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How Lucas Cranach imagined the Fountain of Youth in 1546. Today some people imagine dietary supplements can restore youth.


I recently wrote about David Sinclair’s belief that aging is a preventable disease. Science has found intriguing evidence that certain treatments can slow the aging process in animals, but there’s no good evidence in humans so far. That didn’t stop him from devising his own hopeful anti-aging regimen based on the preclinical evidence. And it certainly hasn’t stopped dietary supplement companies from marketing a torrent of anti-aging remedies, some of which have a flimsy scientific rationale and others that are more fanciful. One websitec claims the following ingredients have been shown by science to have anti-aging effects: vitamins A, C, D, B3, B6, B9, curcumin, clove extract, ginger root extract, Indian gooseberry extract, L-carnitine, CoQ10, resveratrol, choline, glutathione, NAC, and alpha-lipoic acid. It combines all these in the Anti-Aging Topical Patch to be worn daily. Perhaps the most egregious offering is a product called SeroVital that claims to be a natural way to increase the body’s own production of human growth hormone (HGH).

Is raising HGH beneficial?

Human growth hormone has many essential actions in the body. Levels of HGH gradually decline after the age of 30. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and raising levels may not be a good idea. Women with high levels of HGH are more likely to get breast cancer and men with high levels are more likely to develop prostate cancer, and individuals of both sexes are more apt to die at younger ages than those with naturally low HGH levels. Mice with very high levels of HGH have premature brain aging and reduced life spans. But some physicians cite studies indicating that the lower levels seen with aging are responsible for diminished energy, muscle loss, and decreased tissue repair, and they feel that bringing HGH levels up to the levels considered normal in young people will have health benefits that will make them feel younger. HGH is useful for some medical conditions, but according to the Mayo Clinic,

it is not intended to be used as an anti-aging medication. No evidence exists that shows HGH works against the effects of aging. In fact, taking HGH may be dangerous for some people.

Numerous other sources agree. An article on Quackwatch says that even HGH injections lack proven effectiveness and have significant side effects, and that so-called “growth-hormone releasers” should be regarded as fakes. It reports many enforcement actions that have been taken against doctors who promote HGH treatments. It reports harmful side effects including increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and behavior changes. It quotes an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine that said the general use of HGH “now or in the immediate future” is not justified. And the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists has warned that the clinical use of growth hormone as an anti-aging treatment or for obesity is not recommended. The pertinent research and concerns are conveniently covered here.

The claims for SeroVital

The SeroVital website features testimonials calling it “magic” and “a fountain of youth”. It is a mixture of ingredients that allegedly increases the body’s own production of HGH. The active ingredients are five amino acids (lysine, arginine oxo-proline, N-acetyl cysteine, and L-glutamine), and a powdered herb, Japanese catnip. The package says HGH is associated with increased energy, decreased body fat, reduced fine lines and wrinkles, and deeper, more restorative sleep. That “association”, if true, would be with HGH, not with the mixture of ingredients in the product. The company claims it raises HGH levels by a whopping 682%. It also claims it strengthens bones and improves sex drive and the testimonials suggest even more benefits. There is a 30-day money back guarantee.

Amino acids have been shown to raise HGH levels, but only in high doses and only in the short term. Japanese catnip has some anti-inflammatory effects. Some SeroVital users have reported significant side effects including swelling of hands and feet, bloating, acne, vertigo, headaches, achy joints, nausea, abdominal cramps, weight gain, heartburn, fatigue, and a possible exacerbation of breast cancer. It costs $99 a month (that’s $1,188 a year) and would have to be continued indefinitely. Customers are directed to take 4 capsules on an empty stomach and told not to eat for two hours before or after taking it. And of course, it carries the usual warning that it has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, prevent, cure, or treat any disease.

Dr. Oz praises HGH

Dr. Oz says HGH is the key to feeling decades younger. He uses the terms Fountain of Youth and miracle. He recommends amino acids as natural remedies that increase the body’s own production of HGH. He cites a single study showing that a special blend of amino acids can spike your HGH levels by 600%. He recommends taking a supplement that contains glycine, ornithine, arginine, and lysine (only two of which are in SeroVital), and says appropriate products can be purchased from your health foods store for less than $20. Note that amino acids are not listed as one of the many ingredients of the Anti-Aging Topical Patch I mentioned above (in the first paragraph), and do not feature in Dr. Sinclair’s regimen based on preclinical research.

The research

An extensive review of the claims, the evidence, and the facts can be found here.

There is only one study that evaluated the mixture of ingredients in SeroVital. It involved a mere 16 subjects, 12 men and 4 women, age 32 +/- 14 years. It supposedly found that two hours after taking SeroVital, the body’s production of HGH increased by 682% as measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. There was no attempt to measure anything else. No mention of any clinically significant effects. No replication. No other peer-reviewed studies.

Conclusion: No evidence of clinical efficacy, and potential side effects

It might work. Without proper controlled studies there is no way to know. But if I had to make an educated guess, I’d rate the probability of it having beneficial health effects or anti-aging effects as very low. I suspect there are better ways to spend your money. Or you might just save your money and follow standard mainstream evidence-based advice: exercise more, eat less, and don’t smoke.

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Posted by Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.