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A Drug's Promise (or Not) of Youth

Growth hormone is the anti-aging industry's most potent and controversial weapon. Some say it works wonders. Some say it could shorten your life.

July 09, 2006|Brian Alexander | Brian Alexander is a contributing editor at Glamour and writes for MSNBC, Outside and others. He is the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion."

Researchers still know little about the influence of supplemental growth hormone on cancer cells, diabetes and other diseases, which is one reason why the medical establishment condemns its use for anti-aging. It's not just the feds or the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine or the American Medical Assn. that frown, either. Dr. Stephen Coles, head of the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group, has been a leader in the modern anti-aging movement since its inception and can't wait for an effective youth restorer, but when it comes to growth hormone, he says, "The extent of our ignorance is profound."

Life extension can be achieved in lab animals, and research being conducted on mice and monkeys will probably pay off for humans someday. But so far, Blackman says, studies show that restoring growth hormone to old animals actually shortens, not lengthens, their life spans.

Chein dismisses this evidence, citing Rudman and his own research, and says that the medical establishment has singled him out for persecution.

He's certainly had an interesting relationship with the California Medical Board. The board put him on probation in 1995, instructed him to take a class in prescribing medications in 1998 and revoked his license in 2000, saying he had, among other things, erroneously diagnosed a patient with hypopituitarism and adrenal insufficiency and treated her with GH. Chein appealed, and a Superior Court overturned the revocation that same year.

Now Chein is on probation again, accused by the board of a number of offenses, including failing to do necessary blood work on patients and using his sister's DEA license to obtain controlled substances. Chein has agreed to take another class in prescribing medicine as well as courses in medical records-keeping and ethics.

Many in the anti-aging field are embattled. In 2000, Illinois fined American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine founders Klatz and Bob Goldman for using "MD" behind their names. They acquired medical degrees from the Central America Health Sciences University in Belize in 1998 but the state doesn't recognize the designation.

And prominent scientists such as Olshansky have lambasted anti-aging practitioners, not because the scientists believe anti-aging is a myth but because it's a myth right now. "We are pushing for the very thing the anti-aging people say already exists," Olshansky says. At a 2004 gerontology confab in Australia, he went so far as to accuse Klatz and Goldman of, basically, being snake-oil salesmen. They responded by filing a $120 million defamation suit. Olshansky argues that he was expressing an expert opinion in an academic forum. The case is winding its way through the courts.

The backlash is working, in a way. "Anti-aging" is giving way to terms such as "wellness medicine" and "preventive medicine." "I think a lot of people have left 'anti-aging' behind because of the disreputable elements of the academy and Chein," says Dr. Daniel Cosgrove, who runs the WellMax clinic on the grounds of the La Quinta resort near Palm Springs. The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine website lists him as a practitioner. Cosgrove prefers to describe his practice as involving "early detection and prevention" and makes no claims that he can prevent aging.

Even Neal Rouzier, who has the clinic upstairs from Chein's institute, eschews "anti-aging." "We're all trying to get away from that term," says Carolyn Rouzier, his wife and business manager. Their outfit is called Preventive Medicine Clinics of the Desert. Cenegenics, a Las Vegas clinic featured on "60 Minutes," went another popular route with its biotech-sounding name.

Dick Mandell, one of Chein's patients, chooses to "look past controversies." Unlike some clients who have been compensated for talking up Chein to the press, Mandell insists he's a pro-bono booster. He pooh-poohs safety concerns as namby-pamby. After all, if the governing bodies of amateur and professional sports ban growth hormone, it must really work. Chein's all-girl staff pampers him, and he pays less for his growth hormones than some of his friends who go to similar clinics elsewhere.

Mandell is a smart, sophisticated guy, a Princeton man, class of '61, a graduate of Penn Law, '64. He'll be 67 in July. He actually looks 67, though a fit and healthy 67, with a trim body, brilliant blue eyes and skin overcooked by the desert sun. After law school, he went to work on Wall Street and, man, it was a gas. The girls wore white gloves and pearls for cocktails, he wore suits, and life played to a Sinatra soundtrack.

He came west, to Long Beach, in 1971 to work for the Retla Steamship Co. Soon he was flying around the world. "It was a grand bachelor's life, first class all the way, chasing stewardesses." There was a foray into thoroughbred horses, a stint in Puerto Rico, skiing, tennis. He wanted to keep the ball rolling.

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