We Agree with the

National Institute on Aging
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has issued a press release proclaiming that the cure for aging is not at hand.

We Agree

Aging is a disease everyone over 30 years of age suffers from, and about which little is being done.

In its press release NIA cautions the public that claims are unwarranted that certain hormone supplements, such as DHEA, are cures for aging.

We Agree

There is no hard evidence that DHEA or any other hormone is a miracle cure for aging. However, 40 years of research—thousands of studies in animals and hundreds of studies with humans—attest to the benefits of DHEA. Some of these suggest that DHEA and other hormones are likely to have some anti-aging effects.

In its press release, NIA warns that “scientists are concerned about the dangerous side effects associated with some of these supplements and about the possibility of undiscovered health risks.”

We Disagree

First, virtually all studies indicate that DHEA and melatonin are extremely safe. For DHEA, the only known side effects of any consequence are a slight masculinization, including the growth of excess facial hair and possibly the lowering of voice, in some women who take more DHEA than they require. In some men and women, acne has also been known to accompany use of too much DHEA. These effects are completely reversible when the dose of DHEA is reduced. Melatonin is also exceedingly benign. Some studies have employed hundreds of times the amount sold over the counter without any undue consequences.

Because DHEA may increase testosterone and estrogen levels, men and women who have prostate or breast cancers may have negative consequences. Such effects are not clear from research or clinical experience, and many studies indicate that DHEA has powerful anticarcinogenic effects.

Melatonin levels do not fall off as rapidly as do DHEA levels over the course of a lifetime. Thus, for optimal long-term benefits, daily use of melatonin is not encouraged for those under the age of 40.

There are 4,400 studies on DHEA indexed in the National Library of Medicine’s Medline® database and more than 5,400 on melatonin. These studies have been conducted over several decades, so it is not as if consideration and use of DHEA and melatonin is, as the NIA suggests, “relatively new.” Nor is it new that these hormones are just now for the first time under consideration for anti-aging use. Research about the anti-aging benefits of DHEA and melatonin go back more than 20 years.

NIA calls for a halt to usage of these supplements until researchers have had time to complete carefully controlled, long-term studies.

We Both Agree and Disagree

It’s true we need the “gold standard” of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in order to clarify the potential benefits and/or risks of any current or future “anti-aging” treatment. Yet such a gold standard is impossible. Double-blind studies, although an accepted criterion, do not take into consideration the biochemical individuality that exists among individuals—i.e., differences between Vitamin B12 “responders” and “non-responders,” etc. They assume that everyone will respond the same way to a drug or substance. On the other hand, it is inadvisable to wait for these results before starting your anti-aging program. A benefit-to-risk analysis would suggest that it is too risky to not start treating now. If you wait until all the definitive results of large-scale human trials are in (if they are ever conducted), you may be dead!

Why Is the NIA Doing This Now?

In its press release, NIA lumps the prescription hormones, estrogens, testosterone, and hGH (human growth hormone) together with DHEA and melatonin. It makes the point that the prescription items confer some benefits when taken in cases of genuine deficiencies and when taken under the care of physicians. But can the NIA intelligently argue that genuine deficiencies do not occur for other (nonprescription) hormones such as DHEA and melatonin?

The evidence is otherwise. If, as studies have shown, these deficiencies are widespread or even universal, then there are universal benefits to be achieved by replacing these hormones. It is just a matter of determining when the deficiencies set in. This procedure is exactly what we in the nutritional community have been recommending all along with regard to hormone replacement.

What we undoubtedly have in the case of the NIA press release—along with a TV blitz to warn Americans (yes!—a toll-free telephone number, 1–800–222–2225, and “free” pamphlets) is a clear case of jaded envy. Supplement companies have stolen the “thunder” (actually, more like a whimper) from the NIA, and the bureaucratic wizards at NIA are jealous. Plus, they need to justify sustained funding for their pet research projects, very few of which have to do with anything other than the “inevitability” of aging. Another motivation may be that the “hit men” at the FDA would like to regulate these popular supplements but are unable to do so because of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health Education Act, which prevents them from acting in their habitual arbitrary and capricious manner; they must first create a “crisis environment” to justify exception to this rule. To generate a foundation for what we believe is an already-planned crisis, the NIA PR folks need to create some question in the public mind about the safety and efficacy of these hormone supplements, aided by their prostitute bedfellows in the Establishment press. They will then probably find someone who allegedly had a “melatonin-induced cancer”, a “DHEA-induced psychosis”, or some other real or fabricated illness which they (without substantial evidence) will link to one of these supplements. They will then probably find some headline-hunting congressman to introduce a bill (already written) to outlaw their over-the-counter use and require prescriptions for their dispensing, with a resultant dramatic increase in price. Although this scenario is speculative, it follows the typical government modus operandi when they are preparing to knock a food supplement off the market. On the other hand, this is the first time the NIA has gotten involved as the “hatchet man.”

Making the Choice Now

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times quoted Life Enhancement medical editor Ward Dean, MD, who said that supplement users are taking melatonin and DHEA without waiting for an official endorsement by the federal government “because of frustration with government inaction in this area.” The NIA is “more interested in things like determining the optimal distance between bus stops for the elderly, or having a better Meals on Wheels program, than understanding the basic causes of aging and doing something about it,” said Dean.

In concluding the article, the Times quotes Life Enhancement’s John Morgenthaler, who stated, “Of course we need the large-scale human trials, but individuals can make the choice now. If you make the choice not to start treating aging as though it is a disease, you are certain to suffer the effects of aging every year until you are dead.”


  1. Rosenblatt RA. US agency sounds alarm about ‘miracle’ hormones. Los Angeles Times. April 28, 1997; page 1.

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