May 21, 2002 Despite claims by entrepreneurs and others who make a business of touting anti-aging therapies, S. Jay Olshansky, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his colleagues, issue a warning to consumers in their article, "No Truth to the Fountain of Youth," appearing in the June issue of Scientific American.
The essay's authors, Olshansky, UIC School of Public Health, Leonard Hayflick, University of California, San Francisco, and Bruce A. Carnes, National Opinion Research Center/Center on Aging at the University of Chicago, are three of 51 scientists who have issued a position statement that can be found at www.sciam.com/explorations/2002/051302aging/ warning the public that "no currently marketed intervention has yet been proved to slow, stop or reverse human aging."
The popularity of "longevity" clinics and the Internet boom provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to promote and sell their products to consumers of all ages, says Olshansky.
"While the public is bombarded by hype and lies, many biologists are intensively studying the underlying nature of aging in the belief that their research will eventually suggest ways to slow its progression and to thereby postpone infirmity and improve quality of life," the authors write. "But anyone purporting to offer an anti-aging product today is either mistaken or lying."
Concerned about the proliferation of the anti-aging industry, the scientists are speaking out to alert the public about the medical dangers of so-called anti-aging therapies. For example, many Americans are not aware that the Food and Drug Administration does not require rigorous testing for nutritional supplements such as antioxidants.
Aside from the fact that supplements have not been shown to have any influence on aging, these products have no warnings about side effects that may result when taken either with or without approved medications. The authors warn that hormone supplements being sold at anti-aging clinics are potentially dangerous and should not be used except by people with rare medical conditions and with the advice of their physicians. This view echoes a report recently published by the federal government's General Accounting Office on the physical harm and financial loss that anti-aging industry products might cause.
The scientists also hope to educate the public about the future of legitimate scientific research in the field of aging. The authors note that some interventions to extend life, such as caloric restriction or genetic manipulation, are worthy of further investigation, but they also conclude, "the primary goal of biomedical research and efforts to slow aging should not be the mere extension of life. It should be to prolong the duration of healthy life."
Olshansky and Carnes are authors of "The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging (Norton, 2001). Hayflick is author of "How and Why We Age" (Ballantine, 1996).
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