The Baby Boomer generation has been influencing American culture since they first began growing their hair and ripping their jeans.
Now, as these trend setters are approaching their 60s, they are reshaping the way America looks at aging.
In her article "What do boomers want in 2006?,"Joanna L. Krotz notes that every seven seconds for the next 18 years, someone in this country will turn 60. More than one million Americans are expected to be 100 or older by 2050.
The impact of this phenomenon is staggering for the anti-aging business. According to market researcher FIND/SVP, the anti-aging products market is expected to hit $56 billion by 2007, a jump of 50 percent since 2002.
But in the midst of all of this growth, how much is hype and what products will really retard the aging process?
To answer that question, The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine is mounting its 14th annual Conference on Anti-Aging Medicine in Las Vegas from Dec. 7 through 10. The event is expected to attract more than 6,000 attendees from every medical discipline, health practitioners such as nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants, and members of the business community involved in the development of anti-aging products.
All of these professionals will participate in more than 80 presentations and view over 700 exhibits. The largest anti-aging conference and exhibition in the U.S., its purpose is to educate attendees about the anti-aging medical movement and how this field offers a pro-active model for accessible, prevention-based healthcare.
Anti-aging medicine involves the development of therapies that delay the onset of age-related changes or that slow down the pace at which these changes occur. There are several of therapies that are currently being explored by the scientific community:
– Caloric Restriction (CR): This intervention proposes lessening caloric intake while maintaining a normal diet regarding other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Studies performed on mice and rats have shown that CR increased their lifespan by 40 percent.
These experiments have also shown that CR can reduce the frequency of age-related diseases and decelerate the appearance of aging. CR mice look younger and some tests have even suggested that they are physiologically younger than mice of the same age.
– Antioxidants: When oxygen is used to make energy in human cells, compounds called free radicals are released. Human cells defend themselves from being invaded by these free radicals through antioxidants. Many of these antioxidants are synthesized or extracted and then sold in tablets as anti-aging drugs.
Common antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E and co-enzyme Q10. There are no serious side effects from taking these antioxidants. However, the evidence is inconclusive as to whether or not they stop the aging process.
– Hormonal Therapies: Some of the most popular anti-aging treatments are based on the assumption that hormonal changes are important in aging. The most famous of these involves human growth hormone (HGH). Supplements containing HGH can increase muscle mass, strengthen the immune system, and increase libido. Side effects of this therapy include weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes
One of the speakers scheduled for the conference who is a proponent of hormonal therapy is Suzanne Somers. The actress, best remembered for her role as Chrissy Snow on the late 70’s comedy Three’s Company has written a new best selling book, "Ageless" (Crown Publishers, 2006) in which she discusses bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to alleviate menopausal symptoms and improve quality of life.
Suzanne will speak during the General Session program, on Friday, Dec. 8, at 9:40 a.m. PST.
The first controversy surrounding her book centers on the level of use of bioidentical hormones to relieve symptoms associated with menopause. Bioidentical hormones are hormones that are prepared by a special pharmacy under the direction of a doctor in doses matched to an individual woman’s needs. They have the same molecular structure as the hormones found in a woman’s body before the onset of menopause. The most commonly used bioidentical hormones include estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone. Other lesser-used ones are estrone and estriol, hydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and melatonin.
Natural hormones are active in every organ system in the body. A woman’s body uses each of them for specific purposes. When a woman becomes menopausal and she loses her natural estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone, the bioidentical hormone versions of these are used to create the effects the natural ones have in all her body’s tissues.
In her book, Suzanne quotes researcher T.S. Wiley, who encourages women to use the bioidentical hormones at the same levels they had in their bodies when they were in their 20s. Wiley herself has come under fire, because she lacks the medical credentials to make such a recommendation.
The book refers to her as an "anthropologist focusing on evolutionary biology and environmental endocrinology in molecular medicine and genetics." She has positioned herself as a hormone expert; however, Wiley isn’t an MD; her academic background is in anthropology. In fact, an article appearing in the Nov. 27 issue of Newsweek reveals that an examination of student records at Webster University, where Wiley pursued her studies, shows that she never earned a college degree.
The article goes on to state that when questioned, Wiley said, "I thought I got a degree or a diploma, but it's possible I was an hour or two short." Asked for a copy, she said, "I live in a 23-room house with 13 people. I don't know how long it would take to find it. Could you just say that I don't have a degree and leave it at that?"
The second area of controversy involving the recommendations made in Suzanne’s book focuses on the safety in using bioidentical hormones. Suzanne and Wiley both assert that these hormones are not drugs and are therefore safer than traditional hormone replacement therapy.
According to an October 2006 position paper published by The Endocrine Society, there is little or no scientific evidence to support such claims. The organization also asserts that many of the new bioidentical hormone formulations are not subject to FDA regulation and as such can be inconsistent in dosage and purity.
The Society goes on to add that even though bioidentical hormones such as estradiol and progesterone are produced under FDA supervision and are monitored for dosage and purity, they have not been examined in long-term studies, so there is no proof of their safety or effectiveness.
For more news from the anti-aging conference this week, check Dr. Manny's column each day.
Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.