Got this from my man Cirrus

More seek youth with hormones
Critics warn of unseen side effects in costly injections
By SARA OLKON
solkon@herald.com

The pitch: restore a flabby body to its taut yesteryear, end grumpy moods and jumpstart a leaden sex life.

Amid serious concern from medical and governmental bodies, human growth hormone injections are becoming an increasing drug of choice among an older, affluent set. The shots, part of a well-established treatment for short stature in children, are not federally approved for use by healthy adults.

But from Miami Beach to Manhattan, men and women are paying $800 to $1,000 a month for the drug to try to slow the clock.

Some experts question the treatment and say it might be dangerous.

''We just don't know the long-term side effects,'' said Paul Jellinger, past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Miami. ``There is a concern that, in theory, it could accelerate growth of unrecognized tumors.''

But critics and skeptics don't sway Dr. Ronald Klatz of Chicago, the leader of the movement and director of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.

''There is 100 years of science that pooh-poohs anything that has to do with the fountain of youth,'' he said. ``Their fears come from ignorance.''

His message is getting heard. When Klatz founded the academy in 1993, there were 12 doctors on board; today, there are 11,500 physicians worldwide -- 8,000 of them in the United States.

Antiaging medicine, of course, isn't limited to growth hormones. Practitioners also often tout melatonin, antioxidants, DHEA, vitamins and exercise, and in some cases, testosterone for men and estrogen and progesterone for women.

ADVERTISEMENTS

But growth hormones are getting most of the mainstream interest. Internet, television and newspaper ads are widespread, and often focus on restoring a man's sexual powers. While it's unclear how many people are taking the drug -- the FDA does not track sales of the hormone or the number of patients taking it -- sales of human growth hormone are up.

Pharmacy giant Genentech reported that growth hormone sales increased 19 percent to $297.2 million during 2002, compared with $250.2 million in 2001. Drug manufacturer Eli Lilly reported sales of $329.3 million in 2002, up 9.5 percent from 2000.

Lilly spokesman Austin Blair said the company ''does not endorse the use of growth hormone'' for antiaging treatments.

Food and Drug Administration officials oppose using the hormones in healthy adults.

''Drugs are approved for diseases,'' said FDA spokeswoman Laura Bradbard. ``Aging is not a disease.''

The hormone is only approved for short stature in children and growth-deficient adults, and for AIDS patients unable to eat, Bradbard said. It is used to build muscle.

Nevertheless, physicians are free to prescribe FDA-approved drugs for an unapproved use if they believe it will benefit their patient.

Doctors who prescribe the shots point to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1990. In it, researcher Dr. Daniel Rudman found growth hormone helped 12 elderly men gain muscle and lose fat.

Last November, another study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In it, researchers achieved similar results but cautioned about possible side effects, including diabetes and glucose intolerance.

Klatz said the hormone levels were higher than usual doses in that study.

`EXAGGERATION'

Jellinger, the endocrinologist at UM, said there was enough interest, and anecdotal evidence, to support further research. But, he said, ``to promote this as something to stop aging is a gross exaggeration.''

Alan Mintz, a 65-year-old former radiologist, agrees. ''You are monkeying around with very powerful stuff,'' he said.

Mintz, CEO of the Cenegenics Medical Institute for ''age management medicine'' in Las Vegas, said he has been taking the shots every morning for the past 12 years.

He claims better sex, a stronger body and a reduced need for sleep. Still, he cautions that patients need extensive blood work and other tests before growth hormones are prescribed. He said fraudulent use, including black market sales, is widespread.

Just Brahmatewari, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in Miami Beach, said patients, mostly older men, have been inquiring about the shots.

''I'm not totally comfortable with it,'' Brahmatewari said.

The bottom line, many critics say, is it's too early to know whether it's safe to inject healthy people with the shots.

`NEED MORE SCIENCE'

''We need more science in this area,'' said Stanley Slater, deputy associate director for geriatrics at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Slater said studies have found some possible side effects, including carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain, fluid retention and a worsening of or development of diabetes.

''When you don't know what the risks and benefits are, how should you approach this with older people?'' he said.

But Klatz said adequate study has been done, pointing in particular to adults who took the hormones in larger doses as children because of a growth deficiency.

Despite the controversy, Dan Shaw of Hollywood says he is game, motivated in part by a fear of losing his amore powers.

''I'm 65,'' Shaw said. ``I'm reaching at every place I can.''

The retired paramedic, now divorced, showed up recently at Premier Total Healthcare in Hallandale Beach to learn more about its antiaging program -- billed as a chance to ''swim in the fountain of youth.'' He hopes to begin soon.

''I'm not scared,'' he said. ``I can't wait to see what it does.''

Barbara Perry, a 57-year-old divorcée from Hallandale Beach, is also considering the shots. Now retired from a career in personnel, Perry heard about the hormones from friends. She has an appointment to get blood work done Monday.

''Women talk about anything that can maintain the way they look and feel,'' she said.

It's not cheap. The initial 12-week program ranges from $2,000 to $10,000 and includes one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer, said Dr. Christopher A. DiCarlo, a chiropractor who works at the antiaging clinic. DiCarlo calls growth hormones ``high-end, but not untouchable.''

''There are a lot of things people find the money for if they really want it,'' he said. ``Can you put a price tag on longevity?''

Bill Allen of the University of Florida's Program in Bioethics, Law, and Medical Professionalism calls such an attitude problematic.

''It's people who are so driven by and have such anxiety about aging that they are willing to take big risks,'' he said. ``Aging is the prelude to death.''