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Anti-Aging: Immortality or Bunk?

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The concept of anti-aging is cropping up all over the place. Popular books, high-profile doctors and purveyors of drugs and nutritional supplements all claim to have the inside track on anti-aging. But what does it really mean? To kick off this new column, let's take a look at what anti-aging is'and isn't..

The concept of anti-aging is cropping up all over the place. Popular books, high-profile doctors and purveyors of drugs and nutritional supplements all claim to have the inside track on anti-aging. But what does it really mean? To kick off this new column, let's take a look at what anti-aging is and isn't.

From One Extreme To Another

To some, it means pushing the envelope of mortality. Physicians Ronald Katz and Robert Goldman state in their book Stopping the Clock, "Most people reading this can fully expect 100-plus lifespans now. In fact, within the next 30 years, we can expect to see lifespans of 120 to 130 years From a historical standard, we are rapidly approaching a state of virtual immortality for the human race!"

To others, the whole concept is absurd. A group of 51 internationally recognized scientists recently came out with a position paper debunking anti-aging: "There are no lifestyle changes, surgical procedures, vitamins, antioxidants, hormones or techniques of genetic engineering available today that have been demonstrated to influence the processes of aging."

Immortality Is Not The Goal

I don't hold with either of these extremist views. I do not believe that the goal of immortality is reasonable or even desirable. The familiar statistic that the average life expectancy has almost doubled in the past 100 years is misleading. Rather than a dramatic increase in lifespan, it simply reflects that, thanks to advances in sanitation, control of infectious diseases, and childbirth and trauma care, fewer people are dying young.

The official record for the maximum lifespan, which belongs to Jeanne Louise Calment from Arles, France, is 122 years and five months. Let me tell you a little story about Madame Calment. In 1965, when she was 90 years old, she made an arrangement with her lawyer that turned out to be the best deal she ever made--and his worst. The two agreed that in exchange for a monthly pension of 2,500 francs for the rest of her life, the lawyer would take possession of her apartment upon her death. Well, Mme. Calment outlived the lawyer, and he and his descendants ended up paying her more than three times the value of the apartment!

There is hope and hype that human lifespan will be dramatically extended through genetic tinkering. Perhaps Mme. Calment will be viewed as a youngster some day, but that day certainly isn't here yet.

Yes, You Can Sidestep The Diseases Of Aging

On the other hand, I do not believe that we are powerless against the ravages of aging.

What we need here is a new, more rational and realistic definition. The goal of anti-aging medicine is not to prolong life to some unrealistically advanced age, but to promote successful aging: remaining healthy and fully functional up to the end of a long, productive life.

My 25 years of treating patients and scouring scientific research on nutrition and other natural therapies have proven to me that this is entirely doable. Anti-aging medicine as I practise it involves the use of safe, effective therapies to address the underlying mechanisms of aging--not to push the limits of lifespan, but to help patients remain healthy and fully functional throughout life.

Promising "the fountain of youth" and false expectations of longevity is disingenuous and self-defeating. But so is the discrediting of beneficial, proven therapies by arrogant, paternalistic academic scientists.

Each month, as we explore different aspects of aging, I will give you tools to improve your health, no matter what your age.

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