Health: Forever Young? ; Can Science Really Help Us to Delay the Effects of Ageing? A Range of Drugs Is Already Available and Used by Thousands of People. but the Real Answer May Be Much Simpler, Reports CAROLINE WHITE
White, Caroline, The Independent (London, England)
As legend has it, the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon set sail in 1513 to find the island of Bimini, where a fountain, set in gold and silver, reportedly cured illness and granted the drinker eternal youth. The island proved elusive. Instead - and aptly enough - De Leon discovered the coast of the south-eastern United States, or Florida to you and me.
His quest has now become a multi-million-dollar industry. In 2000, "seniors" accounted for almost half of the US specialty supplements market, valued at about $6bn, in an effort to turn back the clock. Next month, in the UK, the book 500 of the Most Important Ways to Stay Younger Longer will swell the expanding anti-ageing library. It joins the proliferation of websites, institutes and treatments that promise to make the growing numbers of those in middle age and beyond look and feel decades younger.
Genes have only a 25 per cent stake in determining how long we live, so the rest is down to us. But is the marketing hype for age- busters justified? Are we just deluded victims of a youth-obsessed culture?
"We can't `cure' ageing," says Professor Tom Kirkwood, of the Department of Gerontology at Newcastle University, adding that this doesn't mean we can't do anything about it. "But we cherish extraordinarily negative stereotypes of the ageing process. There's a tendency to clutch at anything to prevent it."
Ever since a small US study of older men was undertaken in 1990, hopes have been pinned on synthetic growth hormone. The authors concluded that the hormone's natural wastage over time had a role in the dwindling muscle bulk, skin thinning, and increasing flab seen in ageing. Claims for growth hormone's mood- and memory-enhancing properties, and its positive effects on the immune system and libido, swiftly followed.
Produced by the pituitary gland, growth hormone is essential for the development and maintenance of bone, tissues and organs. But once you hit 30, levels start tailing off by roughly 14 per cent a decade.
Although only licensed to treat stunted growth in the UK, it's widely available over the internet and is familiar to many from unsolicted e- mails promising an "anti-ageing miracle".
There are, of course drawbacks. To begin with, growth hormone must be injected. It also seems to work best in men and when combined with testosterone, suggests a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Side effects, including glucose intolerance, diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome also developed in 40 per cent of those in the US study. Other studies have suggested growth hormone can increase the risk of cancer.
Dr Marc Blackman, of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the US National Institutes of Health, says: "We don't know what the optimal therapeutic dose is, or when is the best age to start. The older a person, the more sensitive they are to adverse effects."
Still, the …
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Publication information: Article title: Health: Forever Young? ; Can Science Really Help Us to Delay the Effects of Ageing? A Range of Drugs Is Already Available and Used by Thousands of People. but the Real Answer May Be Much Simpler, Reports CAROLINE WHITE. Contributors: White, Caroline - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 19, 2003. Page number: 8,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.