What is Anti-Aging Medicine?
What exactly is anti-aging medicine? Well, I typically describe it as a more advanced form of sports medicine, or I refer to it as middle-age sports medicine. Why is that?
The emphasis and goals in sports medicine and anti-aging medicine are very similar and differ in very fundamental ways from mainstream or traditional medicine.
In traditional medicine the goal is relatively low – simply get people out of disease and get them back to their baseline which typically is not a great place to be anyway. The goal in sports medicine, however, is to return patients (athletes) to the highest level of function possible. See our discussion on the wellness-illness continuum for more detailed discussion on the difference in goals between a wellness oriented approach and a disease approach to patient care.
Advanced Form of Sports Medicine
I’ve actively practiced sports medicine for 20 years. In my mind, sports medicine is more an attitude or philosophy of care than it is a distinct medical specialty. And, it’s an approach to medicine that can be applied to all patients – athlete or not. Why should we not attempt to get all patients to the highest level of function? But, that’s not how traditional medicine works, because it doesn’t think in those terms.
Anti-aging medicine embodies the sports medicine philosophy, but goes a step or two farther. Much of sports medicine is focused on the treatment of sports injuries, proper nutrition and the role of exercise as a form of medicine. You may have seen the phrase exercise is medicine – and it is. In fact, exercise is better than any drug you can take and has few side effects.
All of that – prompt treatment of injuries, proper nutrition, and exercise steer athletes to higher levels of function. But, that’s where sports medicine stops. That approach alone is fine for the high school, college, or professional athlete – in other words – those in their prime. But, that limited focus falls short in dealing with the weekend warrior or middle age athlete who is experiencing (whether they know it or not) declining hormone levels and the symptoms related to that decline in addtion to the effects of the silent inflammation behind most chronic diseases.
Yet, in large part, because of the abuse of anabolic steroids and growth hormone in sports many sports medicine physicians have developed an unhealthy view of the role of hormones in their middle-age patients to improve general health. They extrapolate inappropriately the harms from abuse of hormones in sports to the general population. In other words, they’ve been tainted by the abuse of supra- physiologic doses used by athletes and do not consider the health benefits of physiologic doses of hormones to treat the middle-aged individual.
Consequently, they shy away from hormone replacement in their middle-aged patients not seeing its use as another tool in their bag to help patients achieve optimal health and function.
Beyond Hormone Replacement
But, anti-aging medicine even goes beyond hormone replacement. Anti-aging medicine also stresses telomere health – protecting those all important strands of DNA that protect our chromosomes and control the very aging process. Yes, we already have treatments to preserve telomere health. But, none of this will you find in mainstream medicine.
Anti-aging medicine also incorporates regenerative medicine treatments like stem cell therapy that show promise in repairing damaged tissue. Stem cells may very well revolutionize medicine, and if so, may displace many physicians and healthcare workers in the process – a main reason we will see resistance from the establishment to adopt these techniques.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Stem cell (adult stem cell) transplants are already being performed to treat arthritis of the knee. A patient of mine had a recent total knee replacement and the total cost for that surgery was nearly $50,000. A stem cell transplant can be done for $5,000 to $10,000 and be performed in the doctor’s office. No hospital costs, no OR costs, no anesthesiology costs, no PT costs, no cost for an artificial joint prosthesis, much lower rate of complications, and little time off work for the patient. Many in healthcare stand to lose from this advancement – except the patient.
So we will see this treatment criticized by the mainstream out of self-preservation – an example of the politics of medicine. They’ll claim it’s experimental and “we don’t know what the long-term results are” – the very same arguments that were used when joint replacements were first performed, the same arguments used when coronary angioplasty became a viable treatment option, and the same arguments used time and again when any new revolutionary treatment threatens the status quo.
In fact, the entire anti-aging medicine movement is a threat to mainstream medicine. One natural by-product of the anti-aging medicine approach is that helps patients become less dependent on the healthcare system. And, that is a threat to hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in particular.
Traditional medicine looked negatively upon sports medicine in its infancy, too. And, even today despite its popularity sports medicine is not fully accepted by many mainstream physicians. When I decided to do a sports medicine fellowship I was told by a supposed mentor “you know that’s not real medicine, don’t you”?
So sports medicine and anti-aging medicine have that in common, too – being looked down upon by the establishment.
So what is anti-aging medicine? It is sports medicine plus, or advanced sports medicine applied to the middle-aged and elderly individual who desires to maintain optimal health and function as long as possible. Optimal health and optimal function – seems like a worthy goal, doesn’t it?
But, you will not achieve those goals by following the traditional medicine approach.