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Turning Back The Clock 

Anti-aging medicine says it can bring back our salad days, but other experts offer a different recipe for staying young.

click to enlarge ANNIE INTERNICOLA
  • Annie Internicola

Everyone has their "certain age." For Deborah George Gold, it was 46. "What I noticed is, I started losing my memory. I was beside myself, because I would be sitting at my computer looking at a spreadsheet, and I would have no idea what I was working on." Although she wasn't having the classic menopause symptoms such as hot flashes or trouble sleeping, Gold was visited by mood dips, faint libido, and low energy—perhaps the handmaidens of perimenopause, the hormonal wind-down period that precedes the finale of the menstrual cycle. "I ended up at my gynecologist's office, crying. I wasn't leaving there without something." The year was 2003, and the solution at the time—despite a massive $91 million Women's Health Initiative study in 2002 linking it to a greater risk of heart attacks, breast and endometrial cancer, blood clots, and stroke—was synthetic hormone therapy (HT). Her doctor prescribed Premarin. "It helped a little at the beginning," says Gold, "and then I felt like crap again." She started researching on her own and found a hopeful answer: bio-identical hormones, touted as a "natural" therapy because their chemical makeup, derived from plants, is considered identical to the hormones that the human body manufactures. "It took a little time to get the mix right," says Gold of the balancing act of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which she rubs onto her skin in the form of a transdermal cream. She doesn't mind that, at 57, she still gets her period. "I've got my life back. I have energy, and I have my libido, which is great. I feel like a million bucks."

Wanted: A Fountain of Youth

Despite our best efforts, we're all aging. For some it's a peaceful process, and for others it's a life-changing affront—Mother Nature's ultimate insult. As the baby-boomer generation rounds the corner toward more golden years, many want a cure for aging and they want it now—preferably in the quick-fix form of a pill or potion—and the need has given rise to a burgeoning field of health care. Anti-aging medicine quietly crept onto the medical scene about 15 years ago, and lately it's making its way into more doctors' offices and take-home brochures. Practitioners offer a mixed bag of treatments ranging from preventive care against aging-related diseases, to supplements and nutraceuticals purported to ward off aging, to bio-identical hormone therapy (BHT) for both men and women, à la Gold's experience. Never mind the fact that anti-aging medicine is not recognized as a medical specialty by big-player organizations like the American Medical Association. The field finds a unifying body in the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), which trains and accredits physicians to practice in the arena. Gaining popularity as a side-dish offering by integrative and functional medicine practitioners, endocrinologists, and a few OB-GYNs, anti-aging medicine is finding its niche, and its fans. It even has a celebrity spokesperson in the 1970s sitcom actress Suzanne Somers, newly incarnated as a "health expert" and looking eerily wrinklefree and dewy at 67. "Aging gracefully?" asks the back-cover copy on Somers's book Bombshell (Harmony, 2012). "How about not aging at all!"

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  • Why hormone therapy may be the fountain of youth you've been looking for.

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