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The Healthy Skeptic: telomerase activators

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3 Star

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The Healthy Skeptic: telomerase activators

Our Review Summary

This is a story about two over-the-counter products being sold to help counteract age-related changes because of their reputed capacity to affect telomere length.  The story presented a generally cautious view of the value of these products but failed to question the very premise that doing something about telomere length is an assured means of slowing the aging process.  We wish the column had been stronger in questioning the validity of information not backed up with data.

 

Why This Matters

There is historical precedence for searching for magical elixirs of youth and agents said to affect telomere length are the current sweethearts.  It is telling that at the bottom of the TA Sciences website it states: “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Yet aging is often framed as just that – a disease that could and should be treated.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The costs for the treatments mentioned were discussed.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story did an adequate job raising questions about the evidence for alleged benefits. The independent sources interviewed helped in this regard.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

It’s not very strong evidence to allow a statement from a company founder that, to his knowledge, no one has developed cancer while taking TA-65.  The point could have been made earlier and more clearly that since neither TA-65 nor Reneuve are considered to be drugs by the FDA, there is no standard of safety or efficacy that they are held to. (Hinted at only in final sentence.) Jump ball call.  Could have done better.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The column did detail the extremely limited quantity and quality of the evidence that the products mentioned are effective.

However some important details or context about some of the research were missing.

  • We couldn’t find the ‘Pivotal 2005 Anti-Aging Trial’ in the clinicaltrials.gov database nor does it appear from a search of pubmed.gov that results from this study were ever published.
  • A company founder was allowed to cite an unpublished company-run study but there was no caveat given about the limitations of drawing conclusions from such a statement.

A study in the journal Rejuvenation Research was cited – “TA-65 boosted the activity of telomerase in 114 people who took the supplement for a year.”  This was, appropriately, followed by an expert questioning the significance of this report.  Such a direct challenge could have been made for each claim made in the piece.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Aging is not a disease. But this column opened with a catchy disease mongering riff engaging readers to consider ‘wrinkled skin, gray hair, a growing need to turn up the volume on ‘Jeopardy’,” and to consider the “dream” and “glimmer of hope” that the process of aging could be slowed.

The first statement is a list of examples of age-related changes which often have contributing factors other than chronology.

Even though the overall tone of the piece was in keeping with the “Healthy Skeptic” series title, we feel it went a bit too far on this criterion.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

We don’t know why so much space was given to comments by company officials.  But the independent expertise of Drs. Cawthon and Hornsby were important in countering conflicted claims.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There was no comparison of the compounds discussed with the impact of maintaining healthy body weight, engaging in exercise or other interventions which have a more measurable track record of ameliorating age-related changes.

One simple additional sentence could have satisfied this criterion.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story provided readers with insight about how to obtain the products discussed.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not provide any sort of historical context about telomerase research.  Its first mention dates back more than 20 years and in 2009, the Nobel prize in medicine went to the scientists that discovered it.  Many readers may have walked away with the impression that this field of research is far newer than it reallly is.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release given the strong input from independent experts.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory

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