The Conversation: Selling the Fountain of Youth

Is getting old a disease? Author Arlene Weintraub on the anti-aging industry.

ByABC News
September 1, 2010, 12:07 PM

Sept. 1, 2010— -- With baby boomers now reaching retirement age, more Americans are pursing the goal of looking and feeling young with measures far more drastic than the beauty creams and cosmetic procedures of the past.

Author Arlene Weintraub's new book, "Selling the Fountain of Youth," tracks the explosion of the anti-aging business in the past two decades into an $88 billion industry.

The baby boomers "haven't wanted to grow old like their parents did, so they really want to avoid that kind of slow decline that leads to the nursing home," Weintraub said.

But in the endless quest for the fountain of youth, some people have put their health at risk, Weintraub said. More Americans are turning to hormone treatments that promise near-eternal youth, with unproven and potentially damaging results.

"There have been some anecdotal reports that human growth hormone might make some things grow that you don't want to grow, like undetected tumors, that sort of thing," she said.

One unlikely reason for the growth of the extreme treatments? Weintraub pointed to TV star Suzanne Somers, whose books and media appearances endorsing hormone treatments have racheted up demand for anti-aging regimens.

"Without hormones, there is no quality of life," Somers told ABC News in 2006.

Because she has replaced the hormones lost to the aging process with ones that are biologically identical, she said, "my skin looks better, my body is more toned. ... I sleep 8 or 9 hours a night, my weight is not an issue, I'm in an upbeat mood almost all the time, my libido is good."

Do those so-called bio-identical hormones really offer a better alternative? And what are the real risks of hormone treatments for aging?

Weintraub spoke with ABC's Stephanie Sy for a Conversation on her research and on the pursuit of youth today. We hope you'll watch.

Click here to watch more from the Conversation series.

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