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Drug could fight effects of aging

Rating

1 Star

Drug could fight effects of aging

Our Review Summary

This story notes that using growth hormone to counteract the effects of aging is controversial and that it is not FDA approved for this use, yet the story mentions growth hormone is available in “anti-aging” clinics. The term ‘anti-aging’ is a misnomer, as there are no proven medical interventions to stop or reverse the process of aging. Federal law states that distributing or administering human growth hormone for age-related health problems or for cosmetic use is illegal. Growth hormone is currently only approved for adults with Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD) and for children with pituitary disorders.

The promotion of growth hormone to counteract the effects of aging, namely a decline in physical functioning, is not new; however, the benefit of this use has not been established and the long-term safety is unknown. In this randomized controlled study, an increase in physical functioning was reported in the growth hormone group, but we are not told the degree of this benefit, or if the difference in functioning (measured by improved balance, climbing stairs and heel-to-toe walking) between this group and the placebo group was statistically significant.

This story notes that diet and exercise are preferred methods of prevention for staying healthy and functional as we age. However, the story focuses on the notion that normal physical decline involved with aging needs to be counteracted with a pill, such as growth hormone. The natural decline in growth hormones with age may actually be protective. The comparison of prescription eye-glasses for older adults with taking growth hormone to improve physical functioning is unfounded and qualifies as disease mongering. Eyeglasses are an intervention to improve a manifestation of aging, i.e. degenerating eyesight, and glasses pose few (if any) risks to physical health. Growth hormone may pose serious risks to the endocrine and cardiovascular systems, and long-term use may actually reduce longevity by increasing the risk of prostate cancer in older men.

The only sources of information appear to be researchers who presented their work at a scientific meeting. (There can be problems with such reporting. See “Media reporting on research presented at scientific meetings: more caution needed,” at: http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/184_11_050606/wol10024_fm.html) The story does note that the study was sponsored by Pfizer, maker of the growth hormone drug capromorelin, but there is no independent reporting or corroboration with sources not affiliated with the study.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not provide the cost of growth hormone for the purpose of improved physical functioning in the elderly.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions there was an increase in physical functioning in the growth hormone group, but we are not told how much they improved in physical functioning or increased muscle mass. How big was the benefit? Was it statistically significant? And, more important, was it clinically significant for these people?

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

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions that further study of growth hormone in otherwise healthy older adults is needed due to a lack of safety information, however none of the potential harms are mentioned. We do not know the long-term effects of growth hormone in older adults; however, it may pose an increased risk of prostate cancer for older men and decrease longevity (Vance, M. L. (2003). Can growth hormone prevent aging? N Engl J Med, 348(9), 779-780.).

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

Not Satisfactory

The story briefly mentions the study design: randomization of men and women ages 65-84 to either growth hormone or placebo. The story does not mention how long the participants took the growth hormone, what their functioning was at baseline when they enterred into the study, the incidence of any side effects of the drug compared to placebo, or the degree of benefit achieved from the drug. There was an increase in physical functioning, but how much, and was the difference statistically significant?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

While the story notes that diet and exercise are preferred methods of prevention for staying healthy and functional as we age, the story focuses on the notion that normal physical decline involved with aging needs to be counteracted with a pill, such as growth hormone. The natural decline in growth hormones may actually be protective. Also, the term ‘anti-aging’ is a misnomer, as there is no proven medical intervention to stop or reverse the process of aging. The comparison of prescription eye-glasses to improve eyesight in older adults with taking growth hormone to increase muscle mass and improve physical functioning is unfounded. Eyeglasses are an intervention to improve a manifestion of aging, i.e. reduced eyesight, and glasses pose few (if any) risks to physical health. Growth hormone may pose serious risks to the endocrine system, and possibly the cardiovascular system, and long-term use may increase the risk of some cancers in older adults.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only sources of information appear to be researchers who presented their work at a scientific meeting. (There can be problems with such reporting. See “Media reporting on research presented at scientific meetings: more caution needed,” at: http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/184_11_050606/wol10024_fm.html) The story does mention that the study was sponsored by Pfizer, maker of the growth hormone drug capromorelin.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Diet and exercise are mentioned as preferred means of counteracting some of the effects of aging, such as muscle loss and health problems of a sedentary lifestyle. The study mentions improved functioning (increased balance, heel-to-toe walking and stair climbing) with growth hormone, but a comparison of growth hormone with a structured exercise program for older adults is not mentioned.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story notes that growth hormone to counteract the effects of aging is controversial and it is not FDA approved for this use. However, the story also subtly suggests it is available for non-approved use. “Anti-aging” clinics may administer growth hormone, but federal law states that distributing or administering human growth hormone for age-related health problems or for cosmetic use is illegal. Growth hormone is currently only approved for adults with Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD) and for children with pituitary disorders. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists does not recommend growth hormone to prevent age-related muscle loss in otherwise healthy adults, due to a lack of information on long-term safety: http://www.aace.com/pub/pdf/guidelines/hgh.pdf

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Promoting growth hormone to counteract the effects of aging, namely physical functioning, is not new. However, the benefit of this has not been established and safety of growth hormone for this use in older adults in unknown. The story does note that this study does not represent a breakthrough in preventing age-related decline in physical or cognitive functioning.

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied largely on information from a news release, although much of the material in the story appears in a University of Pittsburgh news release at the time of The International Congress of Neuroendocrinology, where the research was presented.

Total Score: 1 of 9 Satisfactory

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