In their book, two B.C. doctors
argue that human growth hormone is the key to extending our healthy years
By Paul Courtice
Life is a
series of struggles. We overcome mumps, but succumb to heart attack; survive
a car accident, but not prostate cancer. To a degree we are all ticking
Every test is fatal if we fail it; an ongoing tug-of-war
between entropy and homeostasis. Still, most of us endure one narrow escape
after another to reach the inevitability of aging, as it slowly takes
apart the order that is life.
So a longer spin on life is something that appeals to
many of us. Fountain-of-youth Web sites pledge a plethora of anti-aging
potions and promise of phenomenal hormonal happenings only to leave the
consumer set adrift.
But don't despair. Drs. Donald McLeod and Philip White
are challenging Father Time in their new co-authored book, Doctors'
Secrets: The Road to Longevity. Committed to life's continuity, they
have unravelled much of the anti-aging ambiguity that may add more candles
to the longevity cake.
With Dr. McLeod as president and Dr. White as vice-president
of the Canadian Longevity and Anti-Aging Academy, the two B.C. physicians
lecture nationwide on longevity medicine and lifestyle adjustment.
The authors visualize the ability to direct events at
cellular and molecular levels as the key to unlock the extension of life.
"What lies before us is a revolution within our bodies," assert the authors.
"We are now at the threshold of halting, and even reversing, the aging
While their 350-page book covers the entire latitude
of longevity theories and therapies, its focus is hormone replacements,
and specifically the monarch of these chemical messengers: the human growth
In defence of the hormone's alleged clock-stopping properties
and double-digit age-reversing attributes, they cite the HGH experiments
carried out by Drs. Daniel Rudman and Cass Terry at the Medical College
of Wisconsin, along with those of Dr. Edmund Chien at the Life Extension
Institute in Palm Springs, Calif. Their tests showed measurable improvements
in muscle mass, fat loss, skin texture, sexual potency, exercise endurance,
energy level, emotional stability, hair growth, memory function and more.
Still, applying the logic that putting back what has
been lost must be rejuvenating is a provocative concept not embraced by
all. Acclaimed science writer Robin Merantz Henig claims anti-aging therapy
has not proven conclusively to make adifference in how long you will
live or how well you will age.
"I think everyone in an anti-aging program will disagree
with that," counters Dr. McLeod. "We definitely see the improved health
of patients who follow a scientific, evidence-based longevity regime."
Longevity medicine, the authors point out, is not alternative
medicine, and unlike geriatrics, the aim is preventive rather than disease
"It is pro-active medicine that will be mainstream medicine
in the next decade," says Dr. McLeod, "and we are trying to disseminate
the information about longevity medicine so the general public and physicians
alike know what is going on. In the States, there are some 10,000 longevity-practising
"In longevity medicine we are not necessarily trying
to make anybody live longer," Dr. White reminds us. "What we are trying
to do is to improve the way we age . . . to enable us to live healthier
as long as possible."
To which Dr. McLeod adds: "We want people to die young
as old as possible!"
Yet, the authors do acknowledge limitations: Don't expect
magicians to pull rabbits from wrinkled hats. "We like to see a person
start an anti-aging program at 25," says Dr. White. "When the aging process
has taken us to the point where we might be compared to raisins, HGH will
not likely restore us to where we might be compared to new grapes."
Still, knowing what causes the body's power plant to
falter long before God's warranty expires lets us in on what HGH is trying
to fix, and how it is supposed to do it. The two doctors have targeted
a number of faulty functions in the mitochondria and, in particular, cite
two attributes of aging.
With every gulp we breathe, some of our life-giving
oxygen converts to corrosive free radicals that stir up storms of destructive
enzymes (proteases). Like a rusting car, these free radicals slowly eat
away our cell structures. One estimate suggests oxidants bombard our cellular
DNA about 10,000 times daily.
The two also detail a second destructive force within
our cellular structure: the genetic time clock. Attached to ends of our
chromosomes are aglet-like telomeres, akin to the plastic tips on shoelaces.
Over the years, as cells divide, our telomeres shorten to the point where
cells cease division and die.
So let's look at the specs on HGH replacement. The good
news: antioxidants (vitamin C and E) counter some free radical damage,
but HGH interferes more effectively with the destructive proteases by
chasing after those rascally radicals to curtail their oxidizing freedom.
Furthermore, to reset the time clock and check telomere-shortening, say
the authors, "HGH is also thought to hold strong promise in promoting
the release of telomerase."
Now the bad news: To extend our lives one or two decades
is going to set us back a weekly outlay of some $200 to $300 (HGH administered
daily by injection, necessitating close medical supervision). Few of us
could sustain such an exotic longevity lifestyle, but adds Dr. McLeod,
"for 90% of us pursuing longevity medicine, injection HGH may not be necessary."
Why? Because direct access to our own pituitary source
of HGH provides a satisfactory alternative to the injection and monitoring
procedure. Throughout our lifespan our pituitary produces HGH, but releases
less with age. Secretagogues, Drs. White and McLeod point out, can raise
HGH concentration from the pituitary into the blood stream to achieve
comparable longevity benefits.
The secretagogues (HGH releasers) they suggest are among
some dozen supplemental amino acids, L-dopa, vitamin B6 and niacin. Foods
rich in nutritional value are also effective growth hormone releasers.
"Veggies pack an antioxidant wallop. Eat a rainbow of colours," says a
January Time magazine article.
Finally, HGH enhancement offers a lifestyle approach
to achieve balanced hormonal release. "Appropriate exercise, proper diet
and adequate sleep all act as natural HGH releasers. The best bang for
the buck," they prescribe, "would be to combine all the elements of healthy
living with secretagogues."
The remaining chapters—beyond the first 100 pages of
Doctors' Secrets—take a closer look at HGH's effects on organs, tissues,
muscles and bones, endocrine and immune systems, the thymus and sexual
Besides HGH, other hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone,
DHEA and melatonin), along with deoxidizing vitamins (A, C, E and beta-carotene)
are discussed for their anti-aging qualities. "But the function of most
is usually quite narrow when compared to HGH," say the authors.
You are what you don't eat. Caloric restriction, believed
to increase HGH levels in the body, seems to be the hottest ticket among
longevity and nutrition researchers. Generally the authors agree, and
hypothesize why. Perhaps radically cutting calories will slow one's metabolism
to the point that fewer free radicals form in the first place? Still,
is some draconian diet worth five or 10 extra years in which you are perpetually
cold, painfully thin and constantly hungry?
"Exercises with weights," the anti-aging specialists
say, "have been shown to raise the levels of HGH." At the same time, increase
in exercise generates a degree of free radicals. Some gerontologists claim
that vigorous exercise before age 40 will extend your life by only two
years. If you hate weightlifting, are the two extra years really worth
It is also possible that we may learn things from the
Human Genome Project that may turn us all into Methuselah. "At least some
of the aging process is determined genetically," the authors allow, "and
through genetic manipulation, extension of life is eminently possible."
Stem cells, in the longevity arena, find a low profile
in Doctors' Secrets. "Stem cells have not yet delivered on their promise,"
maintains Dr. White. "The problem is in finding non-committed (pluri-potent)
stem cells that you can turn into any tissue you want. You have got to
go way back in the embryo to get those."
The book also tells us little about the social, psychological,
ethical and economic effects of turning back the clock. If we could live
to 200, could society accommodate the growth in population? And if there
were to be no end to our existence, what motivation would there be to
fill it? Many may prefer to improve the quality, rather than the quantity
The ethical arguments are also important, but they may
be overridden by our instincts for survival. Most of us would probably
welcome a longer life, even at the cost and uncertainty of social and
political upheaval. Longevity is just too compelling a temptation.
—Paul Courtice is a Vancouver writer.