If you are an older athlete or active person who wants to keep competing, but your body just won’t allow it, would you consider taking testosterone or human growth hormone? What about over-the-counter supplements?
I suspect many people would consider it. An article reviewing some of the proposed anti-aging drugs and treatments published in Sports Health suggests that many people have started trying them. In 2009, older patients spent over $72 billion on products or treatments aimed to slow the aging process. That figure is estimated to increase to $114 billion by 2015.
In this post, I want to summarize some of the key findings of this review article regarding some of these treatments, their side effects, and their effectiveness. In no way does this post offer specific medical advice or any kind of endorsement of these drugs for the older athlete.
Examples of antioxidants include vitamins C and E, carotenes, and flavonoids. In theory they prevent the cell damage that could occur with oxidative reactions that create free radicals. While heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes have been linked to these oxidative reactions, little data currently exists that proves these antioxidants can prevent them. Antioxidants may prove to be effective one day, but not enough is known about specific antioxidants and doses to conclude that they can treat or prevent disease.
Human Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone (hGH) is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. Children with growth hormone deficiencies have small stature, decreased lean body mass and increased fatty tissue.
Production of human growth hormone by the pituitary starts decline around age 40. Theoretically supplementation with hGH could slow or even reverse age-related physical decline.
However, current research fails to show much benefit. While it might decrease fat, it hasn’t been shown to improve muscle strength or bone density. It hasn’t been definitively proven to have a performance-enhancing effect, either.
Testosterone levels decrease with age. Bone and muscle mass, decreased energy and decreased libido are also common with aging. It seems rational that restoring testosterone levels to normal would reverse some of these effects of aging.
Experts disagree on who would most benefit from testosterone replacement and how to make that determination. Often doctors require the presence of both decreased testosterone levels and clinical findings – decreased muscle mass, decreased libido, etc.
In aging men, testosterone supplementation to restore levels to those of healthy younger men does appear to have some benefit. Increased lean muscle mass and bone density and decreased body fat can all result from testosterone replacement. It would be difficult to predict the result of supplementing testosterone to levels well above normal, though.
Side effects from testosterone replacement are thought to be rare. Testosterone’s effect on the prostate is relevant. Benign prostatic hypertrophy and prostate cancer are believed to be possible consequences. Scientists continue to explore medications that help testosterone provide its beneficial effects without its side effects. Examples of these proposed treatments include selective estrogen receptor modulators, such as clomiphene, and selective androgen receptor modulators.
While aging will continue whether or not we want it to, we are finding treatments for the older athlete that might slow or reverse its effects. We have a long way to go and much more research to perform to find effective and safe treatments to meet the increasing demand for them.
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Tokish JM, DeRosa DC. Pharmacologic approaches to the aging athlete. Sports Health. Published online ahead of print November 20, 2013.