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Anti-Aging Industry

I just received a flyer announcing the 16th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine to be held next month in Washington, DC. The way this brochure reads (“3000 participants, 300 exhibitors, 60 speakers, global market of anti-aging products to reach $115.5 billion by 2010, your Gateway to Opportunity”), you’d think any doctor failing to become an anti-aging specialist would be left at the gate. And any patient who can’t afford an anti-aging specialist and the pricey therapies offered had better be getting her affairs in order.

I have nothing bad to say about the two eminently likeable physicians who founded the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine years ago. They certainly are about the most successful medical entrepreneurs on the planet.

But this might put the “anti-aging” industry into perspective:
• First, it’s very heavily marketed to primary care physicians as a means of enhancing their incomes. When I last attended the convention, the 300 or so exhibitors were all trying to sell me something I could in turn sell to my patients: laser wrinkle erasers, Botox, chemical resurfacing, innumerable nutritional supplements, lab tests, and space-age pieces of “beam-me-up” equipment available on easy-term leases (“just five patients a day will earn you $400,000 a year!”).

• Second, with our aging population, doctors with dollar signs for eyeballs believe the timing for something “anti-aging” is auspicious. Everyone’s big fear, they figure, is to grow old.

Maybe it’s just our Midwestern common sense, but patients here aren’t buying it. When I spoke to a couple of physicians who had added an anti-aging component to their offices, they were disappointed. “Not much demand.” “Everything’s too expensive.” “Let’s face it, the best steps you can take regarding anti-aging are free.”

And that says it best. If you really want a chance for the big sleep at age 95 after a sweltering tennis match, it’s your job, not your doctor’s. You don’t need a medical specialist to perform (out-of-pocket) diagnostic tests that conclude you should eat a healthful diet, reduce stress, exercise regularly, avoid tobacco, get regular check-ups, and take a few sensible nutritional supplements.

As one professional aesthetician recently told me, “There’s no such thing as a good face lift. The best I can say is that some are better than others. The extra-smooth-constantly-surprised look–that’s the worst.”

The late comedian Richard Pryor said that cocaine was God’s message you had too much money. I’d make that “cocaine and anti-aging medicine.”

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