Anti-Aging Products: Do They Work?

The supplement market is flooded with anti-aging products of all types, most of which make claims far beyond what they are proven to do, and many of which are either useless or possibly even dangerous. There are a few that have a bit of evidence of effectiveness, but none of them are magic bullets and with most the research has not been conclusive.

Acai Berry: A fruit juice rich in antioxidants that has been hyped as both an anti-aging supplement and as a weight loss aid. Neither claim is backed up by strong evidence. Strawberries and blueberries are much richer in antioxidants, and there is no strong evidence that antioxidants can help increase lifespan. Although see below under antioxidants.

Human Groth Hormone: An injection drug that can only be acquired through a prescription, HGH has legitimate use as a treatment for people with growth problems, as it can increase muscle and decrease fat. It has also been hyped as an anti-aging supplement, but there is no evidence that it works for this purpose, and in fact there is some evidence that it may actually shorten life spans. Side effects include joint and muscle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and potentially diabetes.

Calorie Restriction Diet: Although it isn’t a supplement, there is promising research in the field of low calorie diets as a way to increase lifespan. Research is still preliminary and has mostly been done only on rodents. This may be due to an increase in lifespan, or it may be a built-in feature of rodents in response to low food availability. Accordingly, it remains to be seen if it’s a real effect or not. Although each person will be different as to how much to cut calories, generally it is around a 20 to 30% reduction in daily caloric intake. Safety issues include making sure you get enough nutrients (vitamin supplements must be added), and it may reduce muscle mass and cause menstrual problems in women.

Resveratrol: The ingredient in red wine that is responsible for its cardiovascular benefits, resveratrol is a plant hormone that has also been popular as an anti-aging product. In several studies performed on simple celled organisms like yeast, it was shown to increase lifespan, and the experiment was performed successfully on small fish as well. However, on rodents it had no effect on actual lifespan, although it did cancel out the effects of high fat diets, brining mortality down to the same level as those on a normal diet. Research is ongoing.

Antioxidants: One theory of aging involves cell damage caused by atoms called free radicals, which can build up over time. Eating foods and supplements rich in antioxidants help to decrease free radicals and thus possibly reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Accordingly, some anti-aging schemes involve antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. Research, however, is thin and in fact some studies have suggested actual shortened lifespans with beta carotene and vitamin E usage. Another interesting antioxidant is heavy water: water with two deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) atoms instead of two hydrogen atoms. In a study on fruit flies, small amounts of heavy water increase lifespans by 30%, but larger doses were toxic. Research is still preliminary, and heavy water may be toxic to humans in certain dosages.

DHEA: The human steroid hormone dehydroepiandrosterone may help with anti-aging. This hormone is produced by the adrenal gland and helps to create the hormones testosterone and estrogen. A 2008 study followed men and women for 30 years, and those with the lowest DHEA levels had shorter lifespans than those with higher levels. It is available as an herbal supplement in the US (prescription only in Europe). However, there is still no evidence that supplementation with it can actually help increase lifespan, and there is some evidence that it might actually increase prostate and breast cancer due to the hormones created by it.

Rapamycin: The immunosuppressant drug called rapamycin, or sirolimus, is used mainly for organ transplants, to keep the body from rejecting the new organ. It was also recently discovered to be a possible anti-aging drug, and studies performed on both yeast and mice showed an increase in lifespan of 9 to 14%. The good news is that these experiments were performed on mice the equivalent of 60 human years, which might suggest that it doesn’t have to be taken during someone’s entire life in order to get the benefits. The bad news is that it suppresses the immune system, and so can leave the body open to infection. Research has not been performed on humans yet, and so it is not recommended as an anti-aging supplement at this time.

Conclusion

Clearly, most of these anti-aging products and methods are still in the preliminary research stages, and not much evidence is available yet to really recommend any of them. As you can see, some of them may even shorten lifespans or increase the risk of certain diseases. Or they may not. It’s just too early to tell. The most promising ones are rapamycin and calorie restriction diets, and the most practical of these is the calorie restriction (although it might be difficult to maintain), due to the prescription nature of rapamycin and the uncertainty of its effects on humans.