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Selling the Fountain of Youth: Anti-Aging Goods and Services

The anti-aging industry aims to slow or reverse the effects of aging.

The phrase "anti-aging" is deceiving. It does not mean that we can stop the ever-ticking clock of time by popping some pills. But it does mean that, for example, older people may be able to have fewer wrinkles around their eyes.

Anti-aging products include items like creams that claim to make people look younger. Other products claim to cure cancer or arthritis. Others are designed to fight memory loss.

And it doesn't stop there: there is also cosmetic surgery at anti-aging clinics. Cosmetic surgery to get rid of wrinkles and other signs of aging is one of the original anti-aging services.

The market for these products and services is growing. In the U.S., there are 76 million baby boomers. Those baby boomers are getting older every year -- just like you and me. The result? The U.S. government says that by 2030, one in five people will be 65 or older. That's a big market of people who might be interested in slowing the process of aging.

"The demand for products that can stave off the aging process continues to rise, as the population continues to seek the fountain of youth, or at least a product or service that they believe will help them to look and feel better as they age," says Colin Milner. Milner is the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.

"Today, just those that sell wellness products and services are experiencing the benefits of a $2-trillion industry worldwide."

There is some controversy surrounding the idea that we can fight the effects of aging. Some people wonder about the ethics of trying to look younger than we are, or of trying to extend our lifespan.

Others say that many products sold as anti-aging solutions don't have strong scientific evidence to support their claims.

There is also a call for tighter regulations around how these products are marketed and the claims they make.

A 2002 article published in Scientific American says that 51 scientists who studied anti-aging remedies agreed that not one remedy that was on the market at that time was proven to be effective.

Despite findings like this, the industry has continued to grow over the past decade -- perhaps because people really want to believe they can stop aging, so they'll look past reports that suggest the contrary.

Dana Van Gorp is the program coordinator at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging. She says that one alternative to paying money for anti-aging products is simple exercise.

"Physical activity has been proven in numerous scientific research studies to improve the quality of life of older adults," she says.

"Physical activity does not necessarily have to have a cost affiliated with it. Simple exercises such as wall pushups for strength and brisk walking for cardiovascular conditioning can be beneficial for those who exercise regularly and have a progressive exercise regime."

But anti-aging products and services are picking up lots of followers. The term "anti-aging medicine" was first coined back in 1993 at the first meeting of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Today, the academy has over 22,000 members, most of whom are physicians.

And as Roger Holzberg, the founder of wellness network My Bridge 4 Life and CMO of the non-profit medical charity Mfoundation, points out, the anti-aging industry has hit lots of milestones of acceptance in the last few years. Those include a book called Blue Zones published by National Geographic looking at people who live to be over 100, and the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine to longevity researchers.

But Holzberg -- like many others in this field -- doesn't like the word "industry" being used with the term "anti-aging."

"There are many ways to think about anti-aging," he says. "I tend to think of it not as an 'anti-aging industry,' but more as the science of longevity."

Milner points to a survey that says that only four percent of the U.S. population believe the claims made on television in this field. A big reason is the bad reputation that a lot of so-called anti-aging products have. There have been a lot of scams that cash in on people's desire to look and feel younger.

"The research shows that much of what is being touted as anti-aging products is snake oil," says Milner.

The aging population is good news for providers of anti-aging products and services. But the bad news is the history of scam artists, which can make it hard for people selling anti-aging products to convince the public.

Milner is positive about the outlook for the industry, although with a bit of healthy scepticism.

"The future is incredibly bright for anyone who has a vision for helping older adults age well," he says. "Some will pick the pockets of this group, while others will change lives for the better, including their own."

Although Milner says it's too tough to answer what kind of earnings someone can expect to make in this industry, he thinks that there is certainly money to be made in it.

"I would say we will see many millionaires created from their involvement in this industry," he says.


American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
Health tips, anti-aging product information and links to clinics

American Federation for Aging Research
Read the latest aging research

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