UIC prof takes on quackery
from staff reports
March 26, 2003
Purveyors of snake oil haven't disappeared with old fashioned carnival wagons and the education of the general populace. They've just shed their old skin.
This is the message broadcast by the second annual "Silver Fleece" Awards, a lighthearted effort to make the public aware of anti-aging quackery, which was announced earlier this month.
Noted aging expert and author S. Jay Olshansky announced the winners as part of a presentation in Chicago at the Joint Conference of The National Council on the Aging and the American Society on Aging in which he participated in a debate on the topic of anti-aging medicine.
Olshansky, professor of epidemiology at the UIC School of Public Health, presented two awards, one for a product and one to an organization, that he said "make the most outrageous or exaggerated claims about human aging."
The award -- a bottle of vegetable oil labeled "Snake Oil" -- was presented (in absentia) to each award winner.
The awardees were selected by three leading scientists in the field of aging: Olshansky; Leonard Hayflick of the University of California, San Francisco; and Bruce Carnes of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Olshansky and Carnes are authors of "The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging" (Norton, 2001). Hayflick is author of "How and Why We Age" (Ballantine, 1996).
And the winners are:
The Silver Fleece Award for an Anti-Aging Product goes to a substance known simply as Longevity, which is being sold on the Internet by Urban Nutrition Inc. On its web site, www.findlongevitynow.com
, Urban Nutrition states that Longevity includes as its primary component 2-AEP, which "was originally discovered and patented by world-renowned Doctor, Scientist and Physicist, Hans A. Nieper, M.D."
This award is given to "the product with the most ridiculous, outrageous, scientifically unsupported or exaggerated assertions about aging or age-related diseases," said Olshansky.
According to information presented on Urban Nutrition's web site, "Longevity delivers 2-AEP directly to the outer cell walls to strengthen, seal, and protect your cells from toxins and diseases entering and infecting your healthy cells. This rejuvenation of your cells slows the aging process."
"Longevity is just one of many products being sold throughout the world with the claim that it will slow or reverse human aging," Olshansky says, "These products have never been proven to do anything but line the pockets of those selling them. The irony in this case is that not only is the inventor of Longevity dead, but so are many of the famous people Dr. Nieper claims to have treated with the product."
According to the web site, "Dr. Nieper's former patients include Princess Caroline of Monaco
, John Wayne, Yul Brenner, Anthony Quinn, Natalie Woods (sic), Red Buttons, Fred McMurray, Russian Party leaders, the modern German King of Hanover, and many other worldwide dignitaries including members of the KGB before Communism fell..."
The criteria for this award included an evaluation of the purported health and longevity benefits, claims about scientific evidence supporting the product, the degree to which legitimate scientific research is exaggerated and the profit potential for those selling it.
A one-month supply of Longevity containing 90 pills currently sells for $44.99 on the web site.
The recipient of the Silver Fleece Award for an Anti-Aging Organization goes to CLONAID. This award "honors" the organization that contributes the most to disseminating misinformation and/or products associated with the claim that human aging can now be stopped or reversed.
According to the company's website, www.clonaid.com
, "CLONAID was founded in February 1997, by Ra�l, the leader of the Raelian Movement, an international religious organization which claims that a human extraterrestrial race, called the Elohim, used DNA and genetic engineering, to scientifically create all life on Earth."
The group now claims to have 55,000-60,000 devotees worldwide.
According to Rael, the self-proclaimed leader of CLONAID, "Cloning will enable mankind to reach eternal life. The next step will be to directly clone an adult person without having to go through the growth process, and to transfer the memories and personality into this person just as the Elohim do using their 25,000 years of advanced scientific knowledge. Then, we will wake up after death in a brand new body just like after a good night sleep!"
"Choosing CLONAID as a recipient of the second annual Silver Fleece Award was a no-brainer," according to Hayflick.
Says Carnes, "It is unfortunate that so much anti-aging quackery is surfacing just when scientists are making substantive progress on understanding the processes of aging. I believe that the research being done today will eventually give rise to interventions with the capacity to modify the biological rate of aging in humans."
As authors of hundreds of scientific articles on aging, Olshansky and his colleagues are thoroughly familiar with both the legitimate, ongoing research in the fields of aging and the anti-aging claims that have been made historically and in recent years. Last June they issued a position statement with 51 scientists warning the public that "no currently marketed intervention has yet been proved to slow, stop or reverse human aging," and they warned consumers again in their article entitled "No Truth to the Fountain of Youth" which appeared in the June 2002 issue of Scientific American.
"Although there is reason to be optimistic that scientists will eventually be able to intervene in one or more processes associated with human aging, it is not currently possible to stop or reverse aging," says Olshansky. "In spite of this fact, a large number of anti-aging products are now being sold by entrepreneurs and administered by physicians and other health care practitioners in the United States and abroad under the pretext that they will stop or reverse aging and/or combat major fatal diseases."
In their book, Olshansky and Carnes say, "The life extension industry begins with a grain of truth but quickly gets mixed with a tablespoon of bad science, a cup of greed, a pint of exaggeration and a gallon of human desire for a longer, healthier life -- a recipe for false hope, broken promises and unfulfilled dreams."
The first Silver Fleece Awards were announced last winter at a meeting sponsored by the International Longevity Center-USA.