15 years at his company, and now finds himself working in a bottom-tier customer service position with 20-year-olds.

These are downwardly mobile Americans whose dreams of stability after decades of a job well done and a comfortable retirement are vanishing before their eyes.
Bigotry That Knows No Boundaries

Age discrimination can stalk you whether you’re black or white, poor or well off, male or female, gay or straight. It’s something we’re all likely to face if we stick around long enough. In the job market, it impacts our very survival and our sense of ourselves in the world.

New research shows that age discrimination may be even more common than we thought and more prevalent than other forms of bias, like ethnic discrimination. According to a study published in the Journal of Age and Ageing, one third of British people in their 50s and above reported age discrimination, a figure that surprised researchers. From poorer service in restaurants to ill treatment in hospitals to outright harassment, people found themselves increasingly disrespected as they aged.

Lead researcher Isla Rippon of University College London told Reuters that such day-to-day experiences impact physical and mental health: “Frequent perceived discrimination may be a chronic source of stress and build up over time, leading to social withdrawal and reluctance to go to the doctor.”

When it comes to financial stress, older Americans say that job insecurity is their number-one concern, according to a recent survey. Many people over 50 find themselves hanging on to their jobs for dear life, aware that they are perceived as obsolete and not as valuable as younger workers, despite their vast experience and institutional knowledge. According to a 2013 AARP survey report, “more than one-third of older workers are not confident that they would find another job right away without having to take a pay cut or move (37%). Of those, about one in five (19%) say the reason they are not confident is due to age discrimination and 21 percent identify age limitations, such as feeling they are ‘too old’ or limited in some way because of their age.”

Ashton Applewhite blogs about aging and ageism at She has much to say about the myths concerning older workers that permeate our culture: that people over 50 are rigid, trapped in their jobs, take too many sick days, or can’t cope with technology. The most common myth is that older workers are all the same. Applewhite’s research shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

“The hallmark of later life is heterogeneity,” explains Applewhite. “Think about it. We become less alike with every day that passes. A group of 20-year-olds is much more alike than a group of 60-year-olds. People age at different rates. The stereotypes don’t fit. Some older people are wise, some aren’t. Geriatricians have a saying: If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old. You can’t neatly categorize older people.”

“It is true that younger workers can go faster,” concedes Applewhite. “Older workers go more slowly, but they’re more accurate. Age confers patience and coping skills, the ability to handle stress.”

According to Applewhite, the perception that older workers can’t handle physically demanding tasks is often outdated. She points out that chronological age is generally not an indicator of capacity, even for pilots or firefighters. Older, experienced workers actually hurt themselves less on the job.
The idea that after a certain age you can’t do demanding tasks is just a myth, says Applewhite, noting that even during slavery, the market price for slaves remained high well into their 70s, because slave owners knew they could do valuable work.

The stereotype that older workers can’t adjust to technology is similarly overstated, she says, noting that they are usually more than capable of learning new technical skills, particularly if those skills have relevance to their work experience.

Applewhite’s research shows that the most productive and effective teams in the workplace are mixed-age groups. “Experience plus freshness just makes sense,” she says. “A team with different generational perspectives has new energy, new possibilities for collaboration.”

“People think older people are trapped in their jobs,” says Applewhite. “But in reality, most older workers work because they enjoy their jobs. Shouldn’t people have the choice ¬— the right to continue to work if they want to? Nobody wants to be economically dependent.” The trouble comes when older workers are shunted aside or can’t find decent jobs, and then face a shredded social safety net. They become dependent, and that dependency just reinforces the myth that they are a burden. Who would want to be a burden by choice?
Older workers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they do manage to stay employed, they are accused of taking jobs away from younger people. Yet according to a recent Pew report, that’s just another myth.

The idea that younger and older workers are engaged in a zero-sum game for a fixed number of jobs is called the “lump-of-labor” theory. According the Pew report, this theory did not hold true in the Great Recession. On the contrary, a one-percentage point increase in Baby Boomer employment had an insignificant impact on youth employment rates, unemployment rates, or hours worked. An increase in the Boomer employment rate actually correlated to a 0.28 percent increase in youth’s hourly wage rate.
Far from taking jobs away from younger people, the employment of older workers seems to benefit them.Age Discrimination Is Costly

There was a time when American workers and their employers had fair contracts. The longer you worked for a company, the more you were paid, and when you retired you could expect a pension. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers and certain job applicants 40 and over based on age.

Things started to change in the 1980s, when trends like deregulation, outsourcing and union-busting started to give employers more power to do with workers as they pleased. Business schools began to preach the misguided gospel of shareholder value maximization, which held that instead of investing in the skills and training of employees, companies should pursue layoffs and cost-cutting in the interest of short-term profits — moves that perverseley tend to negatively impact the long-term health of the firm.

It turns out that unbridled capitalism has a bias against older workers. Bosses started to focus more on younger workers because they are cheaper and didn’t expect things like pensions. They could also be more easily intimidated.

By 1993, a Supreme Court decision involving a 62-year-old employee discharged from Hazen Paper Company just weeks before he qualified for full pension benefits gave employers the right to look at factors associated with employee age, like the length of service with the company, in deciding whether or not to fire workers without fear of violating the law. Older workers were now much easier targets for employers.

Today, age discrimination charges are on the rise, which often happens during recessions: 22,857 workers filed age-related complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012 compared to just 16,548 in 2006. These cases involve well-known companies like Whole Foods, NBC, AT&T, and Ruby Tuesday.
Even academia, traditionally a place where older workers have enjoyed more protection, is becoming rife with age discrimination cases. A recent high-profile case involving long-time administrators at Rutgers University exhibits several of the hallmarks of unsavory practices involving older workers — employees with excellent records suddenly receiving negative reviews, decision-making processes conducted with unusual speed and opacity, and new management.

Millions of dollars are being spent by companies in lawsuits. Meanwhile, businesses lose valuable assets they haven’t properly assessed. According to an overly simplistic model of economics, the economy is supposed to be self-regulating and people are supposed to be paid precisely according to their worth, or what economists call their “marginal productivity.” The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to tell what a worker’s marginal productivity actually is. Many workers perform in teams. An older, experienced worker’s presence may have the effect of upping the game of the younger workers, but this is difficult to measure. In a newsroom, for example, an experienced journalist may bring credibility and reputation to the product, and impart valuable knowledge to newbies, who strive harder when she oversees their work. What happens when you pull out the older worker? The short-term bottom line is cut, but the team suffers and the long-term value of the company may be decreased.

Jan, the erstwhile marketing manager, thinks the U.S. is particularly obtuse when it comes to dealing with older workers. She points to Germany’s actions in the wake of the financial crisis: “The government went and created incentives for industry not to lay people off but to cut hours. Here in America, that didn’t happen.”
Jan and other older workers feel a deep sense of having been contributed to an economy and society that has kicked them to the curb.

“We work hard for years, and how do we benefit in the end? American companies don’t give back to the taxpayers and workers who have made their success possible. We should expect some reciprocity. We should reward companies that don’t outsource. We should improve the social safety net to help people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. There are things that I could be doing to further benefit the community, but if nobody wants to hire me, I don’t see where that’s ultimately my fault. Especially when the economy is producing enough for all if it were distributed fairly.”

We live in an era of planned obsolescence, in which designers deliberately make a thing limited in its useful life. Now this planned obsolescene includes human beings. Is it really an efficient use of our human capital to turn experienced workers into Walmart greeters?

Clearly, we need workplace policies and programs that expand the opportunities for older Americans to extend their labor force participation and continue to contribute their valuable skills and experience. Phased retirement plans in which older workers are kept on as part-time workers or consultants, for example, can benefit both employers and employees. Such plans mitigate the potential loss of knowledge as older workers retire.

The biggest-picture problem in the economy that needs to be addressed has to do with what economists call aggregate demand — the overall demand for goods and services. When people don’t have enough money in their pockets, which happens when economic shocks occur and the government pursues austerity policies, businesses stop hiring and people can’t find jobs or keep the ones they have.

This results in involuntary unemployment; it’s like a game of musical chairs in which the music stops and somebody is going to be left without a place to sit. Unless the government invests in the economy through jobs programs, education, infrastructure-building, and so on, aggregate demand remains low and unemployment persists, which particuarlly impacts the youngest and the oldest workers. When the GOP and many centrist Democrats pursue the self-defeating policies of cutting the social safety net with calls to raise the eligibility age to collect Social Security or kicking people off unemployment, the problem is only worsened.
Telling people to accept lower paying jobs may make sense for individuals, but in the economy as a whole, as Keynesian economists constantly remind us, wage cuts just add to the shortfall in demand.
In the end, we want an economy that allows everyone to work who is able to do so, and provides a robust social safety net for those who can’t. Our current system is unsustainable, and age discrimination, which strikes even those who are still in their prime, is quickly becoming an economic, social and public health disaster for the 21st century.



The future of growing old in America

pets-before-after-3James Ridgeway








 In these budget-strapped times, seniors are seen as freeloaders – when many are poor or exploited. They deserve better. In her remarkable book The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir observed that fear of aging and death drives younger people to view their elders as a separate species, rather than as their own future selves: “Until the moment it is upon us,” she wrote, “old age is something that only affects other people. So it is understandable that society should prevent us from seeing our own kind, our fellow-men, when we look at the old.”

This disconnect has, no doubt, been helpful to those who favor cutting the so-called old age entitlements, social security and Medicare – which, these days, seems to include just about everyone in Washington. Now that the congressional supercommittee charged with reducing the federal deficit has gone down in flames, some are calling for a return to the plan proposed by Obama’s Simpson-Bowles deficit commission last year. Amidst all the bipartisan warring, one thing most of these committee members agree upon is that the budget will, in large part, be balanced on the backs of old people, through cuts to social security and Medicare. The only differences are over how these cuts should be made, and how large they should be

In the unlikely event that the rich are made to pay something toward deficit reduction, in the form of increased taxes, their contribution will pale in comparison to the share paid by elders in the form of reduced benefits. In part, that’s because the enemies of entitlements have succeeded in depicting these lifesaving government programs as the cause of our economic woes – a myth that has repeatedly been debunked, to little avail. By extension, they depict our current fiscal crisis as a standoff between the old and the young, rather than the rich and the poor. Former Senator Alan Simpson, handpicked by Obama to chair his deficit commission, was fond of talking about the perfidy of “fat cat geezers” who dared to oppose entitlement cuts at the expense of his – and everyone’s – grandchildren.

Simpson’s image of old people “who live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount” seems to have gained traction as the dominant view of elders in this country. This belies the reality of the lives lived by millions of older Americans, for whom a comfortable retirement was never more than a distant dream. For them, old age means work or poverty – or, sometimes, both.

Recently, I attended the annual meeting in Boston of the Gerontological Society of America, a research and education organisation whose members study all aspects of aging. With 3,500 people in attendance, hundreds of sessions and a teeming exhibit hall, there was plenty of upbeat talk about the “encore years”. But there was also a body of research and discussion that presented a more rounded picture of old age in America – a place where “fat cat geezers” are far outnumbered by elders who, like Americans of all ages, are struggling to get by.

In one exhibit on “The Economics of Aging”, researchers from Wayne State University presented a study published earlier this year called “Invisible Poverty”, which found that one in three elders – including many living in middle-class suburbs – cannot fully cover their basic living expenses, including food, housing, transportation and medical care. It also found that certain shortcomings in the way federal poverty statistics are compiled meant that poverty among older people was more likely to be underestimated. “This widespread economic struggle faced by Michigan seniors is fairly hidden from public sight, making it an invisible poverty that takes its toll on older individuals, their families and caregivers and the community at large,” says the study.

Among the elderly poor are large and growing numbers of women. Consider the figures: over 40% of black and white women are over 65, and over a quarter of these women are poor. They are likely to be isolated and they, too, are invisible. Also below the public policy radar, according to another study presented at the conference, are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders – who are now counted at over 2 million, and are expected to double in number by 2030. These people are far less likely to have partners or caregivers of any sort, because society banned or discouraged them.

For these elders, and millions of others, social security is more than an “entitlement” – it is a lifeline. According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, social security alone keeps 20 million Americans above the poverty line. It’s hard to argue that social security benefits are too generous, or that retirees enjoy extravagant lifestyles. The average social security benefit currently stands at just over $1,100 a month. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker notes, “More than 75% of benefits go to individuals with non-social security income of less than $20,000 a year and more than 90% of benefits go to individuals with non-social security income of less than $40,000 a year.” In addition, Baker points out:

“The private pension system has largely collapsed and the current group of near retirees saw much of their home equity disappear with the collapse of the housing bubble. As a result, the situation of retirees is likely to be worse in the near future, especially after taking into account the growing burden of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses projected in the decades ahead.”

So it is the search for work, not cleaning one’s fingernails, or studying French to stave off dementia, that is now a major concern for many older people. Historically they have been fired from long-held jobs because of their costly benefits and diminishing ability to handle the job, but now employers are taking a fresh look at this situation. Business, as it turns out, may very well embrace the old – because they often come at lower wages, with no benefits and scant legal protection. Given US supreme court rulings, the prospect of any of these people filing old age discrimination suits is unlikely. Rather than knocking them out of a job, it may turn out to be less expensive to keep on a skilled, elderly employee, perhaps at reduced salary and reduced hours, than go through the rigamarole of hiring a young, inexperienced person who must then undergo training.

As the GSA conference showed, there is no point in cutting entitlements to the elderly when, in fact, so little is known about their lives and their emerging future. It means there must be a full, open debate – not backdoor political manoeuvring – on the issue. What may be happening here is the emerging outlines of a much different society than the one we now know: a society that, for example, will require a new service sector, a different slant towards medicine, which uses the old to assist the young, as friends and caregivers – instead of pitting generations against one another.

The late Theodore Roszak,who described and named the “counter culture”that took shape in the 1970s, thought old people were anything but a selfish bunch of useless geezers waiting to die, but an “audacious generation”, opening a new world of energy and hope. Let us hope, in de Beauvoir’s words, that moment is upon us.

The Four Horsemen of Aging: inflammation, oxidation, stress and sugar

We can’t prevent aging — but we can age optimally

Aging is actually the No. 1 risk factor for a lot of things you don’t want to have. And while we can’t prevent aging, we can do a lot to ensure that we age optimally. That means reducing the effects of what I call “the Four Horsemen of Aging”: four processes that systemically break down our bodies, age us from within, damage our organs and tissues (including our skin) and contribute to every degenerative disease known to humankind.

The Four Horsemen of Aging: inflammation, oxidation, stress and sugar

A full explanation of how these four processes contribute to the diseases and ailments of aging would take a book. (In fact, I wrote one: It’s called The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer.) But briefly, let me explain.

1. Oxidation is damage from free radicals that can impact your sex life, the appearance of your skin and the condition of your brain.
2. Inflammation is the starting point for heart disease and is a big factor in Alzheimer’s, dementia, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
3. Stress causes your body to release hormones (like cortisol) which, among other nasty things, can shrink the hippocampus, an important area of the brain involved in memory and thinking.
4. Sugar sends your “fat-storing” hormone (insulin) into overdrive and contributes to aging and disease in multiple ways.

Luckily, there are a number of steps we can take to reduce the damage.

6 Top anti-aging tips for women

Exercise every day
It makes you look better at the beach, prevents muscle “decay” (a condition called sarcopaenia), and improves mood. Even 30 to 45 minutes a day of brisk walking has been shown to grow new brain cells as well as to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression.

Take these seven supplements

All supplements are not created equal. I’ve included name brands that I trust.

• Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and benefit the heart and brain.
• Magnesium helps relax blood vessel walls.
• Vitamin D benefits everything you can think of.
• Resveratrol turns on longevity genes (Reserveage).
• Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and an antioxidant (Terry Naturally).
• Cocoa flavanols help lower blood pressure (CocoaWell).
• CoQ10 is fuel for the heart.

Eat these four superfoods

Put nuts, beans, dark chocolate and berries on heavy rotation in your diet. These four foods provide a particularly impressive range of antiaging benefits.

Drink these three drinks

Water, green tea and pomegranate juice. One study showed that those drinking five or more glasses of water a day could help reduce the risk for heart disease by 53 percent, compared with those drinking two or less a day. Green tea is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, an anti-oxidant and pro-weight loss! And researchers in Israel call pomegranate juice a “natural Viagra” — drink up!

Deal with your stress
Stress contributes to every disease, directly or indirectly. It shrinks the brain and increases the waistline. Deal with it — somehow. Meditation is the best, but even a few minutes of relaxed deep breathing several times a day will help.

Take this advice seriously and do all six of these anti-aging tips. If you do, chances are you’ll live longer (and better) than if you don’t.

Jonnie Bowden, PhD, CNS


Staying healthy over 50: Tips for boosting vitality

Don’t fall for the myth that growing older automatically means you’re not going to feel good anymore. It is true that aging involves physical changes, but it doesn’t have to mean discomfort and disability. While not all illness or pain is avoidable, many of the physical challenges associated with aging can be overcome or drastically mitigated by eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself.
It’s never too late to start! No matter how old you are or how unhealthy you’ve been in the past, caring for your body has enormous benefits that will help you stay active, sharpen your memory, boost your immune system, manage health problems, and increase your energy. In fact, many older adults report feeling better than ever because they are making more of an effort to be healthy than they did when they were younger. Staying healthy over 50: Tips for eating well as you age.
As you age, your relationship to food may change along with your body. A decreased metabolism, changes in taste and smell, and slower digestion may affect your appetite, the foods you can eat, and how your body processes food. The key is to figure out how to adapt to your changing needs. Now, more than ever, healthy eating is important to maintain your energy and health.
• Load up on high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Your whole digestive system does slow as you age, so fiber is very important. Consume fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruit, and vegetables. They will help you feel more energetic and give you fuel to keep going.
• Put effort into making your food look and taste good. Your taste buds may not be as strong and your appetite may not be the same, but your nutritional needs are just as important as ever. If you don’t enjoy eating like you used to, put a little more effort into your meals, including the way you flavor, prepare, and present your food.
• Watch out for dehydration. Because of physical changes, older adults are more prone to dehydration. So make sure you are drinking plenty of fluid, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you’re not getting enough water, you’re not going to be as sharp and your energy will suffer.
• Make meals a social event. It’s more enjoyable to eat with others than alone. If you live alone, invite other people over. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends and you can share cooking and cleanup duties.
Staying healthy over 50: Tips for exercising as you age
Many adults don’t exercise as they get older. However, exercise is vital for staying healthy throughout life. It helps you maintain your strength and agility, gives your mental health a boost, and can even help diminish chronic pain. Whether you are generally healthy or are coping with an ongoing injury, disability, or health problem, regular exercise will help you stay physically and mentally healthy and improve your confidence and outlook on life.
• Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Find out if any health conditions or medications you take affect what exercise you should choose.
• Find an activity you like and that motivates you to continue. You may want to exercise in a group, like in a sport or class, or prefer a more individual exercise like swimming.
• Start slow. If you are new to exercise, a few minutes a day puts you well on the way towards building a healthy habit. Slowly increase the time and intensity to avoid injury.
• Walking is a wonderful way to start exercising. Exercise doesn’t have to mean strenuous activity or time at the gym. In fact, walking is one of the best ways to stay fit. Best of all, it doesn’t require any equipment or experience and you can do it anywhere.
Staying healthy over 50: Tips for sleeping well as you age
Many adults complain of sleep problems as they age, including insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and frequent waking during the night. But getting older doesn’t automatically bring sleep problems. Poor sleep habits are often the main causes of low–quality sleep in adults over 50.
• Naturally boost your melatonin levels at night. Artificial lights at night can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Use low-wattage bulbs where safe to do so, and turn off the TV and computer at least one hour before bed.
• Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool, and your bed is comfortable. Noise, light, and heat can interfere with sleep. Try using an eye mask to help block out light.
• Develop bedtime rituals. A soothing ritual, like taking a bath or playing music will help you wind down.
• Go to bed earlier. Adjust your bedtime to match when you feel tired, even if that’s earlier than it used to be.
Staying healthy over 50: Tips for keeping your mind sharp
There are many good reasons for keeping your brain as active as your body. Keeping your brain active and maintaining creativity actually may help to prevent cognitive decline and memory problems. The more you use and sharpen your brain, the more benefits you will get. This is especially true if your career no longer challenges you or if you’ve retired from work altogether.
• Try variations on what you know. For some people, it might be games. Other people may enjoy puzzles or trying out new cooking recipes. Find something that you enjoy and continue to try new variations and challenges. If you like crosswords, move to a more challenging crossword series or try your hand at a new word game. If you like to cook, try a completely different type of food, or try baking if you’ve mostly been cooking over the stove.
• Work something new in each day. You don’t have to work elaborate crosswords or puzzles to keep your memory sharp. Try to work in something new each day, whether it is taking a different route to work or the grocery store or brushing your teeth with a different hand.
• Take on a completely new subject. Taking on a new subject is a great way to continue to learn. Have you always wanted to learn a different language? Learn new computer skills? Learn to play golf? There are many inexpensive classes at community centers or community colleges that allow you to tackle new subjects. Volunteering is also a great way to learn about a new area. Taking classes and volunteering is a great way to boost social connections, which is another brain strengthener.

Benefits of Vinegar

The Healing History of Vinegar
Vinegar is a dilute solution of acetic acid that results from a two-step fermentation process. The first step is the fermentation of sugar into alcohol, usually by yeast. Any natural source of sugar can be used. For example, the sugar may be derived from the juice, or cider, of fruit (such as grapes, apples, raisins, or even coconuts); from a grain (such as barley or rice); from honey, molasses, or sugar cane; or even, in the case of certain distilled vinegars, from the cellulose in wood (such as beech). The word “vinegar” comes from the French word for “sour wine.”

What you have at the end of this first phase, then, is an alcohol-containing liquid, such as wine (from grapes), beer (from barley), hard cider (from apples), or another fermented liquid. (The alcoholic liquid used to create a vinegar is generally reflected in the vinegar’s name — for example, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, malt vinegar, or cider vinegar.)

In the second phase of the vinegar-production process, certain naturally occurring bacteria known as acetobacters combine the alcohol-containing liquid with oxygen to form the acetic-acid solution we call vinegar. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its sour taste. Although time-consuming, this second phase of the process will happen without human intervention if the alcoholic liquid is exposed to oxygen long enough.

Thus, it is not surprising that the first vinegar was the result of an ancient accident. Once upon a time, a keg of wine (presumably a poorly sealed one that allowed oxygen in) was stored too long, and when the would-be drinkers opened it, they found a sour liquid instead of wine. The name “vinegar” is derived from the French words for “sour wine.”

Fortunately, our resourceful ancestors found ways to use the “bad” wine. They put it to work as a cure-all, a food preservative, and later, a flavor enhancer. It wasn’t long before they figured out how to make vinegar on purpose, and producing it became one of the world’s earliest commercial industries.

The use of vinegar as medicine probably started soon after it was discovered. Its healing virtues are extolled in records of the Babylonians, and the great Greek physician Hippocrates reportedly used it as an antibiotic. Ancient Greek doctors poured vinegar into wounds and over dressings as a disinfectant, and they gave concoctions of honey and vinegar to patients recovering from illness. In Asia, early samurai warriors believed vinegar to be a tonic that would increase their strength and vitality.

Vinegar continued to be used as a medicine in more recent times. During the Civil War and World War I, for example, military medics used vinegar to treat wounds. And folk traditions around the world still espoused vinegar for a wide variety of ailments. Natural-healing enthusiasts and vinegar fans continue to honor and use many of those folk remedies.

Early Wines and Vinegars

Scientists believe wine originated during the Neolithic period (approximately 8500 b.c. to 4000 b.c., when humans first began farming and crafting stone tools) in Egypt and the Middle East. Large pottery jugs dating back to 6000 b.c. that were unearthed in archeological digs possessed a strange yellow residue. Chemical analysis revealed the residue contained calcium tartrate, which is formed from tartaric acid, a substance that occurs naturally in large amounts only in grapes. So the traces strongly suggested the jugs were used to make or hold wine.

Considering the slow grape-pressing methods used at that time and the heat of the desert environment, grape juice would likely have fermented into wine quite quickly. Likewise, the wine would have turned to vinegar rapidly, if conditions were right.

So how did these ancient people — who had only recently (in evolutionary terms) begun planting their own food and fashioning tools — manage to understand and control fermentation enough to prevent all their wine from turning to vinegar before they could drink it? Based on evidence found in archeological excavations, scientists believe that the first winemakers used jars with clay stoppers that helped control the fermentation process.

A complete analysis of the residue left in those ancient wine jugs also showed the presence of terebinth tree resin, which acts as a natural preservative and therefore would have helped slow the transformation of wine into vinegar. In Neolithic times, terebinth trees grew in the same area as grapes, and their berries and resin were harvested at the same time of year. So it’s quite plausible that some of the berries or resins may have inadvertently become mixed with the grape harvest. Still unclear is whether the ancient winemakers ever made the connection between the resins and the delayed conversion of wine into vinegar and began purposely adding the tree berries to their wine.

Vinegar’s zesty taste offers some health benefits, but not all that some people claim. Go to the next page to learn about the nutritional value of vinegar.

Misconceptions About Vinegar’s Health Benefits
The folk- and natural-healing claims made for vinegar through the ages have been almost as plentiful and varied as those made for garlic. Even in the current era of high-tech medicine, some proponents of natural healing still encourage traditional uses of vinegar. They have also added certain newly recognized or newly defined (within the past hundred years or so, that is) medical conditions to the list of health concerns for which they recommend vinegar.

Other present-day vinegar fans view it as an overall health-boosting, disease-fighting tonic and recommend mixing a teaspoon or tablespoon of cider vinegar with a glass of water and drinking it each morning or before meals. (Apple cider vinegar is the traditional vinegar of choice for home or folk remedies, although some recent claims have been made for the benefits of wine vinegars, especially red wine vinegar. Unless otherwise specified, though, the vinegar we’ll be referring to is apple cider vinegar.)

Perhaps most amazingly, vinegar is heralded as a potential healer of many of today’s most common serious ailments. Devotees believe vinegar can help prevent or heal heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, aging-related ailments, and a host of other conditions. They say it is full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, and pectin and often attribute vinegar’s medicinal effects to the presence of these ingredients. Among the specific claims made for apple cider vinegar are that:
• It reduces blood cholesterol levels and heart-disease risk. Apple cider vinegar fans say it contains pectin, which attaches to cholesterol and carries it out of the body, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. In addition, many vinegar proponents say it is high in potassium, and high-potassium foods play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease by helping to prevent or lower high blood pressure. Calcium is also an important nutrient for keeping blood pressure in check, and as you will learn shortly, vinegar is sometimes promoted as having a high calcium content. Many also claim vinegar helps the body absorb this essential mineral from other foods in the diet.
• It treats diabetes. Apple cider vinegar may help control blood sugar levels, which helps to ward off diabetes complications, such as nerve damage and blindness. It also might help prevent other serious health problems, such as heart disease, that often go hand-in-hand with diabetes.

• It fights obesity and aids in weight loss. Some marketers proclaim that apple cider vinegar is high in fiber and therefore aids in weight loss. (Fiber provides bulk but is indigestible by the body, so foods high in fiber provide a feeling of fullness for fewer calories.) A daily dose is also said to control or minimize the appetite. (Ironically, some folk traditions advise taking apple cider vinegar before a meal for the opposite effect–to stimulate the appetite in people who have lost interest in eating.)
• It prevents cancer and aging. Apple cider vinegar proponents declare it contains high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) and therefore helps prevent cancer and the ill effects of aging. (Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells against damage from unstable molecules called free radicals; free-radical damage has been linked to various conditions, including coronary heart disease, cancer, and the aging process.)
• It prevents osteoporosis. Advocates say apple cider vinegar releases calcium and other minerals from the foods you eat so your body is better able to absorb and use them to strengthen bones. Vinegar allegedly allows the body to absorb one-third more calcium from green vegetables than it would without the aid of vinegar. Some fans also say apple cider vinegar is itself a great source of calcium.
Based on these claims, apple cider vinegar certainly seems to be a wonder food. And it’s understandably tempting to want to believe that some food or drug or substance will make diabetes, obesity, cancer, and osteoperosis go away with little or no discomfort, effort, or risk.

However, as a wise consumer, you know that when something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. So when it comes to your health–especially when you’re dealing with such major medical conditions–it’s important to take a step back and look carefully at the evidence.

A Closer Look at the Claims

With such dramatic claims made for it, you would think that vinegar would be high on the lists of medical researchers searching for the next breakthrough. Yet in the past 20 years, there has been very little research about using vinegar for therapeutic health purposes.

Granted, a lack of supporting scientific research is a common problem among many natural and alternative therapies. But even the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health that was created specifically to investigate natural or unconventional therapies that hold promise, has not published any studies about vinegar, despite the fact that there has been renewed interest in vinegar’s healing benefits recently.

So without solid scientific studies, can we judge whether vinegar provides the kinds of dramatic benefits that its promoters and fans attribute to it? Not conclusively. But we can look at the claims and compare them to the little scientific knowledge we do have about vinegar.

Those who have faith in apple cider vinegar as a wide-ranging cure say its healing properties come from an abundance of nutrients that remain after apples are fermented to make apple cider vinegar. They contend that vinegar is rich in minerals and vitamins, including calcium, potassium, and beta-carotene; complex carbohydrates and fiber, including the soluble fiber pectin; amino acids (the building blocks of protein); beneficial enzymes; and acetic acid (which gives vinegar its taste).

These substances do play many important roles in health and healing, and some are even considered essential nutrients for human health. The problem is that standard nutritional analysis of vinegar, including apple cider vinegar, has not shown it to be a good source of most of these substances.

One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per day is the typical therapeutic dose recommended, so the nutrients found in this amount of the vinegar are shown in the second column of the table. Just to be sure that the small amount of vinegar in a tablespoon isn’t the sole explanation for the apparent lack of nutrients, the table also includes the nutritional analysis of a larger amount (half a cup) of vinegar. You’ll notice that even at that higher amount, vinegar does not appear to include significant amounts of most of the nutrients that are claimed to be the source of its medicinal value.

To put all this information into some context, the column at the far right in the table shows the daily amounts needed by a typical adult who consumes 2,000 calories per day. (Requirements haven’t been established for some of the other substances that are often cited as contributing to vinegar’s beneficial effects.)
One milligram of calcium in one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar does not come close to the 300 milligrams of calcium in eight ounces of milk, as some promoters of apple cider vinegar claim. In fact, it supplies only a tiny fraction of the 1,000 milligrams a typical adult needs in a day. Vinegar also contains little potassium.

In terms of pectin, the type of soluble fiber that is said to bind to cholesterol and help carry it out of the body, apple cider vinegar contains no measurable amounts of it or of any other type of fiber. So it would seem that pectin could not account for any cholesterol-binding activity that vinegar might be shown to have.

Do apple cider vinegar’s secrets lie in the vitamins it contains? No. According to the USDA, apple cider vinegar contains no vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, or folate.

What about some of the other health-boosting substances that are alleged to be in vinegar? According to detailed nutritional analyses, apple cider vinegar contains no significant amounts of amino acids. Nor does it contain ethyl alcohol, caffeine, theobromine, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, or zeaxanthin.

It might seem like apple cider vinegar doesn’t contain enough nutrition to be beneficial, but that is simply not the case. Go to the next page to find out how vinegar has been proven to benefit the digestive system.
How Vinegar Affects Digestion
So if vinegar doesn’t actually contain all the substances that are supposed to account for its medicinal benefits, does that mean it has no healing powers? Hardly. As mentioned, so little research has been done on vinegar that we can’t totally rule out many of the dramatic claims made for it. Although we know vinegar doesn’t contain loads of nutrients traditionally associated with good health, it may well contain yet-to-be-identified phytochemicals (beneficial compounds in plants) that would account for some of the healing benefits that vinegar fans swear by. Scientists continue to discover such beneficial substances in all kinds of foods.

But beyond that possibility, there appear to be more tangible and realistic–albeit less sensational–ways that vinegar can help the body heal. Rather than being the dramatic blockbuster cure that we are endlessly (and fruitlessly) searching for, vinegar seems quite capable of playing myriad supporting roles–as part of an overall lifestyle approach–that can indeed help us fight serious health conditions, such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Increasing Calcium Absorption

If there is one thing vinegar fans, marketers, alternative therapists, and scientists alike can agree on, it’s that vinegar is high in acetic acid. And acetic acid, like other acids, can increase the body’s absorption of important minerals from the foods we eat. Therefore, including apple cider vinegar in meals or possibly even drinking a mild tonic of vinegar and water (up to a tablespoon in a glass of water) just before or with meals might improve your body’s ability to absorb the essential minerals locked in foods.
Vinegar may be especially useful to women, who generally have a hard time getting all the calcium their bodies need to keep bones strong and prevent the debilitating, bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. Although dietary calcium is most abundant in dairy products such as milk, many women (and men) suffer from a condition called lactose intolerance that makes it difficult or impossible for them to digest the sugar in milk. As a result, they may suffer uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, such as cramping and diarrhea, when they consume dairy products. These women must often look elsewhere to fulfill their dietary calcium needs.

Dark, leafy greens are good sources of calcium, but some of these greens also contain compounds that inhibit calcium absorption. Fortunately for dairy-deprived women (and even those who do drink milk), a few splashes of vinegar or a tangy vinaigrette on their greens may very well allow them to absorb more valuable calcium. Don’t you wish all medications were so tasty?

Controlling Blood Sugar Levels

Vinegar has recently won attention for its potential to help people with type 2 diabetes get a better handle on their disease. Improved control could help them delay or prevent such complications as blindness, impotence, and a loss of feeling in the extremities that may necessitate amputation. Also, because people with diabetes are at increased risk for other serious health problems, such as heart disease, improved control of their diabetes could potentially help to ward off these associated conditions, as well.

With type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become resistant to the action of the hormone insulin. The body normally releases insulin into the bloodstream in response to a meal. Insulin’s job is to help the body’s cells take in the glucose, or sugar, from the carbohydrates in food, so they can use it for energy. But when the body’s cells become insulin resistant, the sugar from food begins to build up in the blood, even while the cells themselves are starving for it. (High levels of insulin tend to build up in the blood, too, because the body releases more and more insulin to try to transport the large amounts of sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.)

Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage nerves throughout the body and otherwise cause irreversible harm. So one major goal of diabetes treatment is to normalize blood sugar levels and keep them in a healthier range as much as possible. And that’s where vinegar appears to help.

It seems that vinegar may be able to inactivate some of the digestive enzymes that break the carbohydrates from food into sugar, thus slowing the absorption of sugar from a meal into the bloodstream. Slowing sugar absorption gives the insulin-resistant body more time to pull sugar out of the blood and thus helps prevent the blood sugar level from rising so high. Blunting the sudden jump in blood sugar that would usually occur after a meal also lessens the amount of insulin the body needs to release at one time to remove the sugar from the blood.

A study cited in 2004 in the American Diabetes Association’s publication Diabetes Care indicates that vinegar holds real promise for helping people with diabetes. In the study, 21 people with either type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance (a prediabetes condition) and eight control subjects were each given a solution containing five teaspoons of vinegar, five teaspoons of water, and one teaspoon of saccharin two minutes before ingesting a high-carbohydrate meal. The blood sugar and insulin levels of the participants were measured before the meal and 30 minutes and 60 minutes after the meal.

Vinegar increased overall insulin sensitivity 34 percent in the study participants who were insulin-resistant and 19 percent in those with type 2 diabetes. That means their bodies actually became more receptive to insulin, allowing the hormone to do its job of getting sugar out of the blood and into the cells. Both blood sugar and blood insulin levels were lower than normal in the insulin-resistant participants, which is more good news. Surprisingly, the control group (who had neither diabetes nor a prediabetic condition but were given the vinegar solution) also experienced a reduction in insulin levels in the blood. These findings are significant because, in addition to the nerve damage caused by perpetually elevated blood sugar levels, several chronic conditions, including heart disease, have been linked to excess insulin in the blood over prolonged periods of time.

More studies certainly need to be done to confirm the extent of vinegar’s benefits for type 2 diabetes patients and those at risk of developing this increasingly common disease. But for now, people with type 2 diabetes might be wise to talk with their doctors or dietitians about consuming more vinegar.

Replacing Unhealthy Fats and Sodium

As you’ll discover in chapter four, there are some delicious varieties of vinegar available. Each bestows a different taste or character to foods. The diversity and intensity of flavor are key to one important healing role that vinegar can play. Whether you are trying to protect yourself from cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or stroke, or you have been diagnosed with one or more of these conditions and have been advised to clean up your diet, vinegar should become a regular cooking and dining companion. That’s because a tasty vinegar can often be used in place of sodium and/or ingredients high in saturated or trans fats to add flavor and excitement to a variety of dishes.

Saturated and trans fats have been shown to have a detrimental effect on blood cholesterol levels, and experts recommend that people who have or are at risk of developing high blood pressure cut back on the amount of sodium they consume. So using vinegar as a simple, flavorful substitute for these less healthful ingredients as often as possible can help people manage blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels and, in turn, help ward off heart disease and stroke.

You’ll find detailed advice about including more vinegar in your diet in chapter four, and you’ll discover delicious, good-for-you recipes at the end of the book that put vinegar to use. But the following suggestions will give you some sense of how vinegar can help you create and enjoy a diet that may lower your blood cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease your risks of heart disease and stroke:
• Make a vinegar-based coleslaw rather than a creamy, mayonnaise-based one. Because mayonnaise is made up almost completely of unhealthy fats and cholesterol, this easy switch can dramatically reduce the cholesterol and fat in this popular side dish.
• Enjoy healthier fish and chips. Instead of dipping fish in tartar sauce and drenching fries in salt and ketchup, splash them with a little malt vinegar. (Also consider baking the fish and the potatoes instead of frying them.) Because it contains mayonnaise, tartar sauce is high in unhealthy fats and cholesterol.
• Use vinegar-based salad dressings instead of creamy,mayonnaise-based dressings. Choose or make a flavorful herb salad dressing that contains mostly water, vinegar, and just a touch of oil to help it adhere to your salad veggies.
• Opt for vinegar instead of mayonnaise or other common, bad-fat-laden sandwich spreads to add flavor and moisture to sandwiches.
• When making a dish that contains beans, add a little vinegar near the end of cooking–it will dramatically decrease the amount of salt you’ll need. It perks up the flavor of beans without raising your blood pressure.
• You can also use vinegar as a tangy marinade for tenderizing less-fatty cuts of meat. Choosing meat with less fat on the edges and less marbling within is one of the easiest ways to trim unhealthy fats from your diet. Unfortunately, meats that don’t have as much marbling tend to be a little tougher. So vinegar can do double duty by adding a dash of zing as it tenderizes.
Making a Healthy Diet Easier to Swallow

Some of our strongest natural weapons against cancer and aging are fruits and vegetables. The antioxidants and phytochemicals they contain seem to hold real promise in lowering our risk of many types of cancer. Their antioxidants also help to protect cells from the free-radical damage that is thought to underlie many of the changes we associate with aging. Protected cells don’t wear out and need replacing as often as cells that aren’t bathed in antioxidants. Scientists think this continual cell replacement may be at the root of aging.
• The U.S. government’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person eat about two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables every day. One way to add excitement and variety to all those vegetables is to use vinegar liberally as a seasoning.
• Rice vinegar and a little soy sauce give veggies an Asian flavor or can form the base of an Asian coleslaw.
• Red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar can turn boring vegetables into a quick-and-easy marinated-vegetable salad that’s ready to grab out of the refrigerator whenever hunger strikes. Just chop your favorite veggies, put them in a bowl with a marinade of vinegar, herbs, and a dash of olive oil, and let them sit for at least an hour. (You don’t need much oil to make the marinade stick to the veggies, so go light, and be sure you choose olive oil.)
• Toss chopped vegetables in a vinegar-and-olive-oil salad dressing before loading them on skewers and putting them on the backyard grill. The aroma and flavor will actually have your family asking for seconds — of vegetables!
• After steaming vegetables, drizzle a little of your favorite vinegar over them instead of adding butter or salt. They’ll taste so good, you may never get to the meat on your plate.
By enhancing the flavor of vegetables with vinegar, you and your family will be inclined to eat more of them. And that–many researchers and doctors would agree–will likely go a long way toward protecting your body’s cells from the damage that can lead to cancer and other problems of aging.

Removing Harmful Substances from Produce

Some people are concerned that eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables may lead to an unhealthy consumption of pesticide and other farm-chemical residues. Vinegar can lend a hand here, too. Washing produce in a mixture of water and vinegar appears to help remove certain pesticides, according to the small amount of research that has been published. Vinegar also appears to be helpful in getting rid of harmful bacteria on fruits and vegetables.

To help remove potentially harmful residues, mix a solution of 10 percent vinegar to 90 percent water (for example, mix one cup of white vinegar in nine cups of water). Then, place produce in the vinegar solution, let it soak briefly, and then swish it around in the solution. Finally, rinse the produce thoroughly.

Do not use this process on tender, fragile fruits, such as berries, that might be damaged in the process or soak up too much vinegar through their porous skins.

Some pesticide residues are trapped beneath the waxy coatings that are applied to certain vegetables to help them retain moisture. The vinegar solution probably won’t wash those pesticides away, so peeling lightly may be the next best option. Some research suggests that cooking further eliminates some pesticide residue.

Add Flavor, Not Calories

Vinegar contains very few calories–only 25 in half a cup! Compare that to the nearly 800 calories you get in half a cup of mayonnaise, and you have a real fat-fighting food. So if you’re looking to lose weight, using vinegar in place of mayonnaise whenever you can will help you make a serious dent in your calorie (and fat) intake.

Vinegar can also help you have your dessert and cut calories, too. Use a splash of balsamic vinegar to bring out the sweetness and flavor of strawberries without any added sugar. Try it on other fruits that you might sprinkle sugar on–you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the difference a bit of balsamic vinegar can make. And for a real unexpected treat on a hot summer evening, drizzle balsamic vinegar–instead of high-fat, sugary caramel or chocolate sauce–on a dish of reduced-fat vanilla ice cream. Can’t imagine that combination? Just try it.

The Sour That’s Really Sweet

Obviously, much more research needs to be done to investigate all of vinegar’s healing potential. But even with the evidence available, it’s clear that vinegar holds some healing powers. It is not a too-good-to-be-true miracle cure, but it can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your efforts to fight serious, chronic diseases (and as noted in the box on pages 75 and 76, it may lend a healing hand against some common, minor discomforts).

In that sense, vinegar is like many of the other lifestyle adjustments, drugs, and therapies used in our battles against common, chronic, and often life-threatening diseases: It is just one of a variety of important steps that can help us defend ourselves. But unlike many of the other elements that go into treating or preventing disease, vinegar is one you’ll certainly enjoy incorporating into your life.