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In the gym, trying to work the years off

Boomers try hormone injections, radical diets, hours of daily

February 15, 2009|Martha Irvine and Lindsey Tanner | Irvine and Tanner write for the Associated Press.

LAS VEGAS — It's one of those photos that make you do a double-take.

Dr. Jeffry Life stands in jeans, his shirt off. His face is that of a distinguished-looking grandpa; his head is balding, and what hair there is is white.

But his 69-year-old body looks like it belongs to a muscle-bound 30-year-old.

The photo regularly runs in ads for the Cenegenics Medical Institute, a Las Vegas-based clinic that specializes in "age management," a growing field in a society obsessed with staying young. Life, who swears that's his real last name, also keeps a framed copy of the photo on his office wall at Cenegenics.

"He's the man!" patient Ed Detwiler says teasingly, pointing to the photo of the doctor who, in many ways, has become his role model.

Detwiler, 47, has been Life's patient for more than three years. In that time, he has adopted the regimen that his doctor also follows -- drastically changing his exercise and eating habits and injecting himself each day with human growth hormone. He also receives weekly testosterone injections.

He does it because it makes him feel better, more energetic, clear-minded.

He does it because he wants a long, healthy life.

"If I were stooped over and bedridden, what kind of quality of life is that?" asks Detwiler, a real estate developer in suburban Las Vegas who says he's doing this, in part, for his wife, who is nine years younger. "If I can get out and be active and travel and see the world and be able to make a difference in other people's lives, then yes, I would want to have as long an existence as possible."

It is a common sentiment in a society where many of us strive to look and feel decades younger -- to prove to ourselves and the world that we are healthier and more vital than our parents were at our age. We've all heard it: 60 is the new 50, the new 40 and so on.

But often we need a little help. Sometimes a lot of help.

As the baby boomers march toward retirement, Botox, wrinkle fillers and hormones have become big business. Medco's latest drug trend report shows, for instance, that human growth hormone use grew almost 6% in 2007.

It isn't a new quest. But experts in the field say it is taking on a new urgency as a generation of adults buys into the modern marketing message: that for a price, you can have it all.

There is, of course, much to be said for taking good care of yourself. Eating healthfully and exercising your body and your brain regularly are considered tried-and-true tactics for staying young. Protecting yourself from harmful sun rays is another. Even flossing is a habit that, according to research on people who live to 100, might extend life.

But that's generally where the consensus ends.

Many in mainstream medicine and elsewhere worry that we're becoming too focused on treatments with short-term benefits that have potentially dangerous side effects and scant, if any, evidence that they'll help in the long run.

Some of the more bizarre methods include fetal cell injections, inhaling radon gas, even removing testicles, an ancient practice meant to reduce overexposure to reproductive hormones.

"There's a large industry of people trying to sell to people what doesn't yet exist and they're making gobs of money doing it -- much to the dismay of those of us who are vigilant about protecting public health," says S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor and longevity researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

There also are concerns that this obsession is sending the wrong message to younger generations.

Surveys from cosmetic surgery trade groups suggest that sizable numbers of people, even in their 20s, are getting cosmetic procedures. And a fall 2007 survey from TRU, a research firm that specializes in the teenage demographic, found that a quarter of people 12 to 19 -- and a third of girls in that age group -- are interested in having cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance.

However, as they age, many baby boomers are far more concerned with feeling younger and extending their lives.

So while it is illegal for human growth hormone and other hormones to be dispensed for anti-aging purposes, Life's patient Detwiler spends more than $1,000 a month to take relatively low doses prescribed for "hormone deficiency." The idea is to bring his levels back up to those of a young man in his 20s.

"My friends say, 'Oh, Ed's on steroids,' " Detwiler says. "No, I'm not. . . . I'm on hormone therapy."

He holds out his arms to indicate that his body is fit-looking, but not monstrous.

Besides human growth hormone, testosterone, and an adrenal hormone known as DHEA, his diet now largely consists of things like hard-boiled eggs, fruits, nuts, Greek yogurt, salads and palm-sized pieces of fish, chicken or low-fat beef. He also exercises regularly, alternating between intense cardio workouts and weight-resistance training.

"I can't tell you in words how great I feel," says the man who used to crack open a Pepsi to get him through the day.

Cutting on calories

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