Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

A Protest Vote? Users of Anti-Ageing Medicine Talk Back

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

A Protest Vote? Users of Anti-Ageing Medicine Talk Back

Article excerpt


Remedies to potentially delay or even reverse the signs of bodily aging have long been a source of human fascination, as people throughout the ages have experimented with a wide range of age defying interventions (Binstock 2003; Boia 2004; Gruman 2003). For example, the Ebers Papyrus, a medical text thought to be around 3,500 years old, recommends ingesting the organs of young animals for vitality and immortality (Varghese et al 2007), while in Ovid's Metamorphosis, Medea is said to have the ability to rejuvenate by creating a concoction that makes white hair turn black and wrinkles disappear. The roots of alchemy, and the quest for the 'philosopher's stone', were also grounded in this desire, as is the early history of endocrinology (Marshall and Katz 2002), when animal sex glands were used for organotherapy, in an effort to rejuvenate 'vital energy', and ultimately, to delay senescence.

Having recognised the desire to potentially slow down aging and to even extend the lifespan as ancient, controversial developments in the last two decades have reinvigorated this long lived dream in what is now sometimes referred to as 'anti-ageing' medicine.1 A turning point moment for the recent history of this bourgeoning fi eld includes research findings from the lab of Dr Daniel Rudman et al (1990:5), which implicate the potential for human growth hormone (HGH) injections to offer restorative effects to aging bodies comparable to the changes experienced during a decade or two of aging. Warnings about potential risk, and calls for further studies, were a subdued backdrop to the momentum behind what is now described as a twenty-fi rst century health care paradigm focused on methods to 'retard and optimize the human aging process' (A4M 2008). Premised on a belief that the human lifespan can be increased, anti-ageing medicine gained ground in 1993 when the American Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine (A4M) was founded, and 15 years later the A4M claims to represent a combination of three organisations with more than 20,000 members worldwide.

In an effort to understand the growing popularity of anti-ageing medicine, (even though it is not recognised as legitimate by the American Medical Association), a number of scholars have considered different aspects of 'anti-ageing' medicine. For example, researchers have explored the experiences and beliefs of biogerontologists who study anti-ageing science (Settersten et al 2008) and doctors who practise anti-ageing medicine (Mykytyn 2006). Scholars have focused on the use of certain drugs associated with anti-ageing medicine, including HGH use among athletes (Hoberman 2005; Monaghan 1999), or as biomedical enhancement (Conrad and Potter 2004). Antiageing advertising (Brooks 2004; Calasanti 2007) and engagement in aesthetic 'anti-ageing' practices such as cosmetic surgery (Davis 1995; Pitts 2007) have also been analysed in order to highlight what are described as significant relations of power, gender, and age.

Other researchers (Binstock et al 2006; Juengst 2002; Vincent 2006) illuminate the contention surrounding the term 'anti-ageing', and this includes an exploration of ethical, sociological, and political dimensions, to reveal 'boundary work' (Binstock 2003) efforts in the scientifi c community that serve to separate the wheat from the chaff, in order to distinguish between that which is perceived of as 'legitimate' anti-ageing research, and that which is depicted as medical quackery, positioned to capitalise on a vulnerable public's dream of bodily rejuvenation.

A national survey titled 'Anti-Ageing Medicine, Vitamins, Minerals and Food Supplements', conducted for the International Longevity Center, and administered in October 2002, based on 1,010 telephone interviews with adults, revealed that while only fi ve percent of respondents agreed with the idea that the aging process could be stopped, three out of four believed that certain lifestyle factors could provide 'a lot' of help in keeping people from growing old. …

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