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Aging Gracefully While Aging Safely Avoiding Risky Procedures and Empty Promises


By Amy Kennard

Raise your hand if you’ve looked in the mirror and tugged a little at
those creases around your mouth, frowned at those frown lines, or
widened those eyes to make the crows’ feet disappear.

Who can relate to feeling that flash of heat that makes you want to tear
your clothes off? Who here is constantly tired, yet can’t get a good
night’s sleep to save her life?

Welcome to aging, ladies. No doubt your ears perk up when you hear those
anti-aging commercials promising a more youthful appearance, relief of
menopausal symptoms, weight loss, or a better sex life.

S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., a research associate at the Center on Aging at
the University of Chicago, is about to rain on your parade. “Aging is a
natural process, not a medical condition,” he says, “and there isn’t any
therapy that can reverse or slow it down.”

The problem is, the anti-aging market is quite the money maker for those
offering to let you drink from the fountain of youth, yet some of the
treatments they recommend can be harmful and even downright deadly.

Anti-aging isn’t a specialty that’s recognized by the American Board of
Medical Specialties; meaning doctors can’t officially be board-certified
in it, yet it has its own professional society, the American Academy of
Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M). Founded in 1992, A4M boasts some 24,000
members worldwide and offers a “certificate” in anti-aging medicine,
available to any M.D., in any specialty.

Endocrinologists, who specialize in hormones; and internists, or
“integrative physicians,” who practice a holistic approach to health;
along with OB-GYNs, who don’t actively promote their “anti-aging”
miracles; are usually trained to treat a multitude of age-related
issues. However, physicians of all specialties are getting in on the
lucrative anti-aging industry with both physical and monetary
consequences to their patients. The problem is, anti-aging doctors may
be ill-trained to be diagnosing and treating what could be more serious
underlying issues, and may even be harming their patients with trendy

A Hormone Headache
“The concept is that if you take a 60-year-old woman and duplicate the
hormone environment from when she was 20, she’ll feel like she’s 20,”
says Nanette Santoro, M.D., director of the Division of Reproductive
Endocrinology & Infertility at the Albert Einstein College of

Hormone therapy (HT), which encompasses estrogen as well as
estrogen-progestin therapy, has been shown to effectively treat
menopausal symptoms, but there are also some associated risks. It is
imperative that patients seek only the most qualified physicians when
considering hormone therapy. Any type of hormone therapy should only be
administered after a thorough examination of your health status and

Hormone injections such as HGH, which some physicians claim will reduce
body fat, build muscle, improve sex drive, and increase energy, can
predispose some people to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It’s
actually illegal to distribute a product containing HGH for anti-aging
purposes, since it’s only FDA-approved for a handful of conditions, such
as growth-hormone deficiency.

Bioidentical hormones use compounds found in plants, usually soybeans or
yams. After the plant-based hormone is processed, its structure is said
to be identical to the hormones your body produces — though this theory
has not yet been proven. Though the ingredients may be FDA-regulated,
many anti-aging physicians turn to compounding (mixing ingredients as
outlined by a prescription at a compounding pharmacy) the hormones to
tailor them to specific individuals. Because each prescription is
custom-compounded for each individual patient, FDA approval and
regulation is limited. In fact, according to the FDA, 43 percent of the
compounded prescriptions didn’t contain what they were supposed to.

The Skinny on Supplements
Anti-aging supplements will not turn back the clock, plain and simple.
However, certain supplements can help maintain your health as you age,
such as fish oil for good heart health, and vitamin D’s ability to help
you absorb calcium. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, it could “appear”
that you are turning back the clock.

But buyer beware. Most anti-aging supplements are a booming bonanza of
bogusness, says Olshansky. In addition, anti-aging doctors price them
for profit and, since they aren’t required to be FDA-approved, there’s
no guarantee of their safety. That goes for skin creams as well as
vitamins that promise to erase fine lines and prevent wrinkles. Most
topical creams contain very low concentrations of antioxidants (known to
prevent agents called free radicals from damaging the body’s cells)
that aren’t well-absorbed by the skin or have very short-term effects.
Some vitamins and creams can have negative side effects as well as
interfere with other medications you may be taking.

So how do we fight aging?
Winifred K. Rossi is the deputy director of the Division of Geriatrics
and Gerontology at the National Institute on Aging. “The best advice is
not very different from what our mothers told us: maintain a healthy
weight, be active, eat nutritious food, and don’t smoke,” she says.
Physicians advise 1,200 milligrams per day of calcium, preferably from
food, and 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D in a supplement.

This back-to-basics approach may not sound as cutting-edge as special
injections or souped-up supplements, but it’s time-tested and a lot less
costly — for your wallet and your health. “Many of the benefits that
are associated with HGH — you can get those with exercise, for free,”
says Olshansky.

The best advice? See your OB/GYN as recommended, and once you reach
your 40s, add in a family practice doctor or internist, too, since they
are qualified to handle routine issues that come with middle age. But as
far as any “serious” issues? Leave that to the experts  — the
endocrinologists — to ensure that you are being cared for smartly and

Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock