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The Author Speaks

Excerpt From 'Selling the Fountain of Youth'

You wake up on Monday, bound out of bed, head for the medicine cabinet, and grab a syringe filled with human growth hormone. With no hesitation, you stick the needle into a fold of skin on your thigh and press the plunger. Then you open a tub of estrogen cream that you bought from the neighborhood pharmacist and rub a dollop of it into your arm. You're 56 years old, but your hot flashes are a distant nightmare, and you wake with the energy of a 20-year-old. You attribute your newfound youth not only to the growth hormone and the estrogen but also to the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, which you take every night. You've heard that some hormones cause cancer, but you're not too worried. Your doctor at the local anti-aging clinic told you the cancer fears are overblown. You're just replacing the hormones your body made naturally when you were younger, he says. There's nothing dangerous about that, right? If there were, surely all the 20-year-olds would have cancer!

Before you leave for work, you head for the kitchen, where you whip up a fruit smoothie and gulp it down with 35 supplement pills. You take a multivitamin that was made just for you by the pharmacist, plus dozens of herbal preparations that he told you would guarantee a long life. You're getting your menstrual period again, because your anti-aging doctor told you to cycle your estrogen with progesterone — changing the dosage week by week to mimic what your body did when you were in your prime. It would do so much more than relieve your hot flashes, he promised. It would make you feel young again. The famous actress Suzanne Somers takes hormones like this, too, and she says she feels fantastic. She would never give out dumb advice, right?

The pharmacist said his hormone creams were completely natural, made from vegetables, and so much safer than those dangerous menopause drugs the pharmaceutical companies make. Neither his products nor his advertising claims are monitored by government agencies, but why should you care? He's a pharmacist — he would never sell you anything unhealthy, right? And at least he doesn't expect you to pore over any pesky product leaflets about side effects.

During your last checkup at the anti-aging clinic, you found out that your lab tests show abnormally high levels of the male hormone testosterone. Your doctor said it rubbed off on you when you were intimate with your husband — something you've been in the mood for a lot more often since you started your hormone treatments. Your husband was very impressed with the new you, so he made an appointment at the anti-aging clinic, too. He told them that he felt a little tired and that his libido was sagging. They prescribed some testosterone gel to restore his virility. And boy, did that testosterone work wonders for your sex life.

As you pour your husband a smoothie, you wonder if it matters that his testosterone gel is rubbing off on you. Sure, most women don't have so much testosterone, and you did notice some hair growing in weird places. But lots of women use testosterone gel these days to restore the libidinous urges they had in their youth. Plus, it's a natural hormone, just like what's found in our bodies normally. It's perfectly safe. Right?

Excerpted from Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old — And Made Billions, by Arlene Weintraub, published by Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, copyright 2010.(Read an interview with Arlene Weintraub.)

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