Physicians warn against anti-aging therapies

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Last Updated: 2001-07-16 12:16:08 EDT (Reuters Health)

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A group of experts on aging has issued a report questioning the validity and safety of "anti-aging medicine."

"There are no valid intrinsic measures of aging," Dr. Robert N. Butler, head of the International Longevity Center-USA (ILC), said at a press briefing here. "Claims that you hear of slowing or reversing aging cannot be proven."

Dr. Butler, who served as the first director of the National Institute on Aging, is a professor of geriatrics and adult development at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

The ILC sponsored a workshop last week on "Biomarkers of Aging: From Primitive Organisms to Man" and released a report based on its conclusions. The workshop was one of a series on aging issues, held by the ILC twice a year, modeled on the National Institutes of Health's consensus conferences. The ILC is a nonprofit, New York-based research, policy and education organization.

According to the ILC, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine states that about 2500 US doctors have established specialty practices in anti-aging medicine and claims that "immortality is within our grasp."

Dr. Butler and his colleagues counter that such claims are great exaggerations, and that neither the academy nor the specialty of anti-aging medicine is recognized by mainstream groups, including the American Medical Association.

Some physicians in the US, France and Great Britain are offering a series of laboratory tests that promise to measure a person's "actual"–rather than chronological–age, Dr. Butler said. They use these tests, which cost up to $2,000, as a basis to prescribe an anti-aging regimen of antioxidants or hormone replacement.

Dr. Butler noted that a year's supply of human growth hormone costs $15,000 to $18,000, there is no scientific evidence that this or other hormone replacement therapies will extend life, and they may in fact be harmful. "It's certainly a very fine way to make a living, unfortunately," he said.

"At the animal level, human growth hormone has been found to shorten life," he noted. "There may be an appropriate normal physiological reason why the hormone declines with age."

Dr. Butler and Dr. Howard Fillit, who heads the New York-based Institute for the Study of Aging, also assailed claims that antioxidants have anti-aging properties. "Antioxidants have never been proven to be of any clinical benefit for any illness, ever," Dr. Fillit said.

He also argued that the anti-aging movement "medicalizes" the aging process, treating it as a bad thing. "It sends the wrong message to our doctors and to our people," he said.

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