Spotting Anti-Aging Scams

Learn the 15 Warning Signs

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 13, 2004 -- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Keep that in mind if you've got your heart set on pursuing the fountain of youth, because hucksters are standing by to take your money with little more than puffery to back up their claims.

"Anti-aging quackery and hucksterism are pervasive on the Internet and in clinics advertising anti-aging treatments," writes Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, of the New England Centenarian Study, Boston Medical Center and Boston University's School of Medicine.

Perls, who says anti-aging scams have become a multibillion dollar industry, has identified 15 red flags that should tip consumers off to potentially bogus anti-aging claims:

  1. Pitching claims directly to the media without supportive evidence of a medical or scientific and unbiased third party review.
  2. The claim that the seller's work or message is being suppressed by the scientific establishment. That they are being persecuted by the establishment, but in the end they will be vindicated.
  3. Usage of phrases such as "scientific breakthrough," "exclusive product," "secret ingredient," or "active remedy."
  4. Pervasive use of testimonials and anecdotes. Frequently along with the testimonials are statements that make such statements as "sold to thousands of satisfied customers."
  5. The claim that centuries of use are credible because they've stood the test of time.
  6. Attempts to convey credibility, such as wearing white lab coats and stethoscopes, posing with microscopes, claiming to be a medical doctor or referring to "academies" and "institutes."
  7. Not mentioning potential side effects and making claims that sound too good to be true.
  8. Using simplistic rationales; anti-aging quacks claim that that the answer is as simple as manipulating a single hormone.
  9. Using celebrities and attempting to connect the product to well-known legitimate scientists.
  10. Off-label uses that claim to be an "alternative" to traditional and FDA-approved uses of medications.
  11. Conflict of interest. Those individuals selling their own products are the same people claiming to provide unbiased, trustworthy information.
  12. Telling misleading interpretations of studies or outright lies about effectiveness.
  13. Using misclaimers loaded with fine print.
  14. Offering money-back guarantees.
  15. Claiming that the seller is "on your side."

Perls' study is published in the Journal of Gerontology.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that it's against federal law to distribute or administer human growth hormone for anti-aging or age-related problems. It is approved by the FDA for use in adults with growth hormone deficiency and available by prescription only. Dietary supplements can be legally sold to the public without getting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bottom line: Don't believe everything you hear.

SOURCE: Perls, T. Journal of Gerontology, 2004; vol 59A: pp 682-691.