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.
Ed 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 to live 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.
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 of various kinds have become big business. Medco’s latest drug trend report shows, for instance, that human growth hormone use grew almost 6 percent 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 that’s buying 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 healthy 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 teeth is a habit that, according to research on people who live to 100, might extend life.
But that’s generally where the consensus ends.
The wrong message?
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 cutting off 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.
But, 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 levels back up to those of a young man in his 20s.
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.
Pushing to the limit
Youthfulness also is seen as a means of survival in the business world, says Renee Young, a 48-year-old public relations executive in New Rochelle, N.Y.
In the back of her mind is the fact that her own mother died when she was only 56.
So five or six mornings a week, even when she’d rather pull the covers over her head, Young gets up and spends two hours at the gym.
That’s more than double the hour or so a day generally recommended for optimal health. And still, for her, that wasn’t enough. She recently spent nearly $20,000 on a tummy tuck, which she says has inspired her to take better care of herself overall.
Using a cosmetic procedure as a motivator is worthwhile, and lucrative, to say the least, says Dr. Jonathan Lippitz. He’s an emergency room physician in suburban Chicago who does cosmetic procedures, such as Botox and skin fillers, in a separate practice.
But it’s also a “very slippery slope,” with patients sometimes willing to take more risk than they should and some doctors who’ll accommodate.
“We all say, ‘I want my hair different. I want my eyes different,”’ Lippitz says. “This idea of being perfect is a problem, though, because it’s not reality.
“I have people coming in and saying ‘I want these lips.’ I say, ‘You can’t have these lips.’
“I say, ‘We’ll work with what you have.”’