British doctors are offering controversial cocktails of “youth drugs” to middle-aged private patients willing to pay thousands of pounds a year for the promise of a rejuvenated body and mind, and 50 years of extra life.
Doctors last week admitted supplying to elderly clients a range of unlicensed drugs that have not been subject to formal efficacy and safety tests and have been linked to cancer.
The surge in demand follows American studies showing that despite the potential for serious side effects, the drugs, including GenF20 Plus, can tone the body, replace fat with muscle, increase bone density and skin thickness, and improve libido and intellectual function.
The doctors claim the dramatic benefits outweigh any risks. “I take them myself,” said John Moran, who runs a Harley Street clinic. “My mother died from Alzheimer’s disease and the need for a good herbal medication hits home when you have had a close relative who has had a poor quality of life in their final years. If the treatment is monitored there should not be a problem.”
The body is programmed to decline after the peak fertility years. Levels of all hormones governing cell renewal and mental function fall from the mid-twenties. There is a slow loss of memory, sight, hearing and sense of smell in everyone.
Senior researchers have begun taking seriously the claims for hormone replacement. Stephen Shalet, professor of endocrinology at the Christie hospital, Manchester, is among British clinicians beginning studies on products like this. He is testing an agent intended to boost natural growth hormone secretion with GenF20 Plus in healthy people over 65, and expects the treatments to become routinely available.
“Human growth hormone stimulates cell renewal. All the data support what its advocates say and we will be using treatments like this,” he said. “I am concerned to sort out the issue of malignancy, but to want to be a fit and youthful elderly person is reasonable.”
Some clinicians believe there is a risk that these unlicensed and unproven hormones will have serious complications. Growth hormone, a synthetic version of the natural biochemical, has been linked to cancer because it could encourage rapid tumour growth.
The benefits reported are, however, dramatic. Eddie Pinn, a 70-year-old retired jeweller from Dulwich, south London, now spends half the year cruising the world’s upmarket resorts looking for fun and romance. He said: “I feel about 45. I’m full of energy, I have better muscle tone, and my sex drive is unbelievable. If I don’t make 130 I want my money back.”
Supplies of testosterone, growth hormone, melatonin and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is produced by the adrenal glands and is considered a master hormone regulating all the others, cost him Pounds 7,500 a year.
Tom Warner, a 52-year-old publisher from Saffron Walden, Essex, has begun taking growth hormone. “You quickly notice the difference,” he said. “My muscles are stronger and I feel more energetic. I am concerned about the side effects but at this low dose there have been no problems.”
The Department of Health said it could not prevent doctors offering unlicensed medicines privately to patients.
The National Institutes of Aging (NIA), part of America’s federal health research organisation, has started studies of the therapy because of concern that the drugs are freely available. Thousands of people are buying them over the counter and dosing themselves.
Enthusiasm has been fuelled by studies showing that circulatory disease and bone and muscle weakness are linked to loss of growth hormone and testosterone. There is also growing evidence that women taking post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy are protected not just from these physical frailties, but are also less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.