Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blog #22 An Afternoon at a Different Conference

I decided I needed to understand hormones better, being menopausal and all. Getting good information on natural hormone replacement is much harder than you would think and as a result, I found myself on a plane to Las Vegas heading for the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) conference.

Las Vegas, I discovered is not for anyone suffering from sensory processing disorder or a low tolerance to cigarette smoke. The hotels are designed so you have to walk through miles of underground casinos to get anywhere, including the registration desk or conference center. Casinos appear to be the only indoor facilities left in the country where cigarette smoking is not only allowed but possibly necessary so the calming effect of nicotine can help people deal with the stress of losing their nest eggs to computerized slot machines. “Gee, what are the chances of winning against a computer that sets the odds and makes up the rules?” I commented to my roommate, Victoria.

She informed me that I was missing the point and that it was all about the dopamine rush. Given the crowds, I would have to say she was right and I should probably learn more about dopamine since it is clearly popular. I made some mental adjustments to accommodate the environment and enjoy the conference.

For the next three days I immersed myself along with 4000 other physicians and practitioners in the latest research on maintaining/regaining vitality with aging. One speaker summed up the challenges of getting older with the Phillip Roth quote, “Aging isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre”. While it can certainly feel and look like that, there are many strategies people can use to manage the ravishes of time more effectively.

The hardest thing about an intensive conference, beyond the sitting, is information overload. Luckily, for me, I have a solid background and very specific questions I wanted answered which made the potential overwhelm manageable. There was so much generally interesting information that I compiled a list of the more fascinating little pearls.

So, here are:
The Top Ten Fascinating Facts and Observations Gleaned from the Anti-Aging Conference

1. Low testosterone is a common problem in aging men and reduces quality of life. The symptoms are low vitality (fatigue), passivity, low sex drive, weak erections, declining muscle tone and general grumpiness. It is also associated with increased mortality, cancer levels and heart disease. This condition is easy to diagnose and correct though it is generally considered to be vague and hard to treat.

2. Giving testosterone to men with low testosterone levels has never been proven to increase prostate cancer risk. The only time giving testosterone appears to feed prostate tumors is when a man’s testosterone level is extremely low (that is, at castration level which is very, very low).

Harvard urologist Abraham Morgentaler addressed this in great detail and prescribes testosterone even to men who have/had prostate cancer. In general, their PSA levels go down and their cancer growth is generally slower! He presented gobs of research. It took him 45 minutes to explain why there has been such general misunderstanding of the relationship between testosterone and cancer. For more info see his popular book: Testosterone for Life.

3. If you want to slow the aging and deterioration process, balance your hormones. Balanced hormones reduce the inflammation process and inflammation is associated with deterioration and most diseases.

4. Maintaining ideal weight is the best way to reduce inflammation, assuming you are doing this with a balanced diet. The short explanation is that gaining weight increases inflammation. Something about adiponectin inhibiting TNF-alpha (an inflammation marker that can now be measured in the blood) and dozens of other pathways that get thrown off as you put on the extra pounds. There were at least ten sessions on obesity and why it is bad for you. One presenter claimed Type 2 diabetes (usually from obesity) is now being called type 3 Alzheimer’s Disease.

5. Vitamin B-12 shots tied with correcting stomach issues can significantly reduce asthma attacks in adults and children. The theory is that most people with asthma have low stomach acid and absorption issues. When you think about it, the stomach and lungs and sinuses are all connected through a series of tubes. Something that affects one of them can bother the rest.

In children who are allergic or reactive to dairy products, a single exposure to milk can measurably reduce nutrient absorption capacity leading to low hydrochloric acid which causes vitamin B12 deficiency. Giving B-12 in a way that bypasses the stomach may help.

6. Synthetic progesterone (called progestins) does not have the diuretic and other beneficial properties of natural progesterone. Progestins also have more androgenic (testosterone) and pro-inflammation properties though they still appear to protect against uterine cancer. Increased inflammation leads to increased crankiness and headaches both of which are common side effects of the progestins.

7. Bioindentical hormones are well studied, especially in Europe. They are chemically and functionally completely different from the horse estrogen (Premarin) and synthetic estrogens given to most women seeking hormone replacement therapy. Studies have found the risk to breast cancer is significantly different depending on the estrogen being used. Estriol (found in bioidentical hormones) reduces breast cancer risk while high levels of estrones (found in synthetic estrogens) increase it.

8. Growth hormone treatment does not increase cancer risk. One study followed children treated for brain cancer who were later given growth hormone. The recurrence rate of cancer actually went down! This research was a pleasant surprise to hear and there was a lot of it. Once the presenter explained the biological link between growth hormone and immune function it made me wonder why so many people have been worried about growth hormone and cancer. (Probably because many of the early studies involved pouring growth hormone on a tumor in a dish and watching what happened.)

9. Hormone imbalances of all sorts contribute to the susceptibility to cancer. Higher cancer risk (in separate research presented over the course of the conference) was associated with low estriol, low testosterone, low oxytocin, low melatonin, low progesterone, low thyroid and low growth hormone. It does not take a rocket scientist to see the pattern there.

10. Information backed up with research is always sited as the thing practitioners most desire but nonetheless, the most popular speaker was Suzanne Somers. She was described as the most exciting event of the conference. She spoke about her personal experiences and quite the inspirational speaker. I developed a deeper appreciation for how much she has contributed to increasing awareness about alternative medicine. At 64, Somers is a walking testimonial to the wonders of bioidentical hormone replacement, alternative cancer treatment and plastic surgery though that last one was discreetly unmentioned.

In truth, there was nothing alternative about the research presented at this conference with the possible exception of the “aesthetic” courses. There was a whole tract, which I did not attend involving a bunch of frightening looking laser machines and Star Trek inspired apparatus for filing, zapping, exfoliating and otherwise revitalizing the skin and muscles. I did get a sample of the $250 a jar resveratrol rejuvenation cream. While I admit the claims are hard to swallow, wouldn’t it be nice if looking younger was as easy as putting on some really expensive cream?

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