Seeking the Fountain of Youth
old is not always a welcome change. Reduced fares on public
transportation and senior movie tickets are not enough to make
up for the declines in strength, youthful appearance, health,
sexual desire, and self-confidence that can accompany aging.
And thus it is predictable that people will look for methods
to slow the process or turn it around entirely. One such "method"
that's gaining popularity is human growth hormone (GH).
are powerful regulators and orchestrators of our bodies and
behavior. Levels of various hormones vary throughout our life
spans. GH, also known as somatotropin, is one example. This
very important hormone, produced by the pituitary gland in the
brain, controls growth and development from infancy through
adolescence and begins to decline around age 20. Some children
with pituitary disease may have a deficiency of GH, and thus
fail to develop properly. They may show changes that resemble
aging, including loss of muscle. Prescription doses of injectable
GH are approved for use—and are very useful for such children.
But it's normal for older people to have lower levels of GH,
and injecting them with this hormone in the hope of keeping
them young is another matter entirely.
scientists interested in the processes of aging have begun to
study GH, and in 1990 a small study of older men, published
in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that high doses
of injected GH could reduce body fat and increase muscle mass
somewhat. The treatment seemed to improve skin thickness slightly
and to increase bone density. This report gave rise to a whole
industry. Anti-aging clinics sprang up all over, offering injections
of GH, as well as other hormones.
one knows how many avail themselves of GH treatments—100,000
according to one estimate. And no wonder many people try it,
given the heavy promotion on the Internet and elsewhere, along
with the newspaper headlines ("Growth Hormone Therapy for
Elderly Promising") designed to snag your interest and
raise your hopes.
what does it all mean
studies in the past decade have had similar findings that GH
injections in the elderly can reduce body fat and increase lean
tissue. But this is essentially meaningless. No one has been
able to demonstrate that these changes in body composition have
any beneficial effect on muscle strength, cardiovascular endurance,
or quality of life. To get any increase in strength and endurance,
you need to exercise while taking the hormone. But you can get
the same benefits by just exercising, according to a recent
editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. GH won't add
only is exercise better than GH, it's a lot cheaper and safer.
Among other troubling findings, GH may raise the risk of cancer,
particularly prostate and breast cancer, and cause breast enlargement
in men. It increases the risk of diabetes. Short-term side effects
include fluid retention, which can promote carpal tunnel syndrome
(a painful disorder of the wrist and hand) and joint pain. There's
the question of dosages, too. Nobody knows what the right dose
top of these drawbacks, GH is very expensive. Prices start at
around $500 a month for the injections and go up to $2,000 a
month for complete "anti-aging" regimens with other
hormones, such as estrogen or testosterone. Those with pituitary
disease really need GH, and this legitimate use is likely to
be covered by health insurance. But GH as a possible weapon
in the anti-aging arsenal is not covered.
of "alternative," nonprescription GH preparations
to be swallowed or inhaled are available now. A few claim to
contain real GH, but most claim to stimulate GH production in
your body or to contain precursors that are supposedly converted
into the hormone. If they did contain GH, it would not survive
the trip through the digestive tract; and if you inhaled it,
it would not be absorbed. As for the releasers, stimulators,
and precursors, there's no evidence that these work. But this
doesn't stop ads from referring to the 1990 study in the New
England Journal of Medicine and all but claiming that the Journal
endorses these products. Apart from the dishonesty of these
ads, no one knows if these products are even safe. In February
an editorial in the Journal strongly disassociated itself from
GH and subsidiary products as a "remedy" for aging
and stated that the public is being misled.
in mind: Experiments with hormones, including injected
GH, as a means of building bone mass, improving skin, enhancing
sexual performance, and otherwise restoring youth, have so far
had discouraging results. The prescription form of GH is expensive
and possibly dangerous. It might have some effects on body composition,
but it won't reverse aging.
aging is a commendable goal we should all aim for it. But the
fountain of youth does not exist, as Ponce de Leon might well
have concluded after wandering around for years in what later
became Florida. "Anti-aging" and "longevity"
clinics can't do anything except deplete your bank account.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, a positive outlook, a regimen
of preventive tests, good medical care, and a will to enjoy
life—all these are far more likely to keep you youthful
than any pills or injections yet known.
Reference Source 98