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Dr. Oz Takes Tough Look at HGH for Anti-Aging

18 Oct

Kudos to Dr. Oz for urging viewers NOT to buy into the idea that injections of human growth hormone are the fountain of youth. My favorite quote: “It is not worth risking your health for the pursuit of youth and beauty.”

You can watch three excerpts from the show here.

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Denver Radio Features Selling the Fountain of Youth

27 Sep

I was interviewed about my book on TalkRadio 630, Denver, on a show called “The Caring Generation.” The show was appropriately called “Fear of Aging and American Values.” Host Pamela Wilson asked me mostly about human growth hormone (HGH)–what’s been proven, what hasn’t, and why some doctors are determined to prescribe HGH as the fountain of youth.

Listen here.

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AARP: The Dangers of Trying to Live Forever

13 Jan

AARP Bulletin featured Selling the Fountain of Youth in its regular series “The Author Speaks.” Here’s an excerpt:

Q. What started the modern antiaging movement?

A. In 1990, scientist Daniel Rudman published a sensational study. He gave human growth hormone (HGH) to about a dozen healthy men over 60. They significantly increased their lean body mass, including muscle, and they lost about 14 percent of their fat.

Q. How did we get from a single splashy study to an entirely new industry?

A. A small group of doctors latched on to the idea that if you replace your hormone levels to where they were in your 30s, you’ll feel as great as you did back then. Rudman’s study inspired the formation of the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine and has been cited on the Web something like 50,000 times.

Q. What are the cornerstones of the antiaging industry?

A. It started with HGH and expanded into alternative estrogen and progesterone products for menopause, as well as testosterone, which has recently become quite a sensation in this industry. It’s being prescribed not just to men, but also to help improve women’s libido.

Q. What are proponents claiming about these products?

A. They say if you replace those hormones, you can prevent osteoporosis, shield yourself from Alzheimer’s, improve your sleep, lose weight, gain muscle mass and boost your sex drive.

Q. Does any good science support those claims?

A. Antiaging doctors often say HGH is one of the most studied hormones. Well, that’s true, but many of those studies were in children with growth hormone deficiencies, and you can’t extrapolate from those children to healthy adults. The original Rudman study of HGH in adults was very small, and some scientists have been disturbed by the popularity of it. Some antiaging doctors twist the research to fit their viewpoints.

Read more here.

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New on HuffPo: Study Suggests HGH is NOT the Fountain of Youth

29 Dec

In 1990, a scientist at the Medical College of Wisconsin named Daniel Rudman published a study that gave birth to the modern anti-aging movement. Rudman’s paper, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 12 men who were given injections of human growth hormone (HGH) lost 14 percent of their body fat and increased their lean body mass — including muscle — by 9 percent. HGH, which is mostly used to help short children grow, became the go-to drug for perfectly healthy, aging people who were in search of the fountain of youth.

Now, one of Rudman’s closest friends is throwing cold water on the theory that HGH should be embraced as an anti-aging elixir. Read more here.

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Times of London Features Selling the Fountain of Youth

16 Dec

In a December 16 story, The Times of London is featuring my book as a way to spotlight what they call “elixirs of youth: the top five myths.” The online version of the Times is a subscription-only site, so I will list the myths here:

1. Human Growth Hormone: “…its benefits have not been proved, and there have been no long-term studies of its side-effects in healthy users.”

2. Acai berry: “This is the best example of an anti-aging elixir gone completely out out control.”

3. Resveratrol: “…doses in the animal studies were far higher than people could tolerate–the equivalent of drinking 750 to 1,500 bottles of red wine.”

4. Antioxidants: “…the jury is out over whether this is any benefit from applying them to the skin….”

5. Alpha hydroxy acids: “Don’t expect over-the-counter products to make any difference.”

Interestingly, the hook for this story is a study out this week on lenalidomide from the Universith of California at San Francisco. A scientist there discovered that taking small amounts of this pill, which is related to thalidomide, boosts immunity. The Times calls this “an elixir of youth.” The UCSF scientists don’t go quite so far. More to come on this topic….

For those with a subscription, here’s a link to the Times of London story on Selling the Fountain of Youth.

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HGH: Court Rules in Favor of Pfizer on Off-Label Marketing Allegations

17 Sep

On September 14, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued a ruling that effectively ended a whistleblower’s attempts to bring attention to the off-label marketing of human growth hormone for anti-aging and other non-approved uses. Former Pfizer executive Peter Rost filed the qui tam claim in 2003, and I wrote about it in Selling the Fountain of Youth. In short, Rost alleged that Pfizer improperly promoted its HGH drug Genotropin by providing kickbacks to physicians, including all-expense-paid trips to medical conferences in exotic locations.

Rost wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular at Pfizer. After he filed his qui tam, the company started dismantling his 60-person team, moving everybody but Rost from their New Jersey office to New York City. Then men in hardhats showed up and started knocking down the walls around him. Rost ultimately lost his job.

In 2005, the U.S. Dept. of Justice declined to join Rost in his suit and instead investigated Pfizer on its own. Two years later, in a settlement with the government, Pfizer paid a fine of $15 million and admitted that the unit that made Genotropin, Pharmacia, had promoted it for off-label uses such as anti-aging. (The company paid an additional $19.7 million fine related to a separate charge.) In an online posting, Rost dismissed the settlement as “equivalent to a speeding ticket”–a reference to the fact that Pfizer’s profit the previous year had been $11 billion.

Rost continued to fight his whistleblower claim, but it was a struggle. In 2008, a judge ruled that he could proceed as long as he focused only on allegations related to the promotion of HGH for the treatment of short children. His dream of exposing off-label use of HGH in anti-aging clinics was dead.

And now this latest ruling. It states that Rost failed to show that Pfizer’s promotion of HGH violated the False Claims Act. In other words, those activities did not result in improper claims being made to state Medicaid programs, as Rost alleged in his amended complaint. The ruling was made partially on the judge’s determination that the pharmacies that filled the prescriptions were “third parties” who were not knowledgeable about the marketing of the drug. If the pharmacy does not know that the prescription was written because a doctor was induced by the drugmaker to write it, she said, then there is no illegal false claim.

Jim Edwards, a blogger for BNET who mentioned my book in his posting about the case, concluded that this ruling “has made it easier for drug companies to bribe doctors with cash and gifts to prescribe their products.” I’m not sure I would go that far. But I will say this: Rost’s long and dramatic whistleblower story has come to a rather deflating end.

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One Woman’s Horrifying Experiment With HGH

22 Aug

With a mixture of shock and amazement, I read a story in today’s New York Times called “Am I Young Yet?” It was written by Elizabeth Hayt, who at the age of 48, began injecting herself with human growth hormone (HGH), one of the anti-aging industry’s drugs of choice.

Hayt tried HGH because she thought it might help speed up her recovery from ankle surgery. But she admitted she was also drawn to it because an anti-aging doctor told her “HGH should also help you lose weight, and you’ll love the way it will make your skin look younger.”

In reality, it appeared that HGH turned Hayt’s face into a disaster area. She ended up with 5 moles, 25 enlarged oil glands and 50 angiofibromas–small pocks around her nose.

Many scientists believe that HGH, true to its name, makes things grow–and often not pleasant things. In Selling the Fountain of Youth, I recount the story of Hanneke Hops, a northern California woman who told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003 that daily injections of HGH were making her strong and healthy enough to run marathons, ride horses, and fly planes. Three months later she died from cancer, her liver riddled with tumors. Her son suspected a link to HGH.

It’s difficult to prove scientifically that HGH causes dangerous side effects, or worse, cancer. But there have been plenty of anecdotal reports–such as those of Hayt and Hops–that suggest patients should proceed with extreme caution. At least they should ask themselves: Is the quest for youth worth the risks?

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