Imagine being able to pop a pill that would leave you with the skin of a 22-year-old, the energy of a toddler or the strength, endurance and waist size of an Olympic athlete. Researchers and scientists have been working to discover the fountain of youth, but the leap from a scientist’s lab to your medicine cabinet is enormous.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some doctors, clinics and manufacturers of anti-aging supplements from backing unproven treatments. Consumer Reports looked at some of those claims and what you can actually expect from the products.
The claim: An infusion of vitamins in high doses makes you feel younger.
The reality: Flooding your system with a high concentration of vitamins intravenously speeds absorption into the bloodstream. It would seem that if some is good, then more is better and even more is best, right? Not exactly.
Scientists have looked into using IV-based nutrients to treat specific conditions. One example is a promising though hardly conclusive study that was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009. Researchers at Yale University set out to see if weekly infusions of vitamins and minerals (what’s known as a Myers’ cocktail) for eight weeks would lessen the symptoms of fibromyalgia. It did, but no more so than those who received a placebo.
Consumer Reports says: For the vast majority, the best way to get vitamins is through your diet.
The claim: DHEA supplements prevent illness and improve energy.
The reality: Since it’s not difficult to find store shelves lined with bottles of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplements, you may not even realize that your body also produces this hormone. DHEA levels usually begin to decline at about age 30, the same time age-related changes such as decreased muscle mass, reduced bone density and cognitive impairment can start to crop up. But taking additional DHEA won’t help, research suggests.
A Mayo Clinic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 examined the use of DHEA supplements by older adults over two years and found that they didn’t really slow the aging process. In fact, researchers discovered no differences between those who took the supplement and those who didn’t in terms of body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity and quality of life.
Consumer Reports says: Because there’s no evidence of effectiveness, because side effects can include lower levels of good cholesterol, increased facial hair in women and acne, and because of concerns about various types of cancer, you should pass on these supplements.
The claim: Omega-3 supplements slow the effects of aging.
The reality: Scientists have known for a while that omega-3 fatty acids — whether you get them from a pill or from such foods as salmon and sardines — can help protect against heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and possibly other diseases. But is there a connection to aging? A 2012 study from Ohio State University suggests that the supplement may help preserve telomeres, tiny segments of DNA that protect cells.
“Telomeres are like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces that prevent the lace from fraying,” explains Emmanuel Skordalakes, a genetics expert at the Wistar Institute, a medical research center in Philadelphia. “When telomeres get too short, cells stop dividing and people age, gradually losing muscle strength, skin elasticity, vision, hearing and mental abilities.” Many factors, such as diet, exercise, the environment, genetics — and most likely others not yet identified — contribute to the maintenance of telomeres, Skordalakes said.
In their study, the Ohio State researchers found that most overweight but otherwise healthy participants who took omega-3 supplements for four months altered the ratio of their fatty acids in a way that helped to preserve telomeres. It’s the first evidence to suggest that a nutritional supplement might actually help make a difference in aging.
Consumer Reports says: Although the study is intriguing, more research is needed. At this time, there’s not enough evidence to recommend omega-3 supplements for their possible effect on telomeres. But eating fatty fish twice a week is well worth considering, especially since fish has well-documented cardiovascular benefits.
The claim: Red wine will help you live longer.
The reality: It’s not so much the wine per se but the resveratrol in the skin of the grapes that has been claimed to lengthen your life. And even that much isn’t certain. Research suggests that resveratrol mimics the effects of calorie restriction, which has been found to extend the lives of lab animals.
Eating a low-calorie diet has been associated with not only a lower body mass index but also a reduction in blood pressure and improved memory. Researchers hope that resveratrol will prove to be a more palatable way of getting the anti-aging benefits of calorie restriction while allowing people to eat and drink comfortably. But there’s no evidence that resveratrol will keep you young.
Consumer Reports says: You can give resveratrol a try, but in a glass and in moderation (no more than 10 ounces of wine a day for men, five ounces for women). Note that the latest research shows that the heart-healthy benefits of drinking alcohol don’t outweigh all the potential risks, including disease and damage from imbibing too much.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.