Be Aware of These Nine Questionable Clinics

John Watson

Disclosures

August 20, 2018

In This Article

Antiaging Clinics: No Fountain of Youth

The existential crisis of aging has been fertile ground for pseudoscience for centuries. One of the current-day embodiments of this is the antiaging clinic, which often use unsupported and potentially dangerous interventions.

"The most financially rewarding antiaging therapy is growth hormone administration; it's a billion-dollar industry," said Nir Barzilai, MD, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

As Barzilai explained, this is directly in contrast with the latest data, which show that growth hormone probably shortens lives. Human growth hormone converts to insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) after being administered. Research by Barzilai and others, though, shows that low levels of IGF-1 are actually predictive of living longer.[28,29]

"The science tells you that if you give this hormone, you're going to get in trouble," Barzilai said. "We have shown in 700 centenarians and their families that the women with the lowest IGF-1 levels survive the longest."

Hormone replacement therapy is another cornerstone of the antiaging clinic. For female patients, this primarily takes the form of estrogen and progesterone replacement. Such therapies were standard practice for menopausal patients in the 1980s and 1990s, but usage rates came crashing down in 2002, when the Women's Health Initiative study[30] showed an increased risk for breast cancer and stroke in those taking combinations of these therapies.

"Since estrogen stopped being recommended to postmenopausal women, breast cancer incidence in the United States has dropped by 25%," said Barzilai. He explained that there is still some question about whether estrogen can be safely administered to women in the 50- to 60-year-old age range, but beyond that point, its dangers are real.

Barzilai and his colleagues are at the vanguard of research into aging, and he believes the future looks bright for interventions that might actually lessen its burdens. He expressed disappointment that the term "antiaging" has been sullied by a group of practitioners who be doing more harm than good.

"When you people who claim things related to aging, if the patients die, nobody sues them," said Barzilai. "You can take a skin cream for 2 weeks and know whether it's working or not. But if somebody says, this is what will keep you healthy and give you longevity, and the patient dies, then those charlatans will continue."

There are signs of potential pushback. In June, Kentucky suspended the medical director of the antiaging clinic 25 Again from prescribing hormone therapy. She was accused of giving thyroid and testosterone hormones to patients with normal levels of both, and otherwise posing a risk by deviating from standard practices. The clinic she operated, however, is still up and running.[31]

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