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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Aired November 22, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Every day of our adult lives, we all go undergo minute changes. Over time, producing a profound transformation from how we appear to how our bodies and brains function. Aging is not considered a disease, but aging itself is a risk factor for heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Consider this, if we could maintain the vitality and healing capacity we have as a 10-year-old or 11-year-old, it's been estimated we could live for 1,200 years. We reach our physical pique between 20 and 30 and begin a steady decline after that, losing breathing capacity, strength, sight, hearing, memory. But what if we could slow down the aging process?
Here on a Moscow street among the shops selling high-end goods like Cartier and Versace, you'll find the Beauty Plaza Clinic. That's where Alexander Teplyashin offers another expensive and highly prized commodity is offered, youth. His treatment is unproven, possibly dangerous and in the United States, illegal.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We uncover stories never heard, images never seen.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Gang members are driving down this street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A deadly risk.
GUPTA: You can hear and see the choppers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Now Sanjay Gupta, "Chasing Life."
GUPTA (voice-over): In this Moscow clinic, Alexander Templyashin sells an anti-aging therapy that is scientifically questionable and against the law in much of the world. The Russian doctor says his treatment will give you more energy, a more youthful appearance and rejuvenate organs and tissues in the body. No scientific studies back him up and some researchers fear what Templyashin is doing could cause tumors. Even so, Templyashin says his clinic is very busy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course, we're ahead of our time and that's why we get a lot of criticism and that's a shame.
GUPTA: Templyashin is offering stem cell injection and the promise of long life.
(on camera): But it can make you live longer?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, yes, because there are mechanisms given by God and we can eliminate the effect of pathogens in the body. We can repair the body and let the body age more slowly.
GUPTA: This is the operating room?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA (voice-over): Templyashin's patients supply their own stem cells.
(on camera): From the bone marrow, from the fat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fat and here.
GUPTA: Fat around the fate. Can you show me the cells? And you can actually see them under the microscope. And there are the cells popping up on the screen there.
(voice-over): The stem cells are stored in liquid nitrogen before being injected back into the patients. Treatments are not cheap. They can cost $25,000 euros. That's more than 30,000.
(on camera): How many of these procedures do you do a year?
(voice-over): If you do the math, that's millions of dollars worth of injections. Templyashin says he's even injected himself with his own stem cells.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now I have a normal level of...
GUPTA (on camera): Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA: So you took your own stem cells, you injected it and it lowered your cholesterol?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, liver works great.
GUPTA: So your liver works better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA (voice-over): We weren't convinced. So we spoke by phone to several of his patients who said they felt better after the stem cell injections, but didn't want to appear on camera.
Stem cell treatments are also offered at a number of other clinics in Moscow and elsewhere in the world. This Russian man received a stem cell treatment at another Moscow clinic. He asked to remain anonymous. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): To be honest, I can say that I'm feeling any significant improvement.
GUPTA: Geron Corporation is at the forefront of stem cell research in the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Embryonic stem cells...
GUPTA: Dr. Tom Okarma, Geron's president and CEO says evidence for stem cells as an anti-aging therapy does not exist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stem cell therapy is not the fountain of youth. A lot of these claims made by clinics and not regulated Eastern Europe countries are probably species and are made for commercial reasons. And we haven't really seen evidence in the peer- reviewed literature that they're real.
GUPTA: How we live affects how long we'll live and how healthy we'll be as we age. By most estimates, lifestyle accounts for about 70 percent of our longevity. Genes are responsible for the rest. Even the healthiest lifestyles and the best genes will only get you so far.
Only one in 170 people born a century ago has made it to 100, mostly women. And no one on record has outlived French woman Jeanne Camam (ph) whose life spanned 122 years before her death in 1997. That hasn't stopped a century's old quest to find the fountain of youth or the fascination with eternal vitality captured by movies, like "Lost Horizon"...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Shangri-La.
GUPTA: ...or "Cocoon."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel tremendous. I'm ready to take on the world.
GUPTA: The desire to beat aging has spawned dozens of books, hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of products. At the turn of the last century, life expectancy in the United States was 47 years, an average dragged down by a huge infant and childhood mortality rate. The advent of antibiotics and public health measures, such as clean drinking water meant the vast majority of children make it into adulthood. And the average adult life span is now close to 80.
Now the focus is on increasing the number of healthy years at the end of life, and that brings us back to stem cells. OKARMA: The whole object here is not to the change the life span, the biological limit to life. Stem cells aren't going to do that. What we hope stem cells will do is increase the health span, the fraction of our time on earth that is spent in good health.
GUPTA: Stem cell therapies are in their infancy, perhaps years away from being accepted as an effective treatment. But in the next hour, we'll investigate what works now when it comes to healthy aging. We'll take you to longevity hot spots around the globe to find the secrets they hold about long life. We'll also tell you which dietary supplements you should consider taking. We'll see how doctors in a new controversial specialty called anti-aging medicines are increasingly willing to prescribe human growth hormone. It's a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars with lots of buzz on the Internet, but does the hormone do more harm than good?
And later, I'm 37. I asked artist Lynn Waldren (ph) to be age me to 100. I'll show what I'll look like if I'm lucky enough to reach the century mark.
GUPTA: What if I told you the only proven way to live longer is to eat a near starvation diet, would you do it? Michael Rae and April Smith do. So before they eat, they weigh every tomato, every stalk of asparagus, everything to the gram.
On this night, I joined the couple for a dinner of tomato salad, asparagus, tilapia and a brownie Sunday, a total of 639 calories, exactly.
(on camera): This actually looks like a lot of food.
(voice-over): Ray and Smith are chasing life by following a calorie restriction or CR diet, eating the fewest possible calories while still getting all the required nutrients. Smith is 5'2", 102 pounds. Ray is six feet tall and weighs only 115 pounds. Smith and Rae are eating less because they want to live longer.
GUPTA: Is there something with the aging process? I mean you know we're all going to age at some point. We're going to get to a certain age and then we're going to die. That's just -- that's what happens.
MICHAEL RAE, CR DIETER: Aging is a fatal degenerative disease and we treat it like it's not because everyone has it, but the fact that everyone has it doesn't make it not a degenerative process. If CR gets us more years of a young, healthy life, I'm for that.
GUPTA (voice-over): Since the 1930s, researchers have known that reducing the calories fed to lab rats and mice could extend their maximum life span by 35 percent or more. Ongoing studies in monkeys also looks promising. The calorie restricted monkeys are healthier as a group than their fully fed counterparts, although it's still too early to know if they'll live longer.
Now the National Institute on Aging wants to see if humans might benefit from calorie restrictions. The federal agency is funding a two-year study with plans to put 160 people on a calorie restriction diet. Eric Raveson (ph), one of the lead investigators, says participators eating the study's carefully planned and meticulously measured diet may lose 35 to 50 pounds over two years. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that here we will see people if they start already at a rather low weight to be really at a skinny, skinny weight. And here we'll get more chance to look at longer lasting changes in some of these physiological parameters.
GUPTA: In a preliminary six month study of 48 slightly overweight people, calorie restriction resulted in an average weight loss of 10 percent. Most of it fat. Total cholesterol went down. HDL or good cholesterol went up. Those who followed a calorie restricted diet also showed less damage to their DNA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think you know one of the causes of aging of course is damage to your DNA and abnormal regulation of your genetic code.
GUPTA: Calorie restriction resulted in a lower body temperature. That's something linked to longer life. A lower body temperature can make people on calorie restriction feel cold, some also complain of irritability, lack of energy and a diminished sex drive. Rae says he's healthier than he's ever been and he has more energy.
RAE: Well, your metabolic state is just such that your body is just vibrating. You almost have to use mystical language to talk about it in terms of like just energy and so forth.
GUPTA: Even so, Raveson (ph) says the only way to get large numbers of people to reap the benefits of calorie restriction is putting its properties in a pill. People could take it without having to significantly alter their diets. It's something being researched by a number of drug companies.
Whether restricting calories will extend the lives of people like April Smith and Michael Rae is not yet known, but the long-term effects of overeating are clear. Obesity raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and joint problems. Some researchers actually believe the average life span in the United States will, for the first time ever begin declining because so many of us are seriously overweight.
April Smith and Michael Rae are what most would consider underweight by choice. April eats only 1,300 calories a day. Michael eats 1,900.
RAE: By every measure you can look at me, whether it's how I feel, whether it's how often I get ill, whether it's my risk of disease, or whether it's, you know, just my ability to carry on work or whatever, I'm in the best shape that a human being could be in.
GUPTA (on camera): There have been no studies, Michael, that show calorie restriction definitely prolongs life in humans.
RAE: It would take 120 years to do that study. GUPTA: It's a long study.
GUPTA: But what if it comes out that it doesn't? Would you still do a diet like this?
RAE: Well, no although I might do something very close to it because although in that case, it wouldn't be slowing down the aging process, which is why I'm doing this, you do feel a heck of a lot better on CR than you do eating a conventional diet.
APRIL SMITH, CARROLL: DIETER: I just know I want to do everything I can to keep feeling good. And for me, there's really no tradeoff. I feel so much better now than I did before CR, that even if I knew I was going to get hit by a bus five years from now, it would not make sense for me to change.
GUPTA (voice-over): So if I started eating the way they do every day, researcher Eric Reveson (ph) says I might live 3.5 or 4 years longer or maybe not.
Dr. Barzilai directs the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He thinks humans following a calorie restriction diet in the real world as opposed to animals in a sterile laboratory may not live longer at all.
DR. BARZILAI, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR AGING RESEARCH, ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I think a little bit of fat is protecting from germs, from viruses. And so we don't know if the caloric restriction, when you're out there and you can be infected by virus or bacteria is going to be good or bad for you. Maybe it'll kill you sooner.
GUPTA: Dr. Barzilai is looking for clues to a longer, healthier life, not in diet but in the genes of the very old.
BARZILAI: For those people, the environment didn't matter. They had something else.
GUPTA: When we come back, clues to living longer hidden in our own blood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, set.
GUPTA (voice-over): Leonard Abraham celebrates his 95th birthday with family and friends.
(on camera): Your lawn looks great.
LEONARD ABRAHAM, 95-YEARS-OLD: Yes, I just cut it this morning.
GUPTA (voice-over): Abraham lives by himself in suburban New York in the same house he's lived in for half a century.
ABRAHAM: Well, fortunately, I still have all of my marbles, so I don't consider myself too old. If my body would move as fast as my mind, it would be very good.
GUPTA: Abraham is active and he eats well.
ABRAHAM: Well, today I found some fish and made a salad out of it.
GUPTA: And he has something else going for him. He has large HDL cholesterol particles. That's the good cholesterol.
BARZILAI: It's a terrific marker for people with longevity.
GUPTA: It's not secret that long life often runs in the family. Abraham's mother lived to 102. Dr. Barzilai at Albert Einstein College of Medicine wants to figure out how it works. How can longevity be passed from one generation to the next? Already, he has a few clues. Dr. Barzilai finds that in the blood of people who have a family history of very old age, 95 or older. He has focused on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jews because they are genetically very similar, making any genetic difference stand out.
BARZILAI: We have the plasma in DNA in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) patients. And you see those are the plasma samples.
GUPTA: In addition to taking blood, Dr. Barzilai's team records height and weight, takes a medical history.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have glasses for reading.
GUPTA: Measures blood pressure, pulse and our vital statistics and tests cognitive functions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see that OK? Would you copy it right there, please.
GUPTA: Among the 90 and 100-year-olds in the study, no single lifestyle or diet has emerged as promoting very long life. And some people live a very long time, despite their lifestyle.
BARZILAI: We don't have yoga teachers. We don't have vegetarians. Thirty percent of them were overweight or obese in the 1950s. We don't have anybody that's exercising. There are several people who smoked. So for those people, the environment didn't matter. They had something else that we think is genetic.
GUPTA: Dr. Barzilai wants to locate this genetic something else. So his lab tests the DNA of the very old in 500,000 different places on the genom. Dr. Barzilai looks for genes that are more common among the very old, suggesting these genes are protecting them from age- related diseases like heart disease or cancer. Already he's located three spots on the genome linked to longevity, on chromosomes four, 11 and 16. He's also found the HDL cholesterol levels of centenarians are much, much higher than expected.
Good cholesterol decreases as we age. The average HDL for centenarians in the study is in the low 50s. Something you'd expect in a 7-year-old.
Exercise can raise good cholesterol alone. So could moderate amounts of red wine. But you'd still probably fall far short of Dr. Barzilai's centenarians.
(on camera): What is the end game of your research? Are you hoping one day to be able to treat aging, stop aging? What is the goal?
BARZILAI: We think that as humans we have a maximum life capacity that probably exceeds 100 years, maybe 120 years. And we want to make sure that we use this capacity and get to this age without any of the major age-related diseases. What we want to do is to prevent the chronic debilitating age related diseases. And if we develop a drug like that, the side effect will probably be also longevity.
GUPTA: Dan Buettner is also looking for centenarian hot spots, not in long live families but on places on the globe where a disproportionate number of people live a very long time. He calls them the Blue Zones and he's found them in Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda, California, and Costa Rica.
BUETTNER: And because most of longevity is dictated by our lifestyle as opposed to our genes, we believe that by going to these Blue Zones and methodically looking at what these people do, we can distill out a de facto formula for longevity. GUPTA: On the Nakoa (ph) Peninsula in Costa Rica, men who reach 60 are four times as likely to reach 100 as their counterparts in the United States or Europe. Families are close here. Hard work is the norm. And there's no such thing as retirement.
BUETTNER: This 80-year-old has the vigor of a 40-year-old.
GUPTA: These Costa Ricans eat a healthy diet, plenty of vegetables and fruit like papaya and citrus fruits. And the tortillas they eat are made using a special process that produces more calcium, helping to keep bones strong in old age.
Pachia (ph) is a good example. She's 100 years old; walks wherever she needs to go and is still able to wield the machete.
In Sardinia, Buetttner says the local wine has special properties.
BUETTNER: It has the highest levels of polyphenomes, these artery scrubbing anti-oxidants of any other wine in the world.
GUPTA: In Okinawa, Buettner credits ikigu (ph) or sense of purpose. BUETTNER: And they know why they're on this planet. If their ikigu (ph) was a karate master, they continue to fuel that activity with the same passion.
GUPTA: Okinawans also eat a low fat diet rich in fish and fruits and vegetables and loaded with tofu.
BUETTNER: I know tofu is strange for a lot of people, but it's arguably the world's most perfect food, high in protein, low in fat. It's full of minerals and it also contains something called phytoestrogen, which has been shown to lower your chances of getting a heart attack. It's been shown to reduce your chance breast cancer.
GUPTA: In Loma Linda, Buettner points to clean living and a stress relieving Sabbath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We then shall we say brothers?
BUETTNER: Loma Linda is the area of highest concentration of Seventh Day Adventists, and they're conservative Christians, Methodists, which means they're not drinking, they're not smoking, taking that 24 hours off every week to de-stress, get their exercise.
GUPTA: Buettner says the Blue Zones offer a recipe for healthy living that could add eight good years to your life. And he offers this advice.
BUETTNER: Eat a plant based diet, mostly plants. Number two, regular low intensity exercise and then number three, invest in family and friends.
GUPTA: Now, most people don't live in a Blue Zone. The Red Zone is more like it. But as baby boomers get older, more and more of them are chasing life. You can find countless promises about ways to turn back the clock. Some are a little dubious.
But what about dietary supplements? It's a multi billion dollar industry. Some people, healthy people, take dozens of pills every day. Probably more than any one person, Dr. Andrew Weil is responsible for the supplement boom. So you may be surprised to hear him say that some of his past advice on supplements is wrong.
GUPTA (voice-over): Every morning, Dr. Frank Pinto pops not one supplement, not two, not three or even four, but 25 different pills from alphalapoic acid to zinc.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to need a little more water.
GUPTA: Dr. Pinto is a dermatologist in Tipton, Georgia. His wife, Rosemary is a family therapist. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really important to me to stay young. I'm six years older than my husband, so I feel a responsibility to stay young physically, emotionally, mentally.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way to halt the aging process. It's going to happen. People like myself and Rosemary that embark on a program like this; I think we all want to age gracefully.
GUPTA: They try to eat well, they exercise, and when the afternoon rolls around, more pills. All totaled, the Pintos each swallow more than 40 different supplements every day.
You could say it's a leap of faith. The federal government says Americans spend several billion dollars a year on dietary supplements, and yet the National Institute on Aging doesn't specifically recommend any supplements.
DR. ANDREW WEIL, HARVARD PROFESSOR: Hi.
GUPTA (on camera): Thank you so much for your time.
(voice-over): I needed to sort this out, so I paid a visit to the desert home of Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-trained physician who introduced America to alternative medicine. His philosophy is a mix, the conventional...
(on camera): I'm 37 years old. I have a very strong family history of heart disease.
GUPTA: What would you tell me?
WEIL: You can definitely take aspirin.
GUPTA: You would tell me to take aspirin?
WEIL: Oh yes, definitely.
GUPTA (voice-over): And the alternative. WEIL: Close your mouth and breath in through your nose. Good flows in. so I want you to do this twice a day.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Weil recommends many supplements, even sells them online. But here's the problem: despite the billions of dollars people spend, there's virtually no research showing that supplements can make you healthy or live longer. There is some research but most finds there's no benefit at all. Here are just two examples from the "Journal of the American Medical Association." Does Ginko help memory, probably not. Echinacea to fight colds, it doesn't work.
You've heard of antioxidants. People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in anti-oxidants are less likely to get cancer and they tend to live longer. But one study found that taking antioxidants like Vitamin A and E in pill form might actually be harmful.
GUPTA (on camera): Some smart person says, "Well, I'm going to take a pill form because that's what people like to take, pill forms." How do they know they're getting the right stuff?
WEILL: They don't and I think this is a real problem. You know there's a compound in broccoli called sulforiphane, which has been of interest in cancer fighting agent. And I've seen bottles in food stores that have a photo of broccoli on the label. And this is sulforaphane in the capsule. And the implication this is broccoli in a pill. It's not broccoli in a pill. It's sulforaphane in a pill and that's one element of an incredibly complex plant that has all sorts of different things in it.
GUPTA (voice-over): Studies have shown that a good diet, not pills, is the safest and best way to stay healthy. Weil agrees, but says some supplements do show promise even if there isn't much data yet to back it up. A few of his favorites are alpha lipoic acid to fight off heart disease and diabetes; Selenium to prevent cancer; and fish oil with omega 3 fatty acids.
WEIL: Omega 3 fatty acids, I think overwhelming evidence now for health benefits.
GUPTA: And you recommend it for me?
WEIL: Absolutely. It's good exercise. It's about a mile in and out.
GUPTA (voice-over): But I was still wondering, is this quest for help leading us in one direction even as science takes us in another.
(on camera): Have you been wrong on some things?
WEIL: I was for a time recommending mega doses of Vitamin C and then I saw research that convinced me that the body really couldn't use doses higher than 200 milligrams a day. So I changed it.
GUPTA (voice-over): Weil says each new recommendation boils down to an educated guess. Take Vitamin D, for example.
(on camera): You say we should be taken 2,000...
WEIL: Well, for now I'm saying 1,000 but I would predict in a year that's going to be up to 2,000.
GUPTA: We don't know what impact that's going to have on aging overall. But you're ready to recommend it because it's not going to do any harm, is that what your thinking is?
WEIL: Yes, this is my intuition, which I have learned to refine and adjust over the years by comparing my experience with data, is that my sense was this was where the research was going to go, that it was going to show that higher doses of supplemental Vitamin D were critical in reducing cancer risks. We never have all of the data and we always have to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information. And that means, I think, both as physicians and patients, we need to be good gamblers.
GUPTA: Gambling with your health? I bet that makes a lot of people nervous.
(on camera): Do you ever doubt yourself?
WEIL: Often. I mean, I think if you don't question yourself, you can't adjust your course.
GUPTA (voice-over): Weighing all the research is like picking your way through a maze. Most people hedge their bets. I take a few supplements even those there's no proof they're doing anything for me. And in that, I'm pretty typical. Nearly all the doctors we talked to for this program take some kind of dietary supplement, even while acknowledging there's a whole lot we don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't eat properly and you don't get any exercise, you know, taking all the supplements is kind of a waste.
GUPTA: Now that sounds sensible. But Dr. Pinto and his wife are more daring than most. Along with diet, exercise and supplements, they each take a daily shot of growth hormone. As we age, hormone levels naturally go down, including estrogen, thyroid, growth hormone and testosterone. But doctors disagree about whether you should try to replace them.
Growth hormone is especially controversial. Doctors use it to treat children whose growth is derailed by a condition like a pituitary tumor. But on the black market, athletes use it to try and get bigger and stronger. And it's becoming popular with older people looking for a fountain of youth. But then one recent paper landed like a wet blanket. It looked at 31 studies and concluded that the benefits of growth hormone are low, the risk of side effects, high, including joint pain, tissue swelling and diabetes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human growth hormone by no means is the fountain of youth. In fact, I think there's plenty of evidence to show that it does the opposite.
GUPTA: Dr. Thomas Pearl is a gerontologist in Boston. He says the use of growth hormone has gotten out of control.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is against the law to distribute growth hormone for aging.
GUPTA: And yet we found dozens of doctors prescribing it for just that, though most say they're treating a deficiency. Are these doctors putting lives at risk or maybe, just maybe, do they know something that the rest of us don't?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is aging slowing you down? Are you losing energy, feeling tired, concerned about your weight, sleeping less? GUPTA (voice-over): When it comes to anti-aging medicine or age management, the drug of the moment is human growth hormone. In healthy adults, growth hormone stimulates cell growth and repair. By your 60s, the level is a fraction of what it was in your 20s. Bring it back up, some say, and you could reverse the ravages of time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have more energy. They start gaining more muscle mass. They start gaining more bone mass. I think the quality of life overall improves.
GUPTA: Dr. Jackie Springer prescribed growth hormone for hundreds of people at her Kansas City clinic. People like Ed and Beth Lothamer. Ed runs a successful business and before that, played pro football with the Kansas City Chiefs. Eight years on the defensive line took their toll.
ED LOTHAMER, EX-PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER: I've had a broken right leg. I've had knee surgery on my left knee. I've had surgery on my right shoulder. I had a compound dislocation in my right thumb. I broke two bones in my right hand. I broke my nose. I've had several concussions. That's basically about it.
GUPTA: Alternative medicine always intrigued him. In the early 1970s, Lothamer says he was the first NFL player to try acupuncture. A few years ago, he and his wife put their trust in hormone replacement. Beth saw Dr. Springer first, where she says she got a two-hour consultation and two rounds of blood testing.
BETH LOTHAMER, ED LOTHAMER'S WIFE: It said that I was very low on growth hormone, extremely low. Her suggestion was that I start taking growth hormone.
E. LOTHAMER: I was getting a little sluggish and I didn't the vitality I had. And you know I just wrote it off as being, you know, I'm just getting older. But she said, you know, why don't you at least come and take a shot at this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just stick it there.
GUPTA: So now they each take a shot every day. Ed Lothamer says he felt the effects within a month.
E. LOTHAMER: When I woke up, I wasn't fatigued. I noticed in the gym I was much stronger. I had more endurance. My memory was sharper.
GUPTA: Growth hormone has been used since the 1950s to help children with growth problems. But most people paid no attention until 1990, when Dr. Daniel Rudman in "The New England Journal of Medicine" reported that men taking a six-month course of growth hormone lost almost 15 percent of their body fat while increasing lean muscle mass by almost 10 percent.
But there is a catch. Rudman's study included just a dozen men. But to the new anti-aging movement, it didn't matter. The message was loud and clear. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, by dramatically supporting healthy endocrine function, research suggests that we can increase energy and stamina.
GUPTA: Not everyone shares the enthusiasm. Dr. Thomas Pearl is an outspoken critic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one sends me any scientific articles indicating that growth hormone works for combating aging simply because they don't exist. Now on the website, they'll say there's 20,000 studies that prove that growth hormone stops or reverses aging or makes people age much more slowly. And they do very well and that is just absolute nonsense.
GUPTA: But that depends who you ask. Multiple studies have found that growth hormone reduces fat while building up bones and muscle. Still, most studies, which do involve higher doses than the Lothamers take also find a lot of side effects like joint pain and swelling. And to Pearl, that's not even the worst of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the growth hormone is -- it's secreted in our body to promote cell growth. And cancer basically is unvital cell growth. To me, no one should be on this stuff and it's basically, I think, throwing gasoline on the fire.
GUPTA: Selling growth hormone without a prescription can get you five years in prescription and a $250,000 fine. And doctors are only allowed to prescribe it for a handful of conditions, including childhood growth problems, wasting in AIDS patient and adults whose bodies don't produce the hormone naturally. Off label use for body building or anti-aging is strictly forbidden. And yet, when I clicked away on the Internet in just a few seconds, I turned up dozens of anti-aging doctors. Every one we asked told us a significant portion of their patients are taking growth hormone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found that about 70 percent of the growth hormone sales were going towards people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. And by far and away, growth hormone sales should be for kids for short stature.
GUPTA: Doctors who prescribe growth hormone say they're treating a deficiency, not trying to turn a 60-year-old into a 20-year-old. Only a handful have gotten into trouble. But one of them was Dr. Springer. The Kansas Medical Board stripped her of her license in 2004, saying she prescribed growth hormone as well as various diet treatments without doing thorough patient exams. Springer insists she carefully tested all of her patients.
Now, confidentiality laws don't allow her to show the medical records, but we did speak to five patients, all of whom told us Dr. Springer did perform tests and only prescribed growth hormone when she found an abnormally low level.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it should be a medical debate and not a legal debate. So yes, I think the law is wrong. GUPTA: Growth hormone is such a touchy subject. I was surprised when I read through some of the actual research. On the one hand, mice with high levels of the hormone don't live longer, they actually live shorter lives. They die of cancer. And yet, there is no proven cancer link in humans. Pearl says the risk is just too big to take. But to others, the gamble is worth it.
E. LOTHAMER: I'm sure it's not for everybody in the world. For us, we think it works and so we do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm convinced it's safe if you use common sense. When we hit puberty, it's very high. Why doesn't everyone have cancer when they hit puberty?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I simply do not trust them. They are running a business. They are making lots of money and it certainly wouldn't be in their interest to tell anyone, let alone the media that oh, yeah, there's some side effects. I think they're lying.
GUPTA: The FDA and Drug Enforcement Agency both told us they're concerned about the expanding use of growth hormone. But that concern doesn't seem to be having much of an effect. After the Kansas Medical Board cracked down on Dr. Springer, these patients found another doctor to continue their treatment in a clinic just a few minutes up the road.
Now, I'm not sure I would go to such extreme lengths, but I still want to make it to a ripe old age. Do I have the right stuff? Well, this spring through a blood test, I learned that I have one of three known longevity genes identified by Dr. Barzilai.
But lifestyle is more important. I spent the day with Dr. Pearl, one of the world's leading experts on long life. When we come back, see what old age has in store for me.
GUPTA: I'm 37 years old. After meeting so many others chasing life, I wanted to know if I have what it takes to live to 100 or beyond. To see how my life stacks up, we turn to Dr. Thomas Pearls, whose team has interviewed more than 1,200 Americans over the age of 100. Each colored tag here represents one of these overachievers. Through his research, Pearls has devised a formula to predict how long you'll live and he agreed to follow me over the course of a day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Morning.
GUPTA (on camera): Morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beautiful dog.
GUPTA (voice-over): At the Gupta home, the day starts early. I was dressed and out the door by 6:15.
(on camera): Last night I didn't get out of the operating room until very late, so I've only had about four hours of sleep.
(voice-over): Wrong answer. For most people, Pearl says sleeping fewer than eight hours a night will cost you a year and a half of your life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No coffee in the morning?
GUPTA (on camera): No, I'm not a coffee drinker.
(voice-over): Bingo, much better. Pearl says more than two cups a day will trim life expectancy by a year or more. He says try green tea instead. And what about food?
(on camera): Breakfast today, this is my Jimmy Dean Omelet. It's got five grams of carbs per serving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can nit-pick about the grams of fat and stuff but having a good breakfast in the morning is really important.
GUPTA (voice-over): As we drove to work, something else had him worried.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're a neurosurgeon who decides to take on another full-time job, so two full time jobs, and then two babies. So automatically, like on the calculator in terms of stresses, you'd be off the charts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the 8:40 hit, nothing about their brain.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Sanjay.
GUPTA: Good morning, Miles. It's a fascinating study.
After I did my thing on "AMERICAN MORNING," I was ready for more questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How often are you eating sweets? Do you regularly screen yourself? In terms of the number of hours, how many a week would you say you're working?
GUPTA (on camera): Well over 80.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighty hours?
GUPTA: Between 80 and 90 would be my guess.
(voice-over): Pearl tells most people to work less, fewer than 40 hours a week if they can. But he said I might be an exception.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It isn't the amount of stress a person gets, it's how they manage it. And if you manage your stress well so that it doesn't get internalized, doesn't' translated into high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, even risk factors for things like cancer and Alzheimer's disease, if you're managing it well, that's really the key. And I'm just getting that in leaps and bounds from you.
How many days a week do you exercise?
GUPTA (on camera): I try to do at least three or four.
(voice-over): This interview was a real workout. Regular family time, yes, add years. Blood pressure, good. Cholesterol, not so good.
(on camera): My cholesterol is not great. It's 209.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any diabetes in your family?
GUPTA: Yes, both my father and his mother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know from our long-life family study that exceptional longevity runs very strongly in families. So any grandparents or great-grandparents getting to exceptional old age?
GUPTA: I only gave one living grandparent. And she is -- we actually don't know how old she is.
(voice-over): And here is a surprise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you floss every day?
GUPTA (on camera): I try to, at least once a day. I brush my teeth.
(voice-over): It turns out flossing your teeth every day can add a year of life. Gum disease can lead to inflammation throughout the body. That's bad.
(on camera): A lot of questions here, are there some things that are absolute red flags?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoking is number one. I'd say on average it would take 15 years off your life. When people start adding up their habits, the negatives and positives, it can be quite an eye opener. We'll punch your numbers in and see what comes out.
Do you know if there's any iron in it? Do you feel like you have a diet that helps you maintain a healthy weight? How much of that is aerobic or running and how much of it is strength training? Do you have a bowl movement at least once every two days?
GUPTA (voice-over): While Dr. Pearl was calculating my life expectancy; I was off to my other job, checking on patients at Grady Hospital. After that, I had a late-breaking assignment for CNN. Dr. Pearl would have to meet me at the airport.
(on camera): I told you it'd be a busy day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA: Now we're here at the airport and we had to come to the airport to actually get my score.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you want to know?
GUPTA: I want to know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
GUPTA: I want to know. I mean it's one of those things.
(voice-over): The suspension was killing me. Could I look forward to a 100 candles on my birthday cake or was I headed to an early grave?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it surprised me a little bit.
GUPTA: It surprised you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GUPTA: Well, then it's going to surprise me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighty-one years, which people might say that's fantastic.
GUPTA: Yes. What do you think dragged me down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the main thing is the cardiovascular risk in your family and that you noticed your cholesterol was high, your LDL was high.
GUPTA: Right, right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you actually can get those numbers down, you know, you might add at least a couple of years.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Pearl says his living to 100 calculator is a powerful tool but no one can truly see into the future. If you want to see what I'll really look like at age 70 or 80 or even 100, you'll just have to stick around.
(on camera): Well, that's CHASING LIFE; I've got to go catch a flight. That's the way life is sometimes. I'm Sanjay Gupta, thanks for watching.
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