Is Anti-Aging Medicine the New Ageism?

Article excerpt

When I was reporting my book Selling the Fountain of Youth (New York: Basic Books, 2010), I traveled to Boston to interview Dr. Thomas Perls, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and founder of the New England Centenarian Study (NECS). The study began in 1995, researching the genetic makeup of Bostoniane who are more than 100 years old. Today, NECS has become the largest comprehensive study of centenarians in the world.

As anti-aging medicine was catching fire in the mid-9os, Perls told me, he happened upon the website of one of the new anti-aging societies - and he was flabbergasted. "I was finding my work quoted by these characters who were saying they could stop and reverse aging," Perls recalled. "They had this very pernicious view of elderly people. They had pictures of old people sitting in wheelchairs and staring at nursing home walls, and they were saying, 'This is what getting old is all about.'"

The deeper I dug into the anti-aging industry, the more I came to believe that Perls was right. By the very nature of their work, anti-aging doctors propagate a new form of ageism. It's not that they're ppposed to the idea of people living long lives. But they're deeply committed to die idea diat the typical symptoms of growing old - hot flashes, loss of energy, creaky joints, what have you - can and should be avoided.

A PREMISE UNPROVEN

The basic premise of anti-aging medicine seems logical: hormones decline as we age; Üierefore, all we have to do to avoid aging is restore our hormones to die levels tiiey were when we were 30 or even younger. Anti-aging doctors promote human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone and "bioidentical" estrogen and progesterone to people who are otherwise healthy.

Hormones are the cornerstone of die anti-aging credo, which one doctor described to me as rectangularization (mortality compression). The idea, he said, is that patients should not have to age like their parents did, suffering a gradual increase in frailty and slow descent towards die nursing home - triangularization if you will. Instead they can use hormones to stay strong and healthy throughout their lives, and then "fall off a cliff fast," he said.

I find that sad. The fact is, there are no long-term, placebo-controlled studies proving that hormones extend life and that tiiey're safe for healthy people to take long-term.

Consider die story of Hanneke Hops, who told the 5a« Francisco Chronicle (November 2003) that daily injections of HGH were making her strong enough to run marathons, ride horses and fly planes. …