Anti-Aging Medicine: Forever Young
Florida is home to more anti-aging doctors than any other state -- and they're finding many patients willing to spend thousands to feel like they did in their 20s and 30s.
Dr. Ferdinand Cabrera, a 49-year-old internist who runs the Genesis Health Institute near Fort Lauderdale, has slow-release testosterone implanted under his skin. [Photo: Vim Kruger]
Some testimonials for anti-aging medicine come from the doctors themselves. Every five months, Dr. Ferdinand Cabrera, a 49-year-old internist who runs the Genesis Health Institute, an anti-aging practice outside of Fort Lauderdale, has slow-release testosterone pellets implanted under his skin. He also takes a supplement to boost his production of HGH, and he takes 20 milligrams of melatonin each night to improve his sleep. A food sensitivity test revealed that his body was reacting to 34 foods, including almonds, watermelon, cantaloupe, eggplant, rice and wheat. He eliminated the offending agents from his diet. Like many anti-aging and holistic medical practitioners, Cabrera believes that low-level inflammation at a cellular level caused by foods we eat contributes to many chronic ailments, ranging from arthritis to type 2 diabetes and many autoimmune diseases.
Of course, Cabrera can’t prove he’s actually stalled or reversed his body’s aging process, but he says he feels “fantastic” since he’s made all the changes. His skin appears to have more elasticity, his thought processes are clearer, he’s sleeping better and he’s lost 20 pounds, he says.
Not everyone in the medical community is sold on the anti-aging practices, however. Views of the new field range from skepticism to warnings that anti-aging doctors are creating a threat to public health by casually prescribing substances like HGH. Dr. Thomas Perls, attending physician in the geriatrics section at Boston Medical Center who has published a number of peer-reviewed articles on aging and anti-aging medicine, says HGH’s side effects can range from tissue swelling and joint pain to enlargement of the heart and increased pressure around the brain. Some studies have also indicated that growth hormone enhances the ability of cancer to spread, he says.
“We have an anti-aging industry and other areas of the market that do an unbelievably good job of marketing an incredible false sense of safety and an incredible false sense of tremendous benefits from these drugs — and out of that comes a huge amount of money,” Perls said in testimony before Congress last year.
The National Institutes of Health offers a slightly less alarming view of the trend. The National Institute on Aging, a division of the NIH, urges consumers to “be skeptical of claims that hormone or other supplements can solve your age-related problems.” Instead, consumers should focus on “what is known to help promote healthy aging: Healthy eating and physical activity.” Moreover, the NIA advises against taking any supplement touted as an anti-aging remedy, arguing that there is “no proof of effectiveness, and the health risks of short and long-term use are unknown.”
S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a research associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago, points out that anti-aging medicine is not recognized by the American Medical Association as a medical specialty. That’s important, he says, because there is, in fact, “no such thing as an anti-aging medicine. If there was an anti-aging medicine that was demonstrated to work, the whole world would be on it.”
Olshansky acknowledges that some practices promoted by anti-aging doctors — eating less, eating healthier and exercising more — are good for everybody. “And that’s a good thing,” he says. But, he asks, “Are they reversing their aging? No. Are they influencing their aging in any way? No evidence for it.”