Monday, January 21, 2013

Boomers can't leave well enough alone

kw: aging gracefully, scams, medicine

Nobody really likes growing old. Of course, we like the occasional sign of respect, or at least a hint of deference, just because we have more experience. Senior discounts at restaurants and some stores are also nice. But the aging body? That's another matter!

Of course, people have attempted to reverse the clock since the genus Homo discovered mortality, probably 100,000 years ago. Ponce de León sought the fountain of youth in Florida 500 years ago; he needed it more than most, as he lived only 47 years. Fifteen centuries earlier, Cleopatra used a king's ransom in cosmetics and poultices in a vain attempt to retain a youthful appearance.

In my mother's generation, they thought they had "the answer" for women: estrogen or progesterone pills, a weak variety of birth control pills. They did help stave off the worst effects of menopause, but came with their own baggage, such as increased cancer risk. And there was nothing for men.

These days, youth faddists promote HGH (human growth hormone), which has to be injected, or GHR (growth hormone releaser) in pill form. I have an ad before me in the current issue of Smithsonian, that declares, "Grow Young With HGH". It actually promotes a GHR pill. How nice; if only it would work. It doesn't.

I dug around to find out more. Every reputable web site (this is too new to be in the print libraries) says the same thing. HGH injections, by prescription only, can mitigate certain symptoms suffered by people with a hormone deficiency. But tests with otherwise healthy, older adults showed only one "benefit": a small increase in muscle mass, without any measurable increase in muscle strength. The side effect list is rather daunting:
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Swelling in the arms and legs
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • For men, enlargement of breast tissue (gynecomastia
See this Mayo Clinic article for more. Hmm. I have carpal tunnel syndrome already, from a lifetime of typing. I don't like the idea of growing a bust. The other effects don't interest me either.

I would have expected some effect on cancer, either promotion or reduction in cancer risk, but nobody has reported on that either way. But further, nobody has demonstrated that any GHR formulation actually "releases" any HGH, whatever that may mean.

My generation's panic at getting older is certainly causing large masses of moolah to transfer to the promoters of alternative medicine ($30 billion last year). Some of the alternatives may work. HGH and GHR don't. Sorry.

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