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Thursday, July 7, 2005

HEALTH MATTERS

Baby boomers fuel a boom in 'anti-aging' treatments


By HIROKO IZUMO
Special to The Japan Times

As baby boomers are heading for their sixties, anti-aging medicine is becoming popular in Japan -- though it may be some time before we catch up with the United States, where more is now reportedly spent on supplements than prescribed medicines.

However, although some of these supplements have some effect, for most there is no anti-aging evidence.

For example, Vitamin C is a proven anti-oxidant, and is hence beneficial in addressing an important cause of aging of cells and organs like the skin. On the other hand, Vitamin E was long thought to have the same effect, but a recent U.S. study failed to demonstrate its anti-oxidant effect on the heart.

Not so Coenzyme Q 10, for which there is clear evidence of its anti-aging effect, and which I strongly recommend -- although I have found that the dose many Japanese people are taking is too little to have an effect.

With this anti-aging boom, many doctors have opened anti-aging clinics. There, they check body-fat ratio and usually administer extensive blood tests, including for blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride. Many also check hormone levels.

It is well known that women stop producing estrogen and progesterone around age 50, which can cause osteoporosis and hypercholesterolemia. Consequently, many now take female hormone replacement medications. Men's testosterone levels also gradually reduce, causing loss of stamina and erectile dysfunction, both of which can be improved by testosterone replacement therapies. However, our body produces not only sexual hormones but others like adrenal and pituitary hormones to maintain its homeostasis, and it is known that some of them also decrease with aging.

Usually, quality of life is improved by the appropriate hormone replacement therapy. However, many doctors check hormone levels even though they are not endocrinologists (hormone specialists). If hormones are prescribed inappropriately, it can be very harmful because some of them control heart rate, blood pressure or blood sugar levels.

In one case, for example, a 49-year-old woman was referred to me by a cardiologist whom she had visited because for three months she had frequently experienced palpitations and was very tired. Though she was found to have a slight heartbeat irregularity, her cardiac echo was normal, meaning she did not have a structural heart disease.

When I asked her if she was taking any medicine, she told me she was not taking anything except some supplements. I asked her to bring in all the supplements she was taking to my clinic next time. Then, I found a thyroid hormone pill among many vitamins. She hesitantly told me that she had found the anti-aging clinic where she got it through a Web site.

After taking a blood test there, she explained, she was told that her thyroid hormone level was slightly low. She was then given the thyroid hormone supplement along with many vitamins "to keep her young." My patient had been taking the same pills for six months, and had been supposed to visit the anti-aging clinic every three months. However, she said she skipped one visit because she did not think she was sick, and "was only taking supplements."

When I checked her blood test, though, I found that this woman's thyroid hormone level was very high. She was in a state of hyperthyroidism that can be very dangerous, and she could have had a stroke or developed heart disease due to the overdose of the thyroid hormone supplement.

So, the moral of the tale is that when you are taking hormone replacement medication, you have to have a blood test regularly to check whether the blood hormone level is appropriate. Otherwise you could be heading for serious medical problems instead of keeping yourself young.

Tofu has good protein and an estrogen-like effect to prevent osteoporosis in both men and women -- and it's safe.Growth hormone and thyroid hormone are definitely useful for certain aging patients -- but not for all of you!

Dr. Izumo is head of the division of endocrinology in the department of internal medicine at St. Luke's International Hospital, Tokyo.


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