Sweet syringe of youth20 years, 3 months ago
Posted on Nov 07, 2003, 6 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
Sweet syringe of youthby Robert Langreth, Forbes Global, 12.11.00 An insurance executive, Hal Katz never wants to feel old. So, five months ago the 54-year-old owner of a small auto insurance company in Baltimore, Maryland, started taking daily injections of growth hormone. He has lost weight without changing his diet and feels more energetic than he has in years.
Sweet syringe of youth
by Robert Langreth, Forbes Global, 12.11.00
An insurance executive, Hal Katz never wants to feel old. So, five months ago the 54-year-old owner of a small auto insurance company in Baltimore, Maryland, started taking daily injections of growth hormone. He has lost weight without changing his diet and feels more energetic than he has in years. An amateur weightlifter, Katz can bench-press as much as 135 kilos, compared with 100 kilos before beginning the treatment. Katz is one of a growing number of executives and other professionals, both men and women, who are injecting themselves with growth hormone.
An estimated 30,000 Americans, up from 2,000 in the mid-1990s, are shooting up in the hope of fending off the aging process, according to the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a professional society of octors. Never mind that benefits from the practice aren't convincingly proven and that some doctors say it could be dangerous. Two and a half years ago it was Viagra. Now, those who can afford it are turning to growth hormone&emdash; at a price of $500 to $1,000 a month&emdash;and to a medley of other hormones and supplements.
Growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance secreted by the brain that helps guide growth in childhood and maintain muscle mass during adulthood. As people age, growth-hormone levels in the body gradually decline. By injecting the genetically engineered hormone, antiaging doctors seek to restore growth-hormone levels to those seen in adults in their 30s, in the hopes of maintaining peak physical and mental performance.
A handful of small studies over the past ten years show injections of growth hormone can boost muscle mass and reduce fat levels&emdash;and may even strengthen bone in healthy older men. But no definitive study has been published showing whether these small changes in body composition are enough to truly slow age-related declines in physical performance. In the meantime the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved growth hormone only for treating patients whose bodies can't produce the substance because of injury or disease. But physicians are allowed to prescribe it if they see fit.
Critics see possible dangers in growth hormone. One worry is that its longterm use could boost the risk of cancer. "Those who are using it are making a leap of faith," says Dr. Paul Jellinger, the president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. But proponents argue that any dangers are remote and dismiss criticisms as politically motivated. Antiaging medicine "is a threat to the status quo," says Ronald Klatz, who heads the academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. "If there was a risk of cancer, where are the bodies?" A plastic surgeon, Dean Kane, started an antiaging clinic earlier this year in Baltimore and now treats Mr. Katz and 50 others, one third of them ith growth hormone. His goal is to restore their youthful hormone levels.
In Miami, Florida, an internist, William Abelove, started prescribing growth hormone two years ago to older patients and now treats about 110 people. One of his success stories is a 57-year-old breast-cancer surgeon, Robert DerHagopian, who started injecting growth hormone a year ago to regain the muscle mass he lost after undergoing surgery for a perforated colon. He has regained all his weight but continues injecting growth hormone because of its apparent benefits, allowing him to maintain his usual 60- hour-a-week schedule. "When I am on growth hormone, I feel stronger," says DerHagopian, who shoots up every other day. Typically, users inject growth hormone into the thighs, stomach or buttocks, often using specially designed "pen" devices that hold several doses.
In Silicon Valley some older software engineers are taking various antiaging treatments, including growth hormone, to help them cope with the crushing workload, says Dr. Philip Miller, who runs the Los Gatos Longevity Institute.
A big beneficiary of this trend seems to be Pharmacia, which recently came out with a new version of its Genotropin hormone that doesn't require refrigeration. Genotropin's U.S. sales rose 23% to $49 million in the first nine months of 2000. In recent months it has doubled its small sales force to pitch the benefits of the drug to endocrinologists, though it cannot tout its antiaging capabilities.
Antiaging medicine promises to explode with the advent of growth hormone in a pill. Pfizer has begun human testing of a pill that stimulates growth hormone release in the body. If the drug makes it to the market, it could be a blockbuster. "It will make Viagra look like peanuts," says Dr. Klatz.