Ever since Juan Ponce de León went in search of the mythical fountain of youth, people have been looking for a way to turn back the clock on aging. Now the idea of living forever (or at least a lot longer) may not be that far off.
A new anti-aging pill called TA-65 promises to change the way we get older. Those who use it claim to look and feel younger.
"You cannot anti-age, but you can certainly manage the aging process and improve the quality of life well into your later years," says Dr. John Rush.
Rush runs Cenegenics' D.C. practice, which specializes in age management. He believes the new pill works miracles on people beginning to feel the aches pains and everything else that comes with middle age.
"I'm well over 50 [years old] and it has worked for me as well," he claims. "My body fat percentage has gone down to 12. I have more energy. Skin, hair, nail all look better."
TA-65 is touted by some as a "magic pill" but at the same time has raised concerns about its safety. The dietary supplement claims to stimulate production of telomerase, an enzyme naturally found in the body that protects cells, and in theory, keeps cells alive longer. That Rush says holds tremendous promise.
"The goal is to get to that 120 [years old] and still have the quality of life you have now," Rush says.
That is just not true according to Carol Greider, a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. She won the Nobel Prize for her work identifying telomerase, the enzyme behind TA-65.
"People think this might actually change the life span of a person. That is not the case," Greider says.
Telomerase works by preserving telomeres. They are a sort of protective cap on the end of our DNA that gets shorter as cells divide. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a variety of age-related diseases.
TA-65 claims to lengthen those telomeres, improving eyesight, skin and the immune system, according to its own double-blind peer-reviewed study.
Greider disputes those claims.
"There are people out there making great claims," warns Greider. "Just like in the past, there have always been snake oil salesmen who want to take advantage of people's desire to have something to treat them."
Anyone who wants to get the anti-aging pill needs a deep wallet. It costs $2,400 to $8,000 a year depending on the dosage. Dr. Rush is sold on it. He even got his wife to try.
Carla Rush will be 43 years old in September, but says she feels 25. Admittedly, she looks younger than her age.
She works out regularly, maintains a healthy diet and uses a variety of nutritional supplements as does her husband.
"I felt like I was so tired all the time, no matter what I did to keep my energy up. I looked tired, felt tired," she says until she began taking TA-65 about a year ago. "I feel great, everything's improved, even my flexibility at workouts. It's [TA-65] the only thing that changed."
The research on TA-65 is limited and no one knows yet what effects it could have with long-term use. Scientists, including Greider, say questions have been raised about cancer because cancer cells thrive on the same enzyme behind TA-65. Dr. Rush admits it's a "theoretical concern."
TA Sciences says any risk of unwanted cell growth is offset by the boost TA-65 gives to the immune system. Last year, a study in the journal Aging Cell showed the supplement did not cause cancer. But that same study did not find any improvement in longevity either.
Greider says TA-65's claims are not backed by scientific research as the manufacturer claims. If there were, she would give it to patients right now.
"There are people dying, coming to the hospital at Johns Hopkins. We would have first and foremost in our minds to treat those patients first," she says.
The compound is sold as a dietary supplement and does not undergo the same review by the Food and Drug Administration as prescription and over the counter drugs to prove its safety and efficacy. As a supplement, the maker is prevented from making medical claims about the product.
Still, patients like Carla Rush swear by TA- 65. She is undeterred by the scientific evidence that seems to debunk its anti-aging claims.
"If I can live longer, but live longer healthier and happier, I'm all for it," she says.
At almost 43 years old, Rush can now keep up with her four kids. She calls herself "proof" that this new miracle pill works.