A traumatic experience served as a turning point for Dr John McKenna, who no longer works long shifts or in stressful environments, says Margaret Jennings.
ALTHOUGH Wexford-based medic, Dr John McKenna, has written several books on the importance of nutritional health, it was learning to deal with his own suppression of emotion that was a turning point in his life.
The 64-year-old father of four, who has a new book out, What You Can Do To Prevent Cancer, places a huge emphasis on the quality of the water we drink and the food we eat, for maintaining good health.
But when asked for his own personal formula for ageing healthily, he says “lack of stress would be number one”.
“I used to work very long hours and I was good at suppressing emotions because I grew up in a traumatic part of Northern Ireland.
"It wasn’t safe to be emotional in a situation like that and certainly not at school — you got beaten quite frequently at school. So I learnt not to express emotion. “
He was in his early 50s when he sought help: “I suppose it was a gradual thing, but I also worked with a Dublin-based psychiatrist, Dr Pradeep Chadra, who didn’t use drugs but used visualisation and breathing techniques to treat people. Through the breathing I learned to call up and release the anger.
"It made a dramatic difference because I was aware I was working too hard and putting myself under too much pressure, and not aware of the effect that my childhood had had on me.”
Another turning point arose just before that, while working in Cape Town, South Africa, when his house was broken into.
“My youngest daughter, Marianne , then 14, was with me in the house and it was in the middle of the night and we got tied up and gagged and threatened. I thought we were going to be killed.
"After that I realised that the only thing that’s important in life is the people you love; telling people that you love them — the rest is immaterial.
“I became acutely aware then, of what life is all about. The work that you do — everything else you do in life, is of secondary importance.
"So my life took big shifts forward in terms of awareness — of my family, of what I was doing and the effect it was having on me. Since then I have not been able to tolerate long working hours and stressful environments in the way I was before that.”
At his clinic, where he does urine testing for mineral and vitamin deficiencies and the presence of unwanted metals and pesticides in the body, most of his patients are over the age of 50. Many present with gut problems, hormonal problems or lack of energy.
“They might have to change their diet, their approach to what they’re doing in life and I’m interested in their emotional state also,” he says.
Top of the list in his recommendations, aside from eating natural food, is to drink bottled water, or get a reverse osmosis filter installed in your home, to avoid the metals and chemicals in the public water systems. “Even boiling water doesn’t remove metals,” he says. “It kills bacteria only.”
So what else does he do to age healthily?
“I take a good micronutrient supplement — which has vitamins and minerals in it because they work together in the body.
"It should have good levels of antioxidant — vitamin A, C and E, zinc and selenium. Most of the soil that vegetables come from is depleted so we don’t get what we need.
“Occasionally, I take chlorella, a green algae powdered food that helps to detoxify the body of metals. I take it for a few months and then stop.
"Then, to increase physical strength and physical energy, I would take Korean ginseng. I take it for a couple of months on, then off, depending on my physical energy really.
"It’s also a good anti-stress herb and I would take it with liquorice to help its absorption.”
He also gets himself tested, like his patients, every couple of years.
“There is a great need for this. It should be done routinely, like how your GP does blood tests.”
In recognition of his past, John also meditates daily for his emotional health.
“I saw death and destruction in Northern Ireland and I used to have nightmares as a child that I would die violently.
"My worst fear was to die violently and there I was in South Africa — facing my worst nightmare and it released me. It released me from the fear I was carrying all my life and I wasn’t frightened any more.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved