Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease out of Getting Old-And Made Billions

Aging Today, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease out of Getting Old-And Made Billions


The following is an excerpt from the preface and Chapter One of the book Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old And Made Billions by Arlene Weintraub. Excerpted by arrangement with Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2010.

I first wandered into the odd world of anti-aging medicine while working as a science writer for Business Week. It was 2005, and I was reporting a story on a new wave of drugs designed to help children who couldn't grow properly. The biotechnology innovation known as human growth hormone (HGH) was the most widely accepted treatment for these children, and parents were still clamoring for it. But as I called various doctors to report the story, some of them told me they were disturbed about an entirely different trend they were seeing: Aging adults wanted to take HGH, too.

I wondered, why would any fully grown adult need growth hormone? That single question opened my eyes to an emerging specialty called anti-aging medicine. The deeper I dug, the more fascinated I became with the bizarre and ever-growing medicine chest of drugs anti-aging doctors were prescribing - and the hordes of patients who seemed to have no idea that these treatments could be seriously risky.

You wake up on Monday, bound out of bed, head for the medicine cabinet, and grab a syringe filled with human growth hormone. With no hesitation, you stick the needle into a fold of skin on your thigh and press die plunger. Then you open a tube of estrogen cream that you bought from the neighborhood pharmacist and rub a dollop of it into your arm. You're 56 years old, but your hot flashes are a distant nightmare, and you wake up with the energy of a 20-year-old. You attribute your newfound youth not only to die growth hormone and the estrogen but also to the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, which you take every night. You've heard that some hormones can cause cancer, but you're not too worried. …

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