“Antiaging” experts are popping up like flowers in springtime, promising to help people look and feel their best. Many of them are, in fact, doctors, whether MDs, NDs or some other type. You probably have some of these doctors where you live.
But doesn’t the very phrase “antiaging” set off alarm bells? I mean, I’m aging…you’re aging…we’re all aging. Every day, we’re a day older. So, what are all these antiaging docs really able to do? And how do we avoid all the hucksters?
For some answers, I called S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, research associate at the Center on Aging at The University of Chicago. He’s spent 28 years studying aging…and he doesn’t sell a cure for it. His information may surprise you…
NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE
The first thing to know is that the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) does not recognize antiaging as a specialty, so there is no such thing as becoming “board-certified” in the area. A group of doctors did, however, organize their own association in 1992—the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. According to its site, the Academy offers certification to anyone with an MD, DO, DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine) or MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Science) degree who passes a written and an oral exam and meets some other modest requirements. About 24,000 people have signed up. But since ABMS doesn’t recognize the Academy or its certification, personally it’s not enough of a credential to satisfy me that a doctor is an expert in the subject of aging.
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Dr. Olshansky suggested that an antiaging doctor’s certification, though, is less important than the particular type of treatments that he or she recommends. So let’s take a look at a few of the most common treatments that are offered…
COMMON ANTIAGING TREATMENTS
Dr. Olshansky told me that part of the typical antiaging regimen is based on prescribing three types of hormones—synthetic human growth hormone (HGH), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and bioidentical estrogen. Though opinions on these hormones vary widely among experts, in Dr. Olshansky’s view, none of them has been scientifically proven to be effective in making people grow younger or live longer. Specifically…
- HGH might help you boost skin elasticity, mental acuity and muscle mass (but not strength) in the short-term, but its potential side effects include carpal tunnel syndrome, aching muscles and joints, and—most worrisome—heart disease, diabetes and possibly speeding up the rate at which cells turn cancerous, said Dr. Olshansky.
- DHEA is said to improve bone density, mental concentration and memory, but there’s no scientific evidence backing up those claims—plus, studies show that this hormone can reduce HDL “good” cholesterol, cause acne and increase facial hair in women, said Dr. Olshansky.
- Bioidentical estrogen is recommended by some antiaging doctors to women because it’s been shown to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, dry skin, reduced libido and other problems. However, there is no scientific proof that bioidentical estrogen is any safer than synthetic estrogen, which has been linked to a number of diseases, including breast cancer, said Dr. Olshansky.
TRUE ANTIAGING TREATMENTS
We would all like one magic cure-all, but Dr. Olshansky told me that when it comes to maintaining energy, mental sharpness, strong bones, flexibility, clear skin and more as you age, the only tried-and-true methods are the same ones that you’ve been hearing about since you were a little kid. Here are the three keys…
- Exercise: Cardio plus weight training provides the same benefits as injecting yourself with HGH, but without its exorbitant cost ($12,000 a year or more) and dangerous side effects, and the benefits are immediate.
- Diet: Choose foods dense in vitamins, minerals and amino acids—these (of course) include low-fat protein and colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Medical monitoring: Dr. Olshansky said that everyone over age 50 should get regular checkups and tests for general health by an MD. (Dr. Olshansky isn’t familiar enough with current ND practices to recommend seeing an ND instead of or in addition to an MD, but personally, I find that NDs can provide valuable knowledge on holistic care, particularly in the areas of nutrition and hormones.) If you want or need care above what your general practitioner can provide, talk to a specialist, too. An endocrinologist is generally best equipped to address hormone imbalances, and a geriatrician can coordinate treatment of age-related diseases.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Exercise, diet and medical monitoring (along with follow-up) can slow down the manifestations of aging a little or at least make you feel younger, said Dr. Olshansky. In the future, we might actually be able to slow down aging itself.
Scientists are studying genes to learn how we might turn certain ones “on” or “off” to prevent or delay health problems and live longer. Caloric restriction is also showing possibility for prolonging vigor, and research continues on how stem cells may someday allow repair of damaged tissue in older people and others. It is an exciting frontier…but it is a frontier, so don’t believe everything you hear out there, even from doctors.