QUESTION: My grandma takes pills she says will make her live longer. Do they work?
ANSWER: Longevity is desirable, but aging is not. Sadly, but honestly, aging is the slow process of decline: a deterioration of hearing, sight, reflexes, strength and bone density. The skin thins and we bruise more easily. Wrinkles develop and hair turns gray. Dementia increases with age. Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are more likely.
We all want to live as long as possible and push back regression. So it is only natural that anti-aging remedies and products abound. Truth be told, anti-aging products are hype, false hope and, yes, snake oil.
Some of the best-sellers include SeroVital, Product B, PatchMD, and Vital Stem. SeroVital contains five amino acids, a powered herb and Japanese catnip. It claims to raise HGH (Human Growth Hormone) by 682 percent. Yet, according to WebMD, increased levels of HGH can be dangerous. Proponents of SeroVital assert it can reduce body fat, build muscle, improve sex life, improve sleep quality, vision, memory, restore hair growth, strengthen the immune system, normalize blood sugar, increase energy and “turn back your body’s biological clock.”
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Other anti-aging products report similar outlandish claims with ingredients listed as ginseng, thistle, green tea, various vitamins, clove extract, ginger root and gooseberry extract. But there is no proof any of these supplements live up to their claims.
To prove that a product increases longevity, it would be necessary to follow large groups of people with and without the product over many years to see if there is any real significant difference. That would be impractical if not impossible. It has not been done and is not likely to be done in the future.
The record for the longest verified life span belongs to Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at age 122. She was deaf and blind, having refused cataract surgery but remained mentally sharp.
To what do long-lived people attribute their longevity? Each offers an explanation but seldom agree. One might say he never touched liquor while another will tout the virtues of a shot of whiskey before supper. On turning 115, Christian Mortensen said, “Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”
What about Jeanne Calment? She drank and smoked cigarettes from age 21, although in moderation, ate two pounds of chocolate a week, took up fencing at age 85, and rode her bicycle until age 100.
One thing these long-lived people have in common is good genes and good luck. The medical sciences have yet to find a reliable way to increase longevity or avoid aging. Science has shown us how to reduce the risk of preventable diseases and premature death. They’re all well-known: exercise, stop smoking, avoid obesity, control blood pressure and cholesterol levels, get vaccinated, and eat healthy.
A huge study 10 years ago listed seven risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease: diabetes, midlife obesity, midlife hypertension, smoking, depression, low education levels and physical inactivity.
Remember that old Hank Williams song “I’ll never get out this world alive.” But, there is good news. Not all the consequences of aging are bad. The elderly own extensive life experiences, have more general knowledge, more wisdom, fond memories, grandchildren and they report greater happiness.
Sources: WebMD, The Science of Aging by Harriet Hall, commhealthcare.com, local doctor.
Larry Scheckel is a retire Tomah High School physics teacher.