Living La Vida Longer
By Cathy Clark
(page 1 of 3)Slap on a patch, take a shot, swallow a pill or spread on some cream and get on with your life—a much healthier, younger life than your parents lived at your age. Have more sex, stronger bones, more energy, fewer wrinkles and fewer maladies of old age. That’s the rallying cry behind the growing anti-aging business for men and women both.
It’s today’s twist on yesterday’s adage, “Live hard, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.” And in San Diego—where looking good is at least as important as feeling good—health professionals are on the cutting edge of the new hormone-replacement therapy that just might make the age-old dream of never-ending youth come true.
Across the country, a growing number of physicians and thousands of alternative medical practitioners are giving us estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, human growth hormones and a dizzying list of supplements that are supposed to help us live longer and better. Today, we want to live long, not-quite-so-hard lives and still leave at least decent-looking remains.
We’ve been reading for years about the aging baby boomers who suddenly discover the old bones, sex drive and body fat percentage ain’t what they used to be. Today, another generation has begun the search in earnest for the magic pill or patch it hopes will make growing old less painful. Conservative doctors warn against hoping for miracles and the concept of “anti-aging” therapies. But they’re close to being outshouted by the devotees of numerous methods of keeping our brains functioning on maximum cylinders, our skin less wrinkled, our muscles at least semi-visible (we have to help here) and our hair where it belongs.
“I’m sure it’s already happening,” says a barely 40 mother of four whose busy life is now being interrupted by occasional hot flashes and sleepless nights. “But my doctor seems to expect me to wait until I’ve driven everyone around me crazy before we get around to estrogen and progesterone.” It’s a common complaint among women approaching menopause—called perimenopause by specialists who believe the time to start hormone replacement is during perimenopause, not after menstruation has stopped for more than a year. By the time that actually happens, this mother (and her family) might have endured 10 years of night sweats, mood swings and hot flashes.
“I’m aghast that some doctors still have the antique philosophy of making a woman wait a full year until she’s absolutely menopausal,” says Dr. Ted Quigley of the IGO Medical Group of La Jolla. Quigley is an unrepentant advocate of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), his belief honed during 19 years in a practice geared toward menopause and hormone dysfunction. He says many general practitioners are too quick to prescribe antidepressants
when a hormone deficiency is the real problem. “GPs don’t generally give hormone-level tests to patients during annual exams, but they need to listen to the drumbeat of the masses. Antidepressants can take six weeks to work. I tell psychiatrists estrogen works in a day or two, so try that, and if someone feels better in that time, cancel the antidepressants.”
By Quigley’s account—echoed in some studies quoted by the U.S. government’s Administration on Aging—estrogen and progesterone replacement (experts say the two should be taken together once menopause is under way) has done amazing things to improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis. It also may reduce heart disease, improve mood and psychological well-being and protect women from Alzheimer’s disease. (Two recent studies, however, have indicated that prescribing HRT for women who already have heart disease may increase their risk of heart attack.).
Testosterone is another tool Quigley—a reproductive endocrinologist—uses to treat women and an increasing number of men for hormone imbalances. “Testosterone levels fall as you age, and stress has been shown to reduce testosterone,” he says. “I’ve seen an increase in sex drive, sense of well-being, natural oils in skin, higher motivation, more muscle and more aerobic endurance” with carefully monitored doses of testosterone.
Quigley is a pioneer in a field that now is attracting physicians across the country as well as alternative-medicine practitioners. The recipes for slowing the aging process run the gamut from closely medically supervised hormone replacement and supplements to Internet sales pitches for potions still considered way outside the mainstream.