Anti-aging can be a difficult topic to address: a war is currently fought over the meaning of the term in research and medicine, and as a brand for products in an energetic and often fraudulent marketplace. Even mentioning anti-aging medicine is likely to prejudice many readers, but I will try to put this all into context.
Anti-aging now has a number of quite different common meanings and connotations, each of which is championed by a particular group or loose coalition of interests. Advocates for these groups have a way of diving into the fray without defining their terms, and this tends to make reading about the surrounding debates somewhat confusing for a newcomer.
In the scientific community anti-aging research refers exclusively to slowing, preventing, or reversing the aging process. While the future is looking very promising, there is presently no proven and available medical technology that slows or reverses aging in humans. (Although the jury is still out on theÃ‚Â practice of calorie restriction and regular exercise). Nor is there any currently available method short of waiting for people to die to accuratelyÃ‚Â measure the effects of an alleged anti-aging therapy.
In the medical and reputable business community, anti-aging medicine means the early detection, prevention, and treatment of age-related diseases. This is quite different from tackling the aging process itself, and a wide array of strategies and therapies are currently available. Calorie restriction, for example, lowers the risk of suffering a wide range of age-related conditions.
In the wider business community – which includesÃ‚Â a great many fraudulent or frivolous venturesÃ‚Â – anti-aging is a valuable brand and a demonstrated way to increase sales. At the worse end of the scale, this leads to snake oil salesmen, “anti-aging” potions that may or may not make your skin look younger, and infomercials that tout the “anti-aging” benefits of various foods. Broadly, and very charitably, we can look at these varied definitions of anti-aging as meaning “to look and feel younger in some way.” This has no bearing on how long you live or how healthy you actually are, and many of these products simple do not achieve the results claimed.
The confusion of greatest interest here is between the first two definitions above: treating the disease of aging versus treating aging itself. Many interventions can lengthen an individual’s life span by preventing or curing specific age-related diseases that would otherwise prove fatal. For example, ask yourself whether a method of preventing heart disease or type 2 diabetes is anti-aging medicine. The therapy in question might have no effect on the underlying aging process, but it would nonetheless help many people to live comparatively longer, healthier lives. Is this anti-aging research? Scientists say no, some medical and business groups say yes.
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