People do strange things in their pursuit of eternal youth. Legend has it that Elizabeth Bathory, a 15th-century Hungarian countess (and renowned serial killer), bathed in the blood of young virgin girls in an attempt to retain her youth. It didn’t work. Nor did Juan Ponce de León find his fabled fountain of youth when he sailed in 1513 to the New World, which we today know as “Florida.”
How far have we come from those days of bizarre or even horrific efforts aimed at delaying the inevitable? Well, according to BCC Research, a publisher of technology market research reports, all of us aging humans spent $261.9 billion on anti-aging products and services in 2013. From Botox injections to facial masks to hypno-, hydro-, and Hopi-therapy, the human quest to prolong youth seems as vigorous as ever. It can also be as silly as ever. (Thankfully, the ritual sacrifices seem to be a thing of the past.) But, in this contemporary age of ever-expanding medical and physiological discovery, real steps can be taken not to prolong youth but rather to promote vigor and health well into our twilight years. Let’s take a look at the so-called fountain of youth and what's in its waters, both the bad and the beneficial.
An article by Gretchen Voss of Health.com threw the spotlight on a pernicious new type of doctor that has gained traction in recent years: the “anti-aging doctor."1 While many doctors do wonderful research into the causes of aging as well as techniques to safeguard health, a cottage industry has sprung up to bottle the fountain of youth and sell it to the gullible – or the desparate. The so-called American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) boasts more than 26,000 member physicians and scientists worldwide and offers certificates to M.D.s who want to join. The problem is the American Board of Medical Specialties does not recognize “anti-aging” as a real category, so there can be no proper certification in it. Many of these doctors may be perfectly benign; maybe they offer nice health tips, anti-wrinkle moisturizers and a sympathetic ear, but many may be downright malignant, peddling sugar pills and empty supplements, or pushing off-label use of potentially dangerous treatments, such as…
Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone (HGH), a naturally occurring hormone produced mainly during childhood years by the pituitary gland, has been available as a synthetic drug for some time. It has shown to be useful in alleviating a number of developmental abnormalities in children and in treating a few adult conditions, such as short bowel syndrome. Used off-label, human growth hormone has gained notoriety among athletes who have used it to beef up their muscle mass and improve performance.
Now, however, some are using HGH as an anti-aging agent. Snake-oil salesmen in the form of anti-aging doctors, late-night telemarketers and Internet-only websites have said the miraculous benefits of HGH include everything from normalizing blood sugar to physically turning back your biological clock. However, no study has shown support for any of these claims, and the Federal Trade Commission explicitly discourages the use of HGH for these purposes. And HGH is not free of possible side effects, including nerve, joint or muscle pain, high cholesterol levels, swelling in tissues, and skin numbness or tingling, among others. Are dubious anti-aging promises worth an increased risk of diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome and possibly even death? No. Finally, many of these companies produce HGH illegally, so you never know if you’re getting is even the real thing or if it has been made in a safe manner.
The aisles of health food stores are full of supplements. As in the world of energy drinks and “enhanced” water, there are many good supplements available and many not so good. Take the case of Garcinia cambogia, a tropical fruit grown in Indonesia and rich in many essential vitamins and minerals. It has been marketed as a supplement that will help you lose weight and control cravings, but it has never been tested or proven to do any such thing. No wonder the marketers of Garcinia cambogia have resorted to Internet scams to get people to unknowingly buy their product.2
The Right Ingredients
It must be said: The best way to prolong the vigor, energy and appearance of youth is to do it the old-fashioned way – through good diet, plentiful exercise and avoiding the damaging effects that come with heavy alcohol intake and cigarette smoking. But even Ponce de León knew that. What has modern research added to our understanding? With such an abundance of products and such a variety of ways to package these products, brand names can mean less than ingredients. Ingredients are key. Learn to read the labels, both on your food and on your anti-aging products. Retinol, for example, is a derivative of Vitamin A that is both produced naturally and synthesized in the lab. Essential for vision and bone and tooth development, it is also remarkably potent when applied to the skin. Retinol has been shown to fight wrinkles and lighten dark spots. Similarly, hyaluronic acid works on the skin to draw water from the skin and the air, which results in a naturally moisturizing effect. It is also thought to catalyze new collagen production.
The benefits of antioxidants can hardly be overstated for both internal and cosmetic benefits. Melatonin, for example, regulates sleep-wake cycles and, externally, has been shown to combat hair loss as a person ages. When combined with L-ascorbic acid, Vitamin C reduces skin inflammation and helps plump up sagging and wrinkled skin. Internally, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant that helps boost the immune system. CoQ10, or Ubiquinol, a naturally occurring antioxidant that is also available as a synthesized supplement, has been shown to promote heart and liver health and is essential for the cellular production of energy. Ubiquinol, is the only known lipid soluble antioxidant synthesized in the body, also mops up harmful free radicals released during cellular energy exchange, thereby protecting healthy cells and preventing damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress.
Strengthened immunity, increased energy and a system cleaned of harmful chemicals – that’s about as close to the fountain of youth as we may ever get.