Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Searching for the Fountain of Youth
“Healthy aging,” “life extension,” “successful aging.” These phrases are frequently used to promote a special lifestyle, diet, medication regimen, or treatment. While the eternal search for the Fountain of Youth remains elusive, it is easy to see how normal aging and age-associated illness can bring thoughts of vulnerability and the need to do something “different.” While some are searching for a prolongation of the lifespan itself, others are merely trying to live healthier and more productive lives for as long as possible.
This issue of Clinical Geriatrics features two articles (“Light as Therapy for Sleep Disorders and Depression in Older Adults” and “Hazards from the Health Food Store—Part I,” which discusses commonly used minerals, trace elements, and fat-soluble vitamins) that may be of interest to anyone seeking a healthier and happier old age or to practitioners caring for such individuals.
Physicians must be knowledgeable as to what actually may have benefit and, as with all other aspects of medicine, be able to compare the benefits to the risks involved. Whether it is a device or some vitamin or nutritional product, the risk of abuse is real and decisions must be scientifically-based and appropriate to the situation. Using something to treat a specific illness or true deficiency is not the same as using the product for some less tangible gain in the healthy individual; claims of “feeling better” should not be wrongly interpreted, as inappropriate use will only increase the risk of unnecessary potential side effects.
There is, unfortunately, a multimillion dollar industry that preys on those in fear, offering false hope and claims without scientific substantiation. Advertisements are everywhere one turns, whether it be on the TV or in the lay press. The public is often unable to distinguish between what may actually help and what may potentially do harm.
I hope that you will find these articles of interest. Each focuses on a different aspect of this theme. Perhaps one or more of them will help you to make your own conclusions, if you have not done so already. I welcome your comments.
Dr. Gambert is Chairman, Department of Medicine, and Physician-in-Chief, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, and Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.