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Separating Anti-Aging Facts from Snake Oil

Posted by bmagnus On June - 10 - 2009

Searching for information on anti-aging online reveals some interesting things: conflicting information, ads for skin creams, an alphabet soup of supplements that might or might not do anything useful, research on the next “magic pill”, and the occasional voice in the wilderness encouraging healthy behaviors (stop smoking, eat a good diet, exercise).

The media, in their unrelenting quest to constantly deliver information, unwittingly makes matters worse, often through over-simplification of complicated scientific issues or presenting “not ready for prime time” research. Consider for example this item from the Huffington Post, citing normally respectable magazine Scientific American.  The first problem is that the “recent article” is a reprint from 2002 — as if no research has been done since then. It states that there is no fountain of youth.

Anti-aging is not some Peter Pan fantasy of never getting old, nor of “reversing the aging process”. Anti-aging is  about maintaining quality of life for as long as possible. It’s about staying as active and healthy as possible as we get older.

It’s almost amusing that the same voices telling us that there is no way to “prevent” the diseases of aging have no problems reminding us to take medication for chronic conditions to prevent complications: don’t do anything about the things that are known to cause diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — but once you have these conditions take your drugs so you don’t have a heart attack! Primary prevention keeps us from developing a disease in the first place. It enriches our quality of life, is usually cheaper than treating disease, and lengthens life. Secondary prevention treats the disease and prevents bad outcomes from chronic disease. It doesn’t change the fact that there is a life-shortening problem.

As our nation debates exactly what “preventative health care means” as part of the health care debate, let’s keep in mind the difference between primary and secondary preventative medicine. Let’s make sure we don’t discount resources for primary prevention even if those things are labeled as “anti-aging” or some other buzzword in a effort to marginalize rational, proven techniques such as diet, exercise and the support of medical providers for those techniques.

The real snake oil being sold is that somehow only patented medications from big pharmaceutical houses can keep us healthy into old age.

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